Academic quits over rise in bureaucracy

October 19, 2001

Intolerable bureaucratic demands have driven Sue Blackmore, a prominent expert in consciousness, from university teaching and research and into the media industry.

Dr Blackmore has left her job as reader in psychology at the University of the West of England to pursue a career as an academic writer and broadcaster. Her decision was made after a year's unpaid leave of absence.

She said this week that while it would be "damned difficult" to make a viable living from writing, TV and radio work, it would be a relief from the growing pointlessness of institutional academic life, where the joy of thinking had been nudged aside by paperwork.

"The growing teaching burden and the administrative burden made me think about the pointlessness of it all. There were the mindless meetings, timesheets, justifying every lecture on the basis of aims and outcomes rather than having the freedom to occasionally just go into a lecture theatre and talk freely about any given subject," she said.

Dr Blackmore said that the rapid widening of access to institutional higher education had been a mistake. It had devalued the degree as a mark of quality and learning. It had also devalued and demoralised those who taught.

"It was too elite when I was a student at Oxford University but too many students are struggling now, doing it because it's what they need. There's no value here if what's been learnt is neither used nor enjoyed. It's gone far enough.

"People will find other ways to study and we need to be much more imaginative about lifelong learning," she said.

Dr Blackmore said that the degree system should not be based on status or wealth but should have an element of elitism.

She said:"I'm very keen on the idea that the people in the best universities should be the best, the cleverest, most able and most intelligent people. They should be paid to go there."

Dr Blackmore said the government, concerned as it is with excellence, could transform academic culture by abolishing the Quality Assurance Agency and call a halt to any further research assessment exercises.

Dr Blackmore is writing a textbook on consciousness, as well as writing and broadcasting.

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