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MOQ Textbook Introduction



Other papers on this website:

The 1993 AHP transcript-Part One

Selections from the 1993 AHP transcript

David Granger's Aesthetics Paper

PhD Commentary

An Open Letter to Sam Harris

Art & the MOQ by Robert Pirsig

An Introduction to
 Robert Pirsig’s Metaphysics of Quality

Khoo Hock Aun's Paper

An MOQ Summary by Robert Pirsig

David Buchanan's Art & Morality Paper

Pirsig Annotations on Copleston

Gavin Gee-Clough's "Brisbane Winter" Paper 

 Henry Gurr's MOQ presentation


Sneddon Thesis

- Part One


Sneddon Thesis - Part Two

David Buchanan's 2006 Paper

Observer Interview

The MOQ & Time

Pirsig & Pragmatism

Chai at the Lazy Lounge












A philosopher’s perspective of the auditing

procedures in UK Higher Education from 1985 to 2005

by Dr Anthony McWatt


July 2005

Since the Thatcher "government" of the 1980s, there has been a move by UK central government to pressurise the Higher Education system to process an increasing number of students (or ‘customers’???). However, this rise in student numbers has gone hand-in-hand with a reduced amount of central funding for the sector. In this paper, I argue that this is not only short-sighted policy but also a matter of concern with how notions of ‘Quality’ have been recently employed to justify this by government ministers and their representatives for the education sector. I will therefore be re-addressing the balance to a small extent by providing a philosophical critique that employs a modern metaphysics of Quality. To facilitate this, the paper is therefore arranged in the following order, commencing with:

1. A brief introduction to Pirsig’s ‘Metaphysics of Quality’ (or ‘MOQ’). This section is then succeeded by:

2. The historical background of how the term ‘Quality’ was introduced in the British education system;

3. The recent invention by academics of the term ‘Qualispeak’ to denote this Orwellian use of the word ‘Quality’;

4. The Qualispeak auditing procedures employed by the British government;

5. The damage caused by such procedures to creativity and intellectual values such as trust and the truth;

6. The educational systems such as teaching colleges and modules which are amenable to Qualispeak auditing procedures;

7. The under-funding of the UK Higher Education system; and, finally;

8. Proposed replacements to Qualispeak auditing procedures such as complexity theory.

This section is largely devoted to metaphysics (and will seem strange to someone not familiar to Pirsig’s work) but if the reader can plough through this brief theory, the remainder will make more sense. Pirsig builds his metaphysical system on the unusual postulation that everything is a type of value (primarily for pragmatic reasons as, strictly speaking, we don’t know what reality is fundamentally composed of). In consequence, the MOQ is a monistic theory that describes and explains reality totally in terms of Quality (or Value) patterns. In addition to this unusual postulation, Pirsig uses cosmological evolution as a basis for ordering reality. This is implemented in an effort to remove the cultural subjectivity inherent in many social and intellectual values i.e. Pirsig is attempting to place morals on a more objective and, therefore, valuable foundation.

In the MOQ, therefore, reality (as a whole) is denoted by the term ‘Quality’ which Pirsig divides into Dynamic Quality and static quality (or value) patterns. Static quality is further subdivided into a framework of intellectual, social, biological and inorganic patterns related through cosmological evolution. If the Big Bang is taken as the starting point of the universe, it’s seen that the inorganic patterns (such as hydrogen) were the first static quality patterns to appear. From these, biological patterns, societies and, eventually, intellectual patterns evolved. Within the order of static patterns, the MOQ gives primacy to intellectual patterns, then to social patterns, biological patterns and, lastly, inorganic patterns. The justification for giving primacy to intellectual patterns then to social patterns etc. is on the grounds that the higher patterns allow an increase of freedom.

Static patterns of value are divided into four systems: inorganic patterns, biological patterns, social patterns and intellectual patterns. They are exhaustive. That’s all there are. If you construct an encyclopaedia of four topics - inorganic, biological, social and intellectual - nothing is left out. No ‘thing’, that is. Only Dynamic Quality, which cannot be described in any encyclopaedia is absent. (Pirsig, 1991, p.153)

This assertion about Dynamic Quality indicates the MOQ’s post-modernist emphasis that reality is essentially open-ended rather than static. In consequence, the MOQ perceives Dynamic values (such as creativity and curiosity) as being critical for anything that needs to develop successfully (whether it’s an organism, a species, or a social pattern such as a university). As Philip Tagg [2] (2002a) notes: ‘Curiosity, enthusiasm, the ability to cooperate, intellectual generosity, artistic independence, originality, innovation and many other unquantifiable qualities essential to good education and research.’

