James Ladyman | Universities as cartels?

Universities as cartels?

A succinct Council for the Defence of British Universities (CDBU) Opinion piece by James Ladyman, 15 January 2017. Quote:-

On the subject of the closed shop, one might as well ask why we let the medical profession control who becomes a doctor rather than the market. We don’t expect patient choice to set standards in clinical care, and we should no more expect student choice to set standards in higher education.

Related posts here:-
What do universities actually do?
A university is… | Comments welcomed
Academic Independence
Higher Education and Research Bill – what is it for?
Failing management in UK universities
The Managerial University: A Failed Experiment? – Demos
Research Assessment and REF

Academic Freedom, Academic Independence

“Established by Royal Charter; accountable to Parliament”.

In a British University a Professor can be sacked for failing to obey instructions of persons with neither interest in, nor understanding of, research and teaching; who have accordingly achieved little or nothing of academic distinction themselves; and who waste one’s time. “Managers”, unelected and unaccountable, may, of course, have ulterior motives. For some reason, however, they are hostile to questions about what it is they hope to achieve. The most one can hope for are vacuous terms such as “change management”. “To what end?” is a question that remains unanswered. It is as if no thought has been given to the question what do universities actually do?

Academic Freedom is under even greater threat from the UK’s Higher Education and Research Bill. Academic Freedom has already disappeared within some UK universities. Academic Freedom has high priority in Statutes and Ordinances, which read as if a legacy from more enlightened times. In practice “management instructions” now have higher priority, and over-ride informed individual judgment. Management Instructions are enforced by “Human Resources” who thus breach their own Codes of Practice. Management Instructions are upheld by application in Employment Law. Academic Freedom is not.

With freedom comes independence. It will be helpful if we seek to be clear that what matters most is Academic Independence. Managers who destroy lives and careers also obstruct fields of enquiry – closing off progress within the institutions under their control, and more widely where their targets would otherwise have made important and original contributions.

Independence of members of an academy or university is vital for the same reason that it is vital for a judiciary. Academic Independence distinguishes one’s teaching from salesmanship, and one’s research from propaganda. It is the name of the game.

Without Academic Independence, what is left of a university?

The Higher Education and Research Bill in a Nutshell
The Convention for Higher Education

What do universities actually do?
A comment on Academic Freedom and the Corporate University

The Higher Education and Research Bill – what is it for?
The Managerial University: A Failed Experiment?

Queen Mary: nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition – The Lancet
A salute to whistleblowers | Peter Cameron’s Blog

Higher Education and Research Bill – what is it for?

This morning I attended a discussion meeting at the House of Lords concerning the Higher Education and Research Bill.

In my opinion there is an urgent need to oppose this disastrous Bill.

The Convention for Higher Education has produced a summary of the many reasons for doing so.

These include, quoting from the e-mail of invitation to today’s meeting:-

  • the proposed reorganisation of research in the UK (including abolition of the Research Councils’ royal charters);
  • the proposed introduction of a lower bar for entry into English higher education by new ‘alternative providers’;
  • the proposal to abolish Privy Council involvement in the granting of English university title, and to vest all such powers (including withdrawal of title) in a new body entirely appointed by and overseen by the Secretary of State.

The Bill seems designed to consolidate Failing management in UK universities.

In its 117 pages, the Bill contains neither definition nor description of the term university. The Bill has no declared aim. What is its purpose?

Teaching is to be overseen by an Office for Students.

The White paper’s short section “Research” is entirely about United Kingdom Research and Innovation, a superstructure for the Research Councils. Is research itself no longer a core university activity?

From the Higher Education and Research Bill:-

UK research and innovation functions
UKRI may—
(a) carry out research into science, technology, humanities and new ideas,
(b) facilitate, encourage and support research into science, technology, humanities and new ideas,
(c) facilitate, encourage and support the development and exploitation of science, technology and new ideas,
(d) collect, disseminate and advance knowledge in and in connection with science, technology, humanities and new ideas,
(e) promote awareness and understanding of science, technology, humanities and new ideas,
(f) provide advice on any matter relating to any of its functions, and
(g) promote awareness and understanding of its activities.

“…and new ideas” – listed as if these are a separate field of enquiry. I wonder what the authors imagine research to be?

A member of academic staff in a real university researches and teaches. These two activities are complementary; each supports the other. Research qualifies a university teacher to take students to the boundary of existing knowledge, to try to see beyond it, and to question what they find there.

Failing management in UK universities

Knowledge for a Successful Society is the title of an outstanding Alternative White Paper on the future of higher education in the UK. The section on university governance is particularly perceptive and close to home. I attended the Launch Meeting in Parliament on 8th June.

The concerns addressed are very similar to those of Remedying failures of corporate management in UK universities, which colleagues and I published in 2012.

One difference is that, in 2012, the authors’ institution, Queen Mary University of London, was simply flouting the sound principles in its statutes, ordinances, and codes of practice. Today we see a government white paper that will replace these principles, to the detriment of research and teaching. The alternative white paper is a response to these. I predict that no dialogue will ensue.

It is as if the decline already in progress in 2012 has now become government policy.

What can be done to rescue UK universities?

The Right Honorable Sir Eric Pickles MP,
House of Commons,
London, SW1A 0AA

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Dear Sir Eric,

In Defence of Public Higher Education: Knowledge for a Successful Society

Please allow me to draw your attention to this Alternative White Paper. Its launch will take place on Monday 13th June, 4.30-6.00 p.m., in the Boothroyd Room, Portcullis House, Bridge St/Victoria Embankment SW1A 2LW. The document is written in response to the Government White Paper “Success as a Knowledge Economy”.

