System failure

May 18, 2007

The anonymous academic who bemoaned the bureaucracy that is "killing" his/her career (Opinion, May 11) is just the latest voice in the growing cacophony of challenge to the assessment- and competition-obsessed educational milieu that is becoming routinely institutionalised.

It is singularly inappropriate to import control systems that have been developed in the fields of accountancy and economics into the very different realm of education.

This utilitarian, "managerialist" culture, when imposed on human services, leads to systemic distortion and to unintended side-effects, which yield negative quality effects that far outweigh any conceivable improvements that the accountability regime might have itself produced.

Yet it seems that rational argument isn't sufficient to render this toxic ideology politically unsustainable. There are vested interests fuelling a policy agenda that places the "needs of the economy" and the politics of spin and public relations above both teachers' and researchers' need for professional autonomy and students' need for a learning environment in which their teachers' academic freedom is organisationally enshrined.

We urgently need an irresistible ideological critique to expose these machinations - one that shames the ruling political class into reversing their worst excesses before any more and irreversible damage is visited upon the academy.

Richard House
Roehampton University

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