To assist the reader in understanding how the MOQ is structured, a diagram of the static levels is included below as an approximate guide. This shows the evolutionary development of the static patterns; the oldest and less ‘moral’ (such as the inorganic) being on the lowest level. Though it’s not labelled on the diagram as such, Dynamic Quality underlies all the static patterns.


The evolutionary order of static quality patterns


With its conceptual division between Dynamic Quality and static quality patterns, the MOQ is similar to Mahayana Buddhism in recognising both an unconceptualised (i.e. Dynamic) and a conceptualised (i.e. static) part of reality. In Western philosophies the conceptualised part of reality is usually divided between subjects and objects; these static orientated ‘Cartesian’ philosophies are termed SOM (subject-object metaphysics) by Pirsig.

The MOQ is of interest in the context of the British educational system as it indicates that even a metaphysical system that assumes that values are real (or, at least, not purely subjective) does not support the understanding of Quality that is promoted by the present audit culture in education.

Although technically consisting of independent corporations, the universities are largely dependent on state funding and, in consequence, vulnerable to government pressure. This has resulted in a system that was previously orientated towards professional qualifications in such disciplines as medicine, teaching, law and engineering being transformed towards the ‘mass production’ of a class of generic literate and numerate intellectual workers that are required to underpin an economy ever more dependent on information exchange.

In a nutshell, we could summarize the change as a shift from the mass production of clerks by grammar schools, to the mass production of ‘middle managers’ by Universities. The new-style graduate will have abilities appropriate to the needs of modern commerce: accessing information sources, writing reports, using computer spreadsheets and word-processors, participating in structured arguments etc. The hope is that these mass-produced intellectual workers will prove able to do more than just clerical work acting under instruction, but will also be capable of participating in planning, auditing, sales, researching and other characteristic activities of contemporary economic life. (Charlton, 2002)

The implementation of this strategy by central government has not led to an increase of general taxation but an increase in the employment of American managerial technologies within universities in the context of admission policy, teaching and research. Pfeffer & Coote (1991, p.9) locate the mainstream acceptance (in the UK) of American business ideology specifically to the best selling book In Search of Excellence: lessons from America’s best-run companies by Peters & Waterman, published in 1982. Though companies (such as Sainsbury’s and Mark & Spencer’s) had employed these ideas on a small scale previously, it was only when the commercially orientated Thatcher government arrived that such ideas were taken up in Britain on a large scale. In consequence, UK managerial culture became dominated by the discipline of accountancy and, as such, the characteristic nature of government influence on Higher Education has been dictated by concepts such as ‘accountability’ and ‘quality’. Audit technologies can be insidious, subtle and effective since they form self-reinforcing rhetorical systems based on the criterion that all organizational practices should be auditable. This has resulted in structural changes in universities transferring power from academics to managers whose activities are more amenable to external monitoring and regulation.

The ‘Quality’ movement in modern business originated in the late 1940s and 1950s with the visits to Japan of the American business ‘gurus’ (such as W. Edwards Deming, Joseph Juran and Armand Feigenbaum) to assist in its economic regeneration. As East Asians relate Quality to an objective harmony, it seems no coincidence that the Americans found the Japanese particularly amenable to the development of Quality in the workplace. As illustrated by The Dawns of Tradition (referred to in Sections 2.8.1.) Quality is perceived as being an important part of reality by business in the Far East: ‘To most Japanese, quality has an almost religious significance’ (Clark & Itoh, 1983, p.111). Unfortunately, from the beginning Deming, Juran and, Feigenbaum overlooked the Japanese understanding of Quality (i.e. as relating to universal harmony) and defined it as ‘what is required by the customer’. For instance, within Total Quality Management (TQM) Deming taught that ‘the consumer is the most important part of the production line,’ Juran also emphasised the importance of the customer requirements (though also considered Quality as relating to ‘fitness for purpose’) while Feigenbaum stressed that Quality does not mean ‘best’ but only ‘best for the customer use and selling price.’ The idea of ‘fitness for purpose’ grew out of twentieth century mass production (Fordism) and the breaking down of factory work into repetitive tasks (Taylorism).

