Creativity campaign to attack red tape

January 12, 2007

'Constrained' academics demand freedom to think amid growing bureaucracy.

Tony Tysome reports.

A national campaign to defend academic creativity against the perceived onslaught of red tape and bullying managers was proposed at a conference held this week.

Speakers and delegates at the conference in Cardiff put forward plans for a "creativity movement" backed by networks of academics, support and campaign groups and grassroots action.

They called on academics to resist feelings of helplessness in the face of overzealous managers and the requirements of audits, performance indicators and the research assessment exercise. Staff should be prepared to "push back the boundaries" of their working environment and take creative risks in teaching and research.

The three-day conference, supported by the Higher Education Academy and held at the University of Wales Institute Cardiff, set out to establish a cross-disciplinary network to promote creativity across the curriculum.

Delegates who spoke to The Times Higher said that greater creative input from academics into course design would benefit student learning, encouraging free-thinking and intellectual risk-taking. Greater creative input on research might also loosen the stranglehold of the research assessment exercise. Practical steps to be considered include:

* Establishing a national creativity network

* Setting up support groups to share ideas and experiences

* Gathering evidence on the real benefits of academic creativity

* "Seizing" the creativity agenda in research and teaching.

Cliff Allan, HEA deputy chief executive, said there was "a great opportunity to embed creativity into HE policy, institutional portfolios and what academics do".

He said: "Academics need to demonstrate the evidence of how creativity enhances the curriculum. They need to be more proactive and assertive by providing the evidence to back a creativity movement."

Annie Grove White, conference co-ordinator and a senior lecturer at Uwic, said: "One outcome of the conference might be a campaign group.

Potentially, it could lead to a more strategic purpose actually influencing policy."

Paul Kleiman, deputy director of the HEA subject centre for dance, drama and music, said his own research had found that many academics felt constrained.

He said: "It is time to move from talking and writing about creativity to actually doing something about it. We have to get out of the box and our comfort zones."

Mary Evans, professor of women's studies at Kent University and a speaker at the conference, said academics felt "bullied by an audit culture" and needed support to resist it in defending their right to be creative.

A paper submitted by Phil Clegg, a teaching fellow at Leeds Metropolitan University, says academics must use "their collective strength" to "jealously guard the concept of creativity". He told The Times Higher :

"Academics need to overcome their sense of hopelessness and helplessness."

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