Culture in the state-funded sector condones failure, claims professor

Anthony Glees attacks university management as he heads to private sector, writes Melanie Newman

September 4, 2008

High-profile intelligence expert Anthony Glees launched an attack on state-funded higher education as he joined the private University of Buckingham this week.

Professor Glees told Times Higher Education that he had left his post as director of the Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies at Brunel University because of "management churn", micromanagement by non-academics and a culture of "condoning failure" in the state sector. His view is that these are endemic in government-funded universities.

The professor, whose views on Islamic extremism on campus have been controversial, stressed that his departure was unrelated to this subject or to his other research interests.

Professor Glees said: "In the past five years at Brunel there have been three vice-chancellors, each with different styles, and my subject has been moved from social sciences into business studies and out again. I've had three line managers in three years."

Funding for research was so variable that long-term planning was impossible, and there was a lack of investment in new ways of learning, he said.

"At Buckingham, student satisfaction is very high. That's because there is small-group teaching, and teaching is taken extremely seriously," he said. In the state-funded sector, he said, he heard frequent complaints from colleagues about students not attending lectures. "Nobody asked the students if they'd come if the lecture was delivered in a different format or frequency. The attitude was: 'if they don't turn up, that's fine'."

He criticised a general system in which "academics have become over-regulated and students under-regulated" amid a "relentless drive to fit in with every government idea, whether it is the expansion of higher education or the idea that if a student doesn't get a 2:1 or first there's something wrong with the teacher".

He said: "When I'm asked if it's true that universities are encouraged to give more 2:1s and set aside failures, I say: 'Yes it is in my experience'." He said bureaucracy had become a disincentive for academics to change or develop their teaching. Professor Glees also described line management as "reminiscent of British Leyland at its worst". He predicted: "In the next 25 years you'll find a greater number of private universities attracting people who think that academic work is not all about correcting the mistakes made by a failing secondary-school system."

He observed that the University of Buckingham had been described as "Thatcherite", but said that was not the case. "If there's one-dimensional politics in British higher education, it's a left-of-centre to Marxist consensus in the state system."

At Buckingham he will set up a Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies with the emphasis on practical experience rather than theoretical understanding. The centre will be based within a new humanities research institute.

Professor Glees will join other outspoken academics at Buckingham, including former chief inspector of schools Chris Woodhead and Geoffrey Alderman, who recently criticised declining academic standards in universities.

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