Loughlin (2002, p.71) observes that the commercial understanding of Quality has now become pervasive in the UK health and education sectors terming the resulting jargon ‘Qualispeak’. Pfeffer & Coote (1991, p.4) observe that Qualispeak is especially disingenuous as the general understanding of Quality as a synonym for excellence is not explicitly distanced from the commercial definition. Pfeffer & Coote advance the argument that this is done so when the ideology of ‘quality’ is ‘marketed’ within UK public services (such as health, social security & education) it makes highly contentious measures sound better. As Loughlin (2002, p.73) notes, there ‘is not a serious attempt to define quality at all’ which allows the ‘persuasive’ element of the word to be retained together with the hidden commercial definition (i.e. ‘Quality is what saves or makes the most money’). By ‘persuasive’, Loughlin is referring to the usual understanding of Quality as being a positive thing to achieve, whatever the real intentions of the policymaker. For example, a hospital ward being closed down due to reasons of ‘Quality’ sounds better than reasons of ‘cost-cutting.’

Quality plays a central part in a public relations exercise which is aimed at reassuring the public that recent changes will do them no harm, and may possibly do them some good. Activities which take place in the name of quality may indeed improve matters for the public. But even when they don’t the quality message remains. (Pfeffer & Coote, 1991, p.4-5)

As far as UK education is specifically concerned, it was in the mid-1980s, under the influence of the Thatcher government that the ideology of Deming, Juran and Feigenbaum (and their modern counterparts such as Philip Crosby, T.J. Peters and Claus Moller) were introduced. The concern with this encroachment of capitalist business ideology has been noted by Gombrich (2000), Tagg (2002a) and Loughlin (2002). The Thatcher government supported the belief that the free market should determine the operations of all sectors of life; not just the commercial. As such, it became interested in where taxpayers’ money was spent by the sectors of society (such as education) which did not produce (direct and immediate) profit. This requirement for scrutiny led to the establishment of the RAE (Research Assessment Exercise) in 1986.

The Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) purports to evaluate the quality of research in universities and colleges. Its main purpose is to selectively distribute public funds for research on the basis of quality and is presently administered by the UK funding councils (though this process is currently under review). In the RAE, a committee of academics’ in a particular subject area (e.g. philosophy) is appointed nationally to grade the ‘quality’ of research at a university department on a scale from 1 (the lowest grade) to 5* (the highest). The ratings they produce determine the funding that each university receives from central government for that subject over a period of five years. However, the RAE committee itself is not accountable to any audit which throws doubt on its members’ impartiality when dealing with their own departments. Other difficulties with the RAE are noted by Gombrich (2000):

Each academic is invited to submit up to four publications for assessment. It is officially stated that what is assessed is not quantity but quality. Not surprisingly, this message does not filter down.

Even if the message of Quality ‘filters down,’ there’s ambiguity concerning which understanding of Quality is meant. Is that Quality as an absolute good (as per Plato), fitness of use in reference to the University’s charter (which no doubt has further vague references to Quality) or the commercial Qualispeak definition? The fact that the underlying message that does filter down is usually an emphasis on quantity indicates it isn’t the first.

To my personal knowledge, university administrations tend to tell their staff that they have to submit four publications and that if they do not they may be invited to take early retirement. Staff are well aware that they are thus being constrained to publish work prematurely, or artificially to split what should be a single publication into two. Another abuse is that since universities are credited with the research of the staff they employ at the time of the assessment, regardless of where that research was done, people with good publications are hired for the year of the assessment and then ‘let go’. (Gombrich, 2000)

Moreover, as regards philosophy in particular it should be remembered that many notable philosophers from Socrates to Pirsig wrote down little of their thought, if any, in a formal basis and, even philosophers whose formal thought was published (such as Wittgenstein and Richard McKeon) much of this material was derived from their respective students’ lecture notes. In the present RAE climate, Socrates (who published nothing) and Pirsig (who published only two academic papers) would be deemed as “academic deadweight” as regards the supposed research quality of a modern department!

