Case studies in values added

Business Education and Training - A Value-Laden Process - Business Education and Training - A Value-Laden Process - Business Education and Training - A Value-Laden Process - Business Education and Training - A Value-Laden Process - Business Education and Training - A Value-Laden Process

November 19, 1999

Robbins (1963) identified four aims for higher education in the United Kingdom, one of which is "transmitting a common culture and common standards of citizenship". Dearing (1997) identified six aims, one of which is "promoting culture and high standards in all aspects of society". Both Robbins and Dearing identified "promoting the general powers of the mind" as a key aim of a university education. These, together with the other more specific aims identified by Robbins and Dearing, ensure that education, especially higher education, is a value-laden process.

These five volumes contain the 102 papers presented at the 1997 International Conference on Social Values organised by the Oxford University Centre for the Study of Values in Education and Business. They are:

• Education and Value Conflict , which focuses on education, teacher training, industry-business school relations and the ethical problems that arise when academics work as expert witnesses in legal proceedings;

• The Developing Professional: Maintaining Values in "Practical" Training , which focuses on the conflicts and issues associated with training professionals for applied professions such as medicine and management;

• Instilling Values in the Educational Process , which focuses on the moral and ethical concerns and theological reflections encountered in the training of future professionals;

• Corporate Structures, Business and the Management of Values , which is organised around five broad themes and the impact of values imparted during training on each of them. They are: cross-cultural issues in business, issues in corporate governance, dealing with change in the business environment, the health-care sector and value issues in providing for the disabled, dealing with corporal punishment and leadership at home, school, community, work and ecclesia;

• The Management of Values: Organisational and Educational Issues , which raises concerns created around the underlying philosophy and the assumptions they make about human nature and the relation of the individual to others and the state.

This series of books could easily be overlooked by the practising academic in the mistaken belief that they are all about philosophical issues that have only a marginal relevance to the day-to-day work of the academic at the chalkface. That would be wholly wrong. But if you are tempted to read the introduction before dipping into the rest, my advice is do not. The introduction is aimed at professional philosophers. No effort is made to present it in plain English; five-syllable words (such as "argumentation") are preferred to their three-syllable synonyms ("argument").

The vast majority of the 102 chapters are very practical. Although, quite properly, the five volumes are organised around the five areas that impinge on education, as described above, but for practical educators they might have been more usefully organised around the academic fields covered,which include: higher education; teacher training; health, both medical education and education for nurses and the professions allied to medicine; social work; law; management education; and accountancy.

Most of the presentations come from the United States and the United Kingdom, although Australia, Canada, Finland, India, Malaysia, New Zealand and South Africa are also represented.

In reviewing five volumes covering such a wide field it is impossible to do more than identify a few points of special interest.

A particularly interesting chapter analyses ways in which the dysfunctionalities in the US higher-education sector might be reduced. Not all of the problems have arisen in the UK yet, and as such the chapter perhaps provides an early warning. The focus of the chapter is on the role of administrators in the "top-down" university. The author claims that this is the most common model in the US, reminiscent of the command society of the now-defunct Soviet Union in which planners ruled.

Many US universities use paradigms from business. Who is the customer of higher education? Is it the student? In some ways, yes. But this is a dangerous oversimplification, for today's student (customer) is tomorrow's graduate (product), and although it is tempting for a business to describe its products in glowing terms, the real test comes when the product (graduate) goes outside the institution creating it. Does it do what it is designed to do in a real-world setting?

If the ultimate test is to be provided by the outside world's view of the product, how much involvement does the outside world have in setting the quality and standards the institution applies to itself? Thus, from a US perspective we see reinforced the strength of John Midwinter's comment in a recent issue of Science and Public Affairs : "the current UK debate on quality fails to distinguish between the quality of the graduating student, all-important to the rest of the graduate's life , and the standard of teaching" (my emphasis).

Who is the customer of the academic? Is it the student? If so customer satisfaction, a key component of such management tools as total quality management, might seem a good way to measure the quality of the teaching process. But many US universities, the author contends, have found that students rate highly faculty who make learning pleasurable and easy, while faculty who set complex questions requiring a great deal of thought and effort during the course and, more critically, in the examinations, score poorly. Which gives the greater long-term value?

A number of professions see themselves as the customers of higher education. Professions such as medicine, pharmacy and the law set their own examinations for professional entry. As such, they measure the output of higher education. Others find this too difficult, engineering being one UK example. They behave as recipients not customers. When concerns are raised about the quality of those entering their profession, they can find themselves compelled to revert to the results of national examinations, failing to note that the only available national examinations, A levels, cannot reflect those aspects of the education and training received by aspiring entrants to their profession that are of direct relevance to their likely ability to develop as professionals.

Other fascinating examples of the conflicts of values arising in education and training considered in these volumes include:

• Accountancy: the role of management accountants can be to present their firm in the best light, but the role of auditing accountants is simply to seek out the truth;

• Academics as expert witnesses in litigation: the academic will seek to present all the information, while the lawyer cross-questioning in court is only anxious to hear about those aspects that support the client's case;

• The role of the computer in supporting professionals: the more professionals use computers to support their work, the less they may understand the fundamental behaviour of the underlying systems. This is illustrated in relation to airline pilots and aircraft maintenance engineers, but it applies to most professions. The development of "expert systems" that capture the experience of several professionals gleaned over many years may reduce the ability of future professionals to spot the unexpected or even the totally new. This problem applies equally to the use of expert systems in engineering design and medical diagnoses as well as all professions in between.

In summary, this is a series of volumes that every practising teacher in higher education ought at least to dip into. It should be on the recommended reading list of the Institute for Learning and Teaching. Sadly,it probably will not be. And one of the reasons is its failure to identify in a simple manner which chapters are of particular relevance to which academic discipline. I was delighted to be compelled to read the volumes thoroughly, consequently gaining much that would have passed me by.

Frank Hartley is vice-chancellor, Cranfield University.

Business Education and Training - A Value-Laden Process: Volume One - Education and Value Conflict

Editor - Samuel M. Natale
ISBN - 0 7618 0568 0 and 0569 9
Publisher - University Press of America
Price - £45.50 and £29.50
Pages - 1,665

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