In UK universities there is a daily erosion of integrity

Apr 24, 2018 by

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Stefan Collini –

The Bologna statement, which defines the very purpose of universities, doesn’t seem to apply to the UK any more

In 1988, to mark the 900th anniversary of the founding of the University of Bologna, Europe’s oldest university, 388 rectors and heads of universities drew up the Magna Charta Universitatum. This was a brief general declaration of the nature of universities and their purpose.

The first principle was: “The university is an autonomous institution at the heart of societies differently organised because of geography and historical heritage”. The second fundamental principle was: “Freedom in research and training is the fundamental principle of university life, and governments and universities … must ensure respect for this fundamental requirement.”

The Bologna statement was an affirmation of an ideal transcending national frontiers. Its principles were reaffirmed in a 1999 document establishing the European Higher Education Area, signed by the education ministers of 29 European countries, including the UK.

Viewed from the everyday experience of a British university two decades later, these principles can ring hollow. “An autonomous institution”? Barely a month goes by without a new diktat issuing from Whitehall and its satellite agencies. Governance is as constrained as policy. One recognised expression of autonomy is for academic staff to have a say in who is appointed to the roles of deans, pro-vice-chancellors, and vice-chancellors. In British universities – unlike the majority of their European counterparts – that doesn’t happen.

Another institutional expression of autonomy would be a senate that had effective control of academic and intellectual policy, but that body has been bypassed or abolished in nearly all UK universities.

“Freedom in research”? Tell that to the colleague compelled by their research excellence framework manager to focus on a particular line of inquiry. Or tell it to the heads of department obliged to enforce the targets set by the pro-vice-chancellor (research) for the amount of money to be brought in by each member of staff through external grants. The mantras “accountability” and “performance management” mask the disturbing extent of institutional bullying in so many British universities.

Source: In UK universities there is a daily erosion of integrity | Stefan Collini | Education | The Guardian

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