V-cs told to fight performance 'monster'

May 3, 2002

Universities should embark on collective resistance to the statistical demands of micro-managing governments if they want to prove their mettle to the public, according to the co-author of a new book on quality assurance.

Donald Savage said quality assurance schemes had led many universities to be diverted from their priorities, and they had ended up employing ruses such as last-minute hiring of scholars to raise the number of research grants the university appeared to have received.

He said: "It encourages them to play games. They think they can outsmart the bureaucrats. But the price is that it removes them from doing what they're supposed to be doing."

Dr Savage, a consultant to Unesco, said the cost of paperwork between universities and governments had spiralled. He blamed performance indicators for bloated senior administrations, public relations and bureaucracy in universities. "It demands more and more to satisfy the monster."

Counting Out the Scholars : The Case Against Performance Indicators , which he co-wrote with William Bruneau, uses case studies in the UK, the US, Canada and New Zealand. It argues that quality assessment and its statistical demands are a smokescreen for inadequate base funding.

The book seeks to demonstrate that governments that are intent on micro-management make illogical demands. For example, asking for the numbers of students employed six months after graduation does not take into account the vagaries of the economy.

Dr Savage has called on vice-chancellors to fight off government incursions.

The template for universities to become more accountable, set out in the book, includes departmental reviews every eight years, publicly disclosed contracts and websites that allow the public to access policies on issues such as plagiarism. It suggests that governments should not go beyond making sure universities adhere to these policies.

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