No mission, no prize

November 15, 1996

A few months ago the University of Central England and The THES announced a competition to submit a mission statement that would encapsulate the aims and objectives of higher education in the next millennium.

The idea was to see if anyone could compose, in a few words, a statement that would be as far-reaching, inspiring and long-lasting as the four Robbins principles. The prize was a plaque, coupled with the remote possibility of immortality if the mission statement was adopted by Dearing.

Frankly, the results are disappointing. While some submissions were entertaining, inspiration was lacking. Rob Cuthbert at the University of West of the West of England was clearly trying to curry favour when he submitted a brief proposal, "A long day's journey into Knight". There were two submissions in verse: one from Lewis Elton, disqualified because it failed to get the verse to rhyme. The second from Stefan Peter at Coventry University, concluded: "Accomplish courage force through vocation, Create true Edens for continuing skills, So that new teachers may conquer life's ills.

Everything else is (pause?) ad_ mi_ni_ stra_tion."

The problem with more serious entries was negativity. A common fault was to suggest one or two laudable objectives and then add something along the lines of "and not increase student/staff ratios". Negatives, by definition, disqualify the submission. A second common fault was to confuse tactics and strategy. The statements plunged into details such as "admitting more mature students". Laudable but not strategic. The final problem was an excessive use of adjectives, for example, "inter-personal, inter-institutional and international sharing and enlargement of experience".

The contest was difficult. Higher education is more diverse now than at the time of Robbins. I regret that I have to announce on behalf of both judges that we did not feel that any of the submissions were of a sufficient quality to justify a prize. So this is yet another matter that has to be referred to Dearing's committee.

Peter Knight Vice chancellor University of Central England in Birmingham.

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