Convention for Higher Education: III

The second day began with talks from Martin Hall, Vice-Chancellor at Salford University, and Terry Brotherstone who had served on the von Prondzynski review of university governance in Scotland.

Using experience from Africa, Martin Hall talked about world cities and the role of universities in understanding the contemporary urban condition. Drawing an analogy with the Manchester cotton trade, he described a process of importing raw data from Africa (East Africa currently generates a disproportionate number of data, especially in medicine) which are then refined and returned as books which cost (literally) the salary of a Kenyan academic. Having come from South Africa four years ago, he described a University of Cape Town study on black students entering university and the disruptive effect it had on their relationship to their home village, and compared it to the similar disruption experienced by `widening participation’ students who are the first in their families to go to university.

Terry Brotherstone described the von Prondzynski review of governance which arose from a union campaign on policy and not simply in defence of terms and conditions. The report, he said, addressed a double democratic deficit, of democracy within universities and of public engagement with universities, so that `autonomy’ was interpreted as management doing what they like. He noted that the report needs a serious critique from the left.

In a workshop session later that day, Harriet Bradley from Bristol and UWE opened a discussion on (mis)management in universities, beginning by saying that it is possible to manage without being managerialist. The main weapon used in imposing this particular management style on universities was devolved budgets where academics were made to feel that another department was getting `our’ money. The introduction of private sector practices in public universities had led to a layer of aggressive middle management, and to universities being run by non-academics (businessmen as dispensers of wisdom, in Priya Gopal’s talk) or by academics who depend on non-academics, such as directors of finance.

The discussion here was especially good with managerialism being explained as a version of the Zimbardo experiment. One piece of advice put forward was that academics should learn to read accounts. With regard to governance, the question came up of who owns our universities, to whom management is accountable (in theory to parliament, meaning in practice, to nobody) and of whether we should look for a maximum wage for heads of universities. A telling statement was that it is common to hear the phrase `I can’t tell who made that decision.’

The question of student engagement was raised, where students are often seen as a threat, due to evaluations and the National Student Survey for example, and the danger of student participation coming close to the student satisfaction agenda. One question which arose was where students are equal and where not (i.e. where should students have, or have not, an equal say with staff?).


One Comment on “Convention for Higher Education: III”

  1. […] short reports from the Convention for Higher Education, with links to videos of talks, here, here, here, and here. These are some thoughts on the convention […]

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