Educators not coaches

August 7, 2008

The 2007 Work-Life Balance Survey by Coventry University reported that leadership styles in higher education were perceived to be reactive, secretive, inconsistent, demotivating controlling and indecisive. They were among the worst of any sector surveyed ("Staff give sector managers low marks", March). Ewart Wooldridge, head of the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, said the report made "disturbing reading". But in his guest editorial last week, he addressed none of those issues (Guest leader, 31 July).

Anyone hoping that the insights of any academic discipline would be applied to analysing and addressing the problems of higher education was exposed to the familiar search for metaphors. Higher education is neither football nor athletics. Academic leaders should stop trying to emulate football managers and athletics coaches. They should abandon management-consulto babble. Higher education is a profession sui generis with its own values and standards. That's why it is valuable to society.

It is depressing that the only example quoted of an academic value that cannot be abandoned is "the highest-quality learning experience". What about the best-quality education: the discovery and drawing out of the individual's potential; the inspiration of curiosity; the transformation of the student from passive absorber of information into a questioning, autonomous thinker with a deep understanding of their discipline? What about the collegial democratic ethos of the academy? Realising these values will provide a brilliant student experience. But the experience is a secondary bonus. Education is the primary goal.

Philip Burgess, Inchcoonans, Perthshire.

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