Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Oxford vote of no confidence in David Willetts

Does this make any difference to anything? Mark Leach says no. He is right, of course, that the real debate about the contents of the White Paper is taking place amongst a very small group of politicians and their trusted advisors. He forgets two factors. Firstly those politicians are very sensitive to public opinion. You only have to remember as far back as May to see that.

The second is more interesting. Once the White Paper has been delivered, most of the policy in it will be delivered not be legislation, but by existing sector agencies - HEFCE, QAA and the like. They will implement some compromise between the Minister's stated intention, their own policy and traditions, and the things which seem acceptable to their stakeholders. An example which sticks in my memory because it led to a lot of work for me personally is a former White Paper. The intention was to allow much easier access to the title 'University', but by the time QAA had finished implementing this policy, it didn't feel much easier to me.

So the political theatre does matter if it reflects the opinions of key stakeholder groups either for politicians or quangocrats. I suspect the Congregation of the University of Oxford isn't a key stakeholder group for either of those, but perhaps I am wrong.


  1. Hi Andrew

    I haven't forgotten that the bulk of the white paper proposals will be implemented by HEFCE et al. Stakeholders will have their say, and that may move things a bit. And the Russell Group, and UUK - two bodies that ostensibly represent Oxford will play a big role in that. I don't see those bodies changing their stance on any matter of policy as a result of Oxford and perhaps Cambridge congregation votes. Wendy Piatt is saying this same thing today as she was yesterday. So is Steve Smith.

    As you say, the Congregation of the University of Oxford isn't really a key stakeholder for these purposes. But the people that represent the institutions are.

  2. Mark

    Thanks for your comments. You are the first ever commentator on my little blog so you've helped me reach a key milestone.

    I was trying to say that I thought your post exaggerated, rather than dead flat wrong. Sorry if I overstepped the mark.