Workers are stakeholders too

September 1, 2000

I was cheered and saddened by the article "Overhaul decreed for a wasteful system" (THES, August 25). It was cheering to read that the Higher Education Funding Council for England had at last acknowledged what many academics have been telling it for years, that the ever-proliferating audits of university activities are highly wasteful of time and money in relation to what they accomplish in attempting to shape the system.

It was, however, saddening to see that Hefce considered that reforms "are probably too demanding to be achieved in one step". Here is an opportunity for lateral thinking: one bold but simple way of accomplishing reform would be to declare a moratorium on all such exercises for, say, five years, while the deep thinking takes place.

This would release huge amounts of time at a stroke for teaching and real research, reduce problems of overwork, and raise staff morale from its current low point.

Surplus administrative time could be channelled into supporting these activities.

The language used by Hefce continues to elevate and delight. I particularly liked the "inappropriate behavioural responses", which appeared to mean that universities were being too honest in calculating their returns. I was, however, puzzled by the use of the term "stakeholders". I have always taken this to refer, in politically correct jargon, to all those who have a legitimate interest in an enterprise. In the case of universities, this surely includes staff and students, not merely those who have a financial interest, which appears to be Hefce's usage.

Christian Kay

Professor of English language

University of Glasgow

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