I write in a personal capacity and as a member of Council for the Defence of British Universities, one of the contributors to the Alternative White Paper.

I believe that the quality of higher education in England and Wales will be affected adversely and irrevocably by the changes to University governance proposed in the White Paper. The aim of the Alternative White Paper is to describe policies that will, instead, protect the advancement and dissemination of knowledge and understanding, the twin primary purposes of any university in an open and prosperous society.

Please, if you can, attend the meeting on Monday next. The future of Higher Education is at stake.

Yours sincerely,

John F. Allen

From_Pickles_MPjpg

The Managerial University: A Failed Experiment? – Demos

Source: The Managerial University: A Failed Experiment? – Demos

By David West, “..an independent researcher living in Canberra. Until 2013, he was Associate Professor of Political Theory at the Australian National University”.

A brilliant account of dark forces exerted on universities, deflecting their goals, activities and governance away from the advancement and dissemination of knowledge.

Related pages here:
What do universities actually do?
Ursula Mittwoch: “Be kind to colleagues”
A comment on academic freedom and the corporate university
A salute to whistleblowers – Peter Cameron’s blog
Use of word in misuse of power
Research assessment and REF
Not extinct
The bucket or the searchlight?
The Devil in the detail – Fanis Missirlis’s blog
CDBU Public Lecture by Thomas Docherty

CDBU Public Lecture by Thomas Docherty

Thomas Docherty, Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Warwick, and Anne Sheppard, Professor of Ancient Philosophy, Royal Holloway, University of London.
Thomas Docherty, Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Warwick, and Anne Sheppard, Professor of Ancient Philosophy, Royal Holloway, University of London.

Thomas Docherty’s lecture on “Academic Freedom and the Social Responsibility of the University Institution” took place on 14 October 2015, at Royal Holloway, University of London. The poster advertised what amounted to a stimulating account of the necessity of academic freedom for any institution that qualifies, in my view, for the name “university”. Thomas also described current attacks on academic freedom, possible motives behind them, and their dire consequences for teaching and research.

I joined the Council for the Defence of British Universities on day one. It seemed, and still seems, to embody pretty well all the values whose implementation make universities essential to the maintenance of a free society. Last year I asked here What do universities actually do?

To my knowledge, those working at “change management” in UK universities have no answer. If we could inspect alternative aims and objectives then it might be possible to understand what exactly those currently on the rise are trying to achieve, thus to engage with them in useful dialogue. Thomas’s thesis, as I understood it, is that the aim of managerialism is precisely to prevent dialogue, and thus to silence dissent. Is there is an ulterior motive to that, or is the whole mess an unintended consequence of control having been acquired in some way by individuals averse to criticism, and hostile to public knowledge and social responsibility?

REF and Volkswagen’s cheating device

When a measure becomes a target then it ceases to be a measure.

From BBC News, 25 September 2015:

 According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), some cars being sold in America had devices in diesel engines that could detect when they were being tested, changing the performance accordingly to improve results.

“We’ve totally screwed up,” said VW America boss Michael Horn, while group chief executive Martin Winterkorn said his company had “broken the trust of our customers and the public”.

A tweet:

From this blog, on Research Assessment and REF:
And where changes in rank order are discernible, the question will remain: has anything actually changed? Or do the results reflect differing tactics, and choice of measures as targets?

Plastid Preview 2015

A fascinating two days, ably hosted by Christine Raines and colleagues in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Essex. The venue was the new, light, spacious Essex Business School, a building replete with winter garden and turf-roofed, space-age lecture hall with dire acoustics. A colleague from an ancient university remarked that the small, internal ersatz tropical forest made the building seem like a botany department. A brief circumnavigation dispelled any such comparison.

The “Plastid Preview” has evolved from an informal joint lab meeting into quite an impressive and professional mini-conference. Presentations, mostly by PhD students and postdocs, form the core of these meetings.

I was reminded of Marina Warner’s exit from the University of Essex and condemnation of what “management” seemed to have done to its original academic vision and idealism. The core of the campus is 60s architecture, surrounded with subsequent developments reflecting incremental changes in taste and sense of purpose. I suppose the opulence of the new Business School could be a sign of the times: plenty of space there, but not space designed for real academic, still less scientific, research. Possibly teaching, but there was a pervasive a feeling of being in a low-rise, while quite attractive, suite of offices. Perhaps that’s OK for people working towards MBAs. The campus had brash banners announcing that the university is now fifty years old, and declaring its positions in various league tables. Essex was one of a batch of 60s “green fields” universities. I spent four productive and life-changing years at Warwick. In comparison, Essex has topology, attractive views, and, of course, Wivenhoe Park.

I liked the location. I also liked the research being described from the people aligned with new academic appointees, including the biologists at Essex itself. I think even Marina Warner would have warmed to these people. I wish them well, and rather envy them their work environment. It would have been nice to see the laboratories.

Lots to think about.

The Devil in the Detail | fanismissirlis

The Devil in the Detail | fanismissirlis

A post by Fanis Missirlis on matters arising from our letter: Allen JF, Missirlis F (2012) Queen Mary: nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. Lancet 379 (9828): 1785.

Who guards the guardians? And what happens if meta-guardians themselves have something to hide?

Research Assessment and REF

What is ‘research output’? Can it be measured? If so, how? What are its ‘metrics’? from Allen JF (2010) Research and how to promote it in a university. Future Medicinal Chemistry 2: 15-20.

What must one do to avoid being made redundant…?
Continue reading “The Devil in the Detail | fanismissirlis”