The AUT (the largest union in the traditional or ‘old’ university sector) argues that the RAE cycle creates an artificial employment pattern characterised by unsustainable investment and high salaries for a few academics before the census date - followed by cutbacks and pressure on staff to leave shortly afterwards. This has been highly divisive creating an atmosphere of conflict and discontent within departments. Moreover, Tagg (2002a) observes that academics are often pressurised to submit research early to assist a department to ‘fill the quota for the highest possible rating.’ This has the result that long-term research is compromised and has less value for students and other researchers who might employ it. The AUT (2004b) notes that ‘even the funding bodies have admitted that previous rounds have led to ad-hoc grouping of departments, exclusion of some staff from the process and falsification of the institutions profiles’ as illustrated in the 2002 Report by the ‘House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee’ which found that one department which had been awarded a 5* had submitted less than 60 per cent of its staff for the RAE. Karen Ross (2002), the Director of the Centre for Communication, Culture & Media Studies at Coventry University, also notes that women are the ‘frequent casualties of departments playing the research assessment exercise.’

Even following the publication of the Initial decisions by the UK funding bodies document in February 2004 designed to alleviate concerns with the RAE, the AUT (2004b) argues that this document not only fails to address or resolve any previous concerns but that the new assessment rules will intensify what was already a serious drawback of the scheme: ‘the creation of an undesirable pattern in employment and salaries, with unsustainable investments by universities and high salaries for a few before the census date’ (of October 31st 2007). Possibly, not surprisingly, the AUT is being ‘accountable’ to its members by remaining committed to the campaign for the abolition of the RAE and its replacement with alternative funding arrangements.

I mention ‘accountable’ in this context as this term has two distinct meanings often conflated by the QAA and RAE: a sharply-defined technical accountancy connotation and a looser, more ‘popular’ understanding. This facilitates the employment of the term ‘accountability’ in a rhetorically manipulative fashion as it can be switched back and forth between these technical and general meanings. In general discourse, accountable is defined as ‘responsible’ (as in the sense employed in the previous paragraph), and carries connotations of ‘being answerable-to’ while being ‘unaccountable’ is synonymous with being ‘irresponsible’ and ‘out of control’. Since responsible behavior is universally approved, the calls to increase ‘accountability’ by government sound self-evidently desirable even though the technical understanding of accountability refers only to the duty of presenting auditable accounts. (Charlton, 2002) In consequence, an independently minded academic might be labelled as being ‘unaccountable’ despite being an excellent teacher and researcher. However, as being ‘unaccountable’ is regarded as unacceptable by definition then a justification is introduced for introducing a formal system of monitoring and control. Autonomy is re-packaged as ‘irresponsibility’ and the subordination of academics by a top-down hierarchical control mechanism is restated in terms of ‘increased accountability’. It comes of no surprise, therefore, that the AUT (2004b) argues that the RAE’s underlying remit is essentially concerned with restricting budget rather than encouraging quality research and, in consequence, has had a negative effect on equal opportunities and teaching.

The AUT rejects the principle that university funding should be based to such an extent on a process that can only be described (at best) as random. We believe that the very principle on which the RAE is based – that a panel of experts can knowledgeably, fairly and systematically assess the research quality of every researcher in all higher education institutions in Britain – is inherently wrong and unrealistic. We further reject the claim that there is an overwhelming support from the university sector for an RAE. The RAE has had deleterious effects on the nature of research and academic freedom. It has not improved research quality. It has undermined equal opportunities and has negatively affected the quality of teaching. (AUT, 2004b)

In 1992, the UK Conservative government passed the Further and Higher Education Act in which the former polytechnics and teaching colleges became universities. In consequence, new funding bodies such as the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council (SHEFC) and the Higher Education Funding Council for England and Wales (HEFCE) were established for all universities; old and new alike. It is these funding bodies and Universities UK that jointly finance the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA). The QAA was established in 1997 though its philosophy was originally developed between 1989 and 1990 from Universities UK’s own academic audit unit (i.e. the AAU). The AAU employed Juran’s ‘fitness for purpose’ definition of quality producing a generic, audit-based version of quality control usually termed ‘quality assurance’ (QA). QA refers to ‘quality’ as an abstract requirement for a particular type of regulatory system rather than excellence. The influence of American business ideology is also evident in that the Head of the QAA (Peter Williams) is now given the American commercial title of ‘CEO’; a worrying indication for an UK public body. The supposed mission for the QAA is to ‘safeguard the public interest in sound standards of higher education qualifications, and to encourage continuous improvement in the management of the quality of Higher Education… by reviewing standards and quality, and providing reference points that help to define clear and explicit standards.’ As such, the fundamental philosophy of the QAA approved system of teaching is that it is auditable i.e. comprehensively and self-consistently documented. The consequence of this documentation is noted by Gombrich (2000), in the context of the QAA’s ‘institutional audit’ (or, as it was previously termed, the TQA):

The TQA is even worse [than the RAE]. Departments reckon that preparation for an assessment takes months. The documentation required beggars belief. For example, every course given has to show the inspectors not merely the syllabus and all hand-outs, bibliographies, etc., but samples of the best, the worst and the average written work produced by students on the course. I know of one department, employing six teaching staff, which weighed its submission; it came to 45 kilos of paper.

