Nolan number-crunchers

January 12, 1996

The Nolan committee appears to be concerned with the proverbial mote and cannot see the beam in its own eye. The value system of universities is based not on money, but on academic excellence. It is here that corruption is being institutionalised throughout the system.

The cause of this corruption is the shortage of money, which forces research into areas where interested parties are prepared to support it, tempts teachers to lower course standards and leads to institutions playing games - not always unsuccessfully - with funding councils. These practices devalue academic probity and, while it would be wrong to call them academic sleaze, the danger is there and needs an academic Nolan to investigate it. Compared with this, the few financial lapses are minor peccadilloes and to concentrate on them will give universities a fallaciously clean bill of health.

What universities desperately need is not riches, but enough money for money to become less important, so that academic values can reassert themselves. As long as they are treated as organisations whose most important consideration is the bottom line - and this is what Nolan is likely to be concerned about - the present malaise will continue and intensify.

Lewis Elton

Professor of higher education

University College London

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