Wise up before you dumb down

August 8, 1997

The notions of academic autonomy, of academic freedom, of institutional autonomy and of the maintenance of standards are very different and very difficult but clarity is not aided by the multilayered confusion of Robert Taylor's response to Dearing (THES, August 1). Minimally, academic autonomy requires the determination of standards by means of the relevant academic criteria as opposed to any external criteria such as the "market in ideas and innovations" or "a system responsive to economic requirements".

Dearing erred in a number of areas and especially on funding assistance via new students rather than through the fairer means of a special tax-code for all current graduates in employment - whenever they gained the degree. The report's statement concerning the external examiner system is, however, a close intuitive understanding of academic autonomy: "We need to build from established practice to create a more effective mechanism through which, while awards remain the responsibility of the individual institution, there is acceptance that the general standard of awards is the shared responsibility of the whole academic community."

Talk of the "education market" and of the student as "client" has done untold damage to the United Kingdom higher education system, distorting research and undermining the value of understanding and knowledge as aims in their own right rather than means to this or that buck.

Andrew Morgan


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