Dumb pronouncements

November 13, 2008

So Phil Willis, chairman of the Commons Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Select Committee, has told a majority of the readers who took part in a recent Times Higher Education poll on the dumbing-down debate to "put up or shut up" ("Come out of the woodwork now": MP's challenge to standards critics", 6 November).

How rude, arrogant and dismissive of informed sharp-end practitioners in higher education. If an airline pilot at 35,000 feet was informed by the cabin crew that there was a distinct smell of burning coming from the hold, would he require evidence of a fire or would he respond by landing the plane at the first opportunity for a full investigation?

Indeed, is it for Willis to seek more evidence, or is it for him to respond to the position reported and carry out an audit that establishes whether or not existing processes and practices produce a true and fair view of attainment with much the same conceptual approach as a company audit?

What academic, keen to maintain the career prepared for and practised over many years, is going to offer up what would be regarded as confidential information of their university's course activity and assessment processes beyond that readily available for public scrutiny? Or is Willis offering an amnesty to whistleblowers who are caught up in the consequences of their actions?

Robert Nancarrow, Henley-on-Thames.

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