World's finest? V-cs, prove you're worth it 5

April 8, 2010

Among the important points made by Iain Pears in "Universities are not businesses" is the connection between the recent managerial emphasis on "strategic vision" (which includes approved "research strategies") and managers' "implicit ability to fire anyone they choose".

The concern raised in Parliament before the Education Reform Act 1988 did away with tenure was that universities would be able to get rid of individual academics who said uncomfortable or challenging things.

The danger now is that academics who merely find themselves in temporarily unfashionable or strategically "off-plan" areas will be made redundant, and not individually, but en masse.

The recent trend, exemplified by the University of Sussex and King's College London, to axe entire departments for financial reasons is an example.

Academics whose work is currently "aligned with the research strategy" (I quote) of a university may be safe for now, but when that strategy changes, out they will go.

What future for the fearless pursuit of truth in such an environment?

G.R. Evans, University of Cambridge.

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