This anecdotal evidence is supported by Professor Bruce Charlton (2002) in reference to the QAA inspection of the Department of Psychology at the University of Newcastle:

The QAA inspection of my own medium-sized University department (approximately 15 academic staff) generated considerably more than ten thousand pieces of paper housed in dozens of box-files that filled a room; and the inspection lasted four full days. The logistics of preparation took many months including full-time and part-time secondment of several academic and secretarial staff, dozens of hours of meetings and ‘away days’ involving dozens of staff, and temporary employment of extra secretarial help. While the QAA central bureaucracy is itself a relatively small organization, and relatively inexpensive for the government, the heavy cost of inspection is borne by the department being audited.

A pilot study by Leeds University and Leeds Metropolitan University calculated the real cost of an QAA inspection (including the costs of lost teaching and research) as being about £250,000 and the ‘Times Higher Educational Supplement’ (THES) estimated that the total cost of the TQAs (from 1995 to 2001) approached £100 million. This in addition to the £3 million to £5 million a year spent on the internal administration costs of the QAA. The THES further notes difficulties with ‘grade inflation’ in that the average grade for an TQA has increased annually due to academics’ becoming more aware of what the QAA wants to hear (rather than any real quality improvement) while the failure rates (0.1% for 1996-98), (0.6% for 1998-2000) are marginal and ‘is what has convinced most academics’ that the exercise is a waste of resources.’

As ‘institutional audit’ requires cross-checking, each specific item of information from each person must be consistent with the documentation provided by everyone else consistent with the mission statements, aims and objectives of the university and government policy. All this cross-checking inevitably requires vast documentation which entails both vast bureaucracy and substantial cost. Charlton (2002) also argues that unlike audit systems in a commercial context, public bodies have an irresistible tendency to become highly bureaucratic and expensive as there is less financial incentive to limit escalating documentation:

In the accountancy-dominated world of UK managerialism, managers exert control by means of auditing. Transparent organizations are auditable, and auditable organizations are manageable - and vice versa. Therefore, organizations must be made auditable… [though] the price can be high. In a market system, there is a brake on excessive auditing - in a monopoly public sector activity such as the UK Universities, audit can grow even when its growth is exerting significant damage on performance and efficiency.

As university staff take on increasing administration in connection with Reviews, the AUT (2003a) has noted this has exacerbated stress in the workplace and, therefore advises it members to withdraw from or not to join review teams:

Audit processes are overly costly and bureaucratic, and that a controversial pedagogical agenda has been imposed. We advise members to withdraw from or not to join review teams.

Finally, as noted by ‘Universities Scotland’ the auditing assessment of Scotland has always differed from the English (and Northern Irish) system ‘making direct comparison impossible’ between universities in the different UK countries. (Ritchie, 2004b)

It would perhaps be an exaggeration to state categorically that excellent teaching is impossible under a comprehensive QA system - after all human ingenuity can achieve the most surprising things under the most adverse conditions. Nevertheless, especially in an under funded system, QA causes a shift in resources away from teaching and towards auditing, a shift from ‘doing’ towards documenting, and a shift in power away from teachers and student towards managers, auditors and the politicians who set the audit agenda. (Charlton, 2002)

5.0. ‘SUMMUM IUS SUMMA INURIA’ (‘The more law, the less justice’)
In addition to this irresponsible waste of limited financial resources, there is a concern with the damage the RAE and external auditing has caused to intellectual values such as trust and the truth and, more seriously, Dynamic Quality. In the subsequent three sections, then, we will examine the effects of audit culture on each of these values beginning with trust.

As Gombrich (2000) notes, the work of a lecturer is to promote a general good i.e. to promote education.
To carry out their work requires both expertise and an ethical commitment. They get paid for their work, but it is virtually impossible for outsiders to evaluate it, so one of their commitments is not to overcharge. They take responsibility for exercising their judgment in the interest of their clients. The public… has generally been inclined to trust the professions and to allow them to regulate their own affairs through professional councils.

