Live by the metric…

August 13, 2015

Peter B. Baker uses an Isaac Asimov short story to illustrate the absurdity of being able to predict student success based on analysing their first week on the course (“I, graduate”, Letters, 6 August). The current drive to use metrics to identify successful students and rescue failing students, and, possibly as part of the teaching excellence framework, to identify failing universities, reminds me of the Philip K. Dick story The Minority Report (1956), in which the prediction of murders is used to prevent those murders from taking place.

In the 2002 film version, PreCrime Captain John Anderton (played by Tom Cruise) comes to the rescue, until it all goes badly wrong when he is falsely identified by the system as someone about to commit a murder. I wonder what level of confidence university managers and Jo Johnson, the minister for universities and science, have in metric-based decision-making.

Ray Stoneham
Principal lecturer, Faculty of Architecture, Computing and Humanities, University of Greenwich

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