It's a hard job in tough times at a troubled TVU

July 30, 1999

Troubled Thames Valley University's new vice-chancellor will take over in interesting times. The immediate challenge is to rationalise the place in accordance with the plan agreed with the funding council. This will include dealing with industrial relations problems former vice-chancellor, Mike Fitzgerald, admits he ducked, but it may not otherwise be as difficult as it might appear. We now learn, for example, that external examiners have found that courses were soundly conceived after all.

Turning round public reputation will be harder. The new management will take over at a time when quality watchdogs are eager to demonstrate their toughness, the government is pressing for standardisation of qualifications and "dumbing down" makes sexy headlines. Such a world breeds unitary league tables and in unitary tables TVU will be stuck near the bottom. There is little real enthusiasm for diversity in higher education and less understanding that the term need not be a weasel word meaning some universities are better than others but can and should describe excellence in pursuit of differing goals. Without such understanding - and regulatory regimes to match - famous and ancient institutions will be able to get away with lazy ways while institutions that open up opportunities to people who have had few chances in life are pilloried. Running the latter is the harder job.

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