Largely due to the recent audit culture, individual self-regulation of universities is no longer the case and there remains an unspoken Thatcherite assumption that academics can only be trusted if audited. The increase of external assessment that has arisen with the RAE and auditing has engendered, in Tagg’s (2002a) words, ‘dishonesty, cynicism and hypocrisy.’

It is one of my duties to encourage good intellectual practice. If I take part in activities which do not constitute such practice, I open myself to accusations of hypocrisy. I do not think any university teacher should be forced to act hypocritically. (Tagg, 2002a)

The dishonesty and cynicism is brought about because most academics’, up to now, have cooperated with audits even though they think such procedures have little value:

Most colleagues find audit exercises ludicrous but nevertheless go through the motions of complying with their imperatives lest the wrath of management be incurred… A recurrent quip from colleagues is that we’re forced, like circus animals, ‘to jump through hoops’. The more circus tricks we perform, the more we demean ourselves. After all, the whole idea of forcing someone to carry out a pointless task is to demean that person. (Tagg, 2002a)

Other than making-up the numbers in meetings, educational audits also waste academics’ time with completing paperwork. Tagg (2002a) observes that forms can introduce dishonesty and cynicism as they are completed so that ‘management will interpret [them] in the least negative way when apportioning funds.’ Related to this issue, Ball (2001) notes that audit culture encourages lecturers to be seen doing ‘what looks good’ rather than being occupied with work they actually think is important.
However, this lack of trust in academics’ is ultimately self-defeating. With this issue in mind, Tagg (2002a) compares Toyota (which being Japanese tends to have a high regard for Dynamic Quality) with General Motors (which maintains the Quality = profit models of Deming, Juran or Feigenbaum). Though General Motors employs ten times more personnel than Toyota, it produces very few more cars. This is essentially because Toyota depends on trust to sustain long-term relationships with its suppliers which provides it with ‘an openness with information and a flexibility of response which the General Motors structure lacks.’ Because General Motors controls and monitors its factories along the lines of Deming etc. it’s less flexible, slower and less reliable; the incorporation of trust and openness employed by Toyota give it a real competitive edge.

The more regulations there are, the easier it is to cheat the system because each regulation provides yet another cover behind which the clever ‘bad apple’ who ‘knows the rules of the game’ can hide and manipulate. In a more open system based on trust, on the other hand, the peer pressure of not wanting to ‘let the side down’ has, in my experience, been far more effective a deterrent than rigid prescriptive regulation. (Tagg, 2002a)

Moreover, Tagg (2002a) notes that auditors didn’t prevent the collapse of the Allied Irish Bank or Enron though he is careful to emphasise that the solution doesn’t lie in the appointment of yet more auditors for the auditors:

Indeed, audit’s prudence principle, if applied systematically would demand that auditors be audited by auditors who should be audited by more auditors, and so on, in an endless chain of audits and meta-audits. It is clear that audit culture’s notion of prudence is not only restricted and misleading but also, if applied properly, never-ending and, consequently, an inordinate waste of time, money and energy. (Tagg, 2002a)

Furthermore, the auditing procedures of the UK education system employ the American model where the only people who audit the auditors are people within the same industry. The similarities don’t end there. In reference to the recent fraud scandals at WorldCom and Xerox, Sir David Tweedie, the chairman of the International Accounting Standards Board notes that American business is dominated by a static ‘rule-based approach to accounting standards’ which allows a culture of complacency as it ‘allows companies and their auditors to feel they have done their jobs so long as they can tick off boxes to say they complied with certain rules’. In the context of educational auditing, Tagg (2002b) observes the danger with this:

Even though the original intentions behind some of the audit exercises may have been noble, they are so flawed by uncritical acceptance of only what can be counted counts that any such noble intentions are thwarted… It is also quite human to conflate the institution established to carry out noble intentions with the noble intentions themselves and then to stick up for an idealised notion of the institution as signifier of the intentions, even when it demonstrably spells mayhem. I think a lot of people who took part in the Russian revolution must have acted similarly when Stalin came to power.

Institutions work best if they have clear goals and are designed to achieve those goals. Hospitals are for care of the sick, orchestras for playing music, and they should be used for those goals, entrusted to the professionals who understand them, and only judged by how well they fulfil them. Universities are for truth: to promote its pursuit (curiosity) and encourage its use under all circumstances.

