Take me to your problem

August 14, 2008

It has become fashionable, in higher education as elsewhere, to complain about people's "leadership" when something is going on that you don't like. Thus, Paul Ramsden at the Higher Education Academy (HEA) ("Behind the scenes at the academy", 7 August) is anonymously criticised for not being "a natural leader of men" (for heaven's sake).

The problems at the University of Wales, Lampeter, we are told ("Review lambasts lack of leadership at Lampeter", 31 July), are largely due to lack of "leadership" and "vision"; while the vice-chancellor of the University of East London ("Governor resigns over treatment of UEL v-c", 31 July) is sent on indefinite leave, apparently because of differences over his "style of leadership".

We see here the advantages in complaining about something called "leadership" rather than presenting substantive objections about institutional policies and processes. The current managerial culture ranks poor leadership skills (usually undefined) as a more serious offence than simply making poor decisions.

Presenting a serious critique of policies and processes is hard work, and leaves critics open to the demand that they put forward a better programme. This can prove tedious. It is notable that Ramsden's anonymous critics do not put forward alternative policies the HEA should adopt.

Paul Temple, Institute of Education, University of London.

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