Letter: University conflicts of interest

January 26, 2001

In years to come, researchers trying to explain the decline of British universities will probably stumble across a wretched little document titled The Transparency Review . They will then uncover how some cost-cutting civil servants and superannuated, pettifogging bureaucrats devised an insane initiative on the lines of: "Let's get academics to fill out a web-based diary for every hour of every day for three weeks - even get some to do it for a whole year." And why? "Well, to make sure they're not misusing taxpayers' money, of course."

For years, like many in this under-funded sector, we have routinely worked evenings and weekends, made "efficiency savings", increased productivity and watched our salaries being steadily eroded. Universities could not function without this goodwill/stupidity - and our reward? We are now drowning in a sea of audits, assessments, reviews and feedback.

We have become so obsessed with monitoring quality in teaching and research that we often have neither the time nor the energy to actually deliver it. And who cares, as long as we fill in the forms and tick the correct boxes.

So in the end, are we not our own worst enemies? Will we all now revolt and meta-phorically burn our web diaries on the university steps? Or perhaps, as in the past, we will just conform like reluctant sheep, while politely bleating our disapproval from the staff coffee rooms?

Bet you've already guessed the answer - BAAAAAA!

Des McLernon School of Electronic and Electrical Engineering
Alan House Academic Unit of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences University of Leeds

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