Adapt or die

August 4, 2011

Universities must enable research into fundamental issues about the meaning and purpose of life in order to be centres of intellectual excellence, as Philip Boobbyer notes (Letters, 28 July). Yet the academic community has developed a culture of shared values that unconsciously shapes and restricts such investigations.

Self-justification of research activities is symptomatic of universities that are, from the perspective of organisational theory, at an over-mature stage of their corporate life cycle. Other symptoms include complex, hierarchical reporting structures and slow reactions to external change.

Boobbyer writes from the department of history at the University of Kent. This reminds me, as a local resident, that Canterbury Cathedral was replaced long ago by the universities of Oxford and Cambridge as England's leading centre for research and higher education. Oxford and Cambridge have survived for centuries because their decentralised collegiate structures provided adaptability and, to some extent, multiple intellectual perspectives. Newer UK universities lack these advantages.

Universities must become more flexible and dynamic if they are to produce original research and thought. Otherwise there is every chance they will be overtaken and replaced by new and nimbler research and teaching organisations.

Frederic Stansfield, Canterbury

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

Daniel Mitchell illustration (29 June 2017)

Academics who think they can do the work of professional staff better than professional staff themselves are not showing the kind of respect they expect from others

As the pay of BBC on-air talent is revealed, one academic comes clean about his salary

Senior academics at Teesside University put at risk of redundancy as summer break gets under way

Capsized woman and boat

Early career academics can be left to sink or swim when navigating the choppy waters of learning scholarly writing. Helen Sword says a more formal, communal approach can help everyone, especially women

Thorns and butterflies

Conditions that undermine the notion of scholarly vocation – relentless work, ubiquitous bureaucracy – can cause academics acute distress and spur them to quit, says Ruth Barcan