Running battles on the governance front line 1

September 17, 2009

Following the usual paeans of praise for academic independence in these pages, I would like to point out the unacknowledged administrative costs involved.

There are four administrators to every doctor in the National Health Service, not because of administrator ego, but doctor ego - the cult of individuality and corresponding unprofessionalism that means every doctor thinks they answer to no one but themselves. It takes four managers to overrule one doctor.

Change the word "doctor" to "academic" and you have, I am sorry to say, some of the worst aspects of the higher education sector.

Professionals are independent, but they are also team players. They can see the bigger picture, are accountable and open to suggestions and criticism. Unprofessionals do not play well with others, are narrow, self-centred, defensive and chippy, and wrap these character defects in the flag of academic independence.

Every day, the unprofessionals express their "academic independence" via petty rebellions against what they call "bureaucracy", but what I prefer to describe as accountability, management and, obviously, change. Each time they fail to co-operate or engage properly at the first time of asking, it costs money - taxpayers' money, our money.

The scholars concerned should ask themselves whether they are raising valid issues or are merely being self-indulgent. And those who think maverick behaviour is crucial to their effectiveness and that of their institutions should ask themselves whether this is achieved despite their behaviour, not because of it.

N. McDonagh, Leeds.

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