University governance in flux: where does authority lie?

In a CGHE working paper published today, Professor Michael Shattock from the UCL Institute of Education reviews changes in British university governance over the last century and analyses the extent to which these have been driven by internal or external factors.

The paper, ‘University governance in flux. The impact of external and internal pressures on the distribution of authority within British universities: a synoptic view’, shows that although universities’ legal frameworks defining their governance structures have remained largely unchanged, the internal balances of where authority lies have to a considerable extent been contingent on external pressure and have fluctuated accordingly.

In this context university autonomy has been more compromised by external forces, notably those deriving from the state, than is generally recognised.

However, the changes in how authority has been distributed have in practice been decided and implemented by the universities themselves. Institutional responses to external pressures have been variable but Professor Shattock suggests that where a strong research culture exists the accumulation of social capital (or the strength of an organisational culture) has been such that radical changes from the traditional model have been resisted.

The consequence is much greater diversity in institutional governance than would have been conceivable 20 years ago. It seems likely, Professor Shattock concludes, that this trend will continue.