Gombrich’s (2000) contention that truth is the paramount concern for universities is also supported by Pirsig (1974, p.151):
The primary goal of the Church of Reason… is always Socrates’ old goal of truth, in its ever-changing forms, as it’s revealed by the process of rationality. Everything else is subordinate to that.

Unfortunately, the truth is not served by academic audits because the procedure of auditing is necessarily distortive. As Strathern (2000) observes ‘audit produces its own effect’ i.e. an audit has a certain number of preset quantifiable outputs that will be given priority over outputs which aren’t measured. ‘Quality’ teaching becomes characterized by mission statements, aims and objectives, flow-charts, monitoring, feedback and formal procedures for all imaginable contexts. Only that which is documented, hence auditable, is deemed to count. As noted by the Nottingham University Teaching Enhancement Office, in their famous motto for Quality Assessment: ‘If it ain’t documented it didn't happen!’ (Tarling, 1999) In consequence, this encourages Departments to concentrate on the audited outputs to the detriment of non-audited ones:

‘What can be counted counts’ and nothing else, so to speak. The SPR, the RAE, league tables, etc. all exhibit an almost metaphysical belief in the quantifiability of everything. (Tagg, 2002a)

The RAE’s and QAA’s audit culture of quantifiability rests on the erroneous assumption that numerical measures constitute the only reliable means of assessing Quality and ‘unfortunately this eliminates everything that people mean by ‘high quality’ teaching in normal everyday discourse - however, this regrettable fact has not prevented the widespread equation of QAA score with excellent teaching.’ (Charlton, 2002) Moreover, this leads to the overlooking of values which are important for research but aren’t easily quantifiable such as:

Curiosity, enthusiasm, the ability to cooperate, intellectual generosity, artistic independence, originality, innovation and many other unquantifiable qualities essential to good education and research. (Tagg, 2002a)

In other words, the most Dynamic values.

As emphasised by Pirsig, Dynamic Quality is the most important aspect of reality alluded to by the MOQ. Unfortunately, Dynamic Quality (which represents the creative and the intuitive) is the one most seriously damaged by static orientated auditing procedures:

Innovation cannot be audited because it involves, by definition, unknowns, experimentation and the development of previously untried (combinations of) materials, methods or ideas. Audit offers no reward to those who strive for the innovation necessary to keep abreast or in front of social, cultural, technological, intellectual or ideological change; it does, however, provide countless incentives for those who meet prescribed targets based on what is already known and established. (Tagg, 2002a)

The key words in the above quote ‘prescribed targets based on what is already known and established’ i.e. static quality patterns. However, any entity that needs to develop successfully (whether it’s an organism, a species, or a social pattern such as a university) needs to evolve i.e. to paraphrase Popper, it’s not the pushes from the static past that are important but the pulls from the Dynamic future.

Since none of us is able to predict the future, we have to rely on accumulated experience, on extrapolation and on other forms of intelligent guesswork to prepare students for life in a world whose pace of change in cultural, economic and technological terms can hardly be expected to slow down, let alone remain locked in the immediate past, which is exactly what the audit model and its intrinsic retroactivity seems to expect by equating targets with measurements. (Tagg, 2002a)

Anecdotal evidence that Dynamic Quality is gradually being put to one side in education is provided by Gombrich (2000):
On a recent inspection of Oxford teaching the inspector sat in on a history tutorial. The student read an essay, the teacher discussed it with him. In the course of the discussion the teacher rose and pulled a book out of his bookcase to show it to the student. The inspector asked if it was on the syllabus. It was not, [i.e. it was not a pre-established static good] so the teacher was officially criticized for introducing an element [i.e. a Dynamic good] into his teaching which had not been previously announced. Spontaneous interaction [i.e. Dynamic Quality] with a student and the exercise of judgment are both frowned on.

A more depressing account from a primary school teacher story is given by Jeffrey & Woods (1998, p.118). I state depressing as it could soon become the standard experience of lecturers in Higher Education:

I don’t have the job satisfaction now I once had working with young kids because I feel every time I do something intuitive [i.e. Dynamic] I just feel guilty about it. ‘Is this right; am I doing this the right way; does this cover what I am supposed to be covering: should I be doing something else: should I be more structured; should I have this in place; should I have done this?’ [i.e. followed the static procedures] You start to query everything you are doing.

Possibly, not surprisingly, Alan Ryan (2002, p.14) gave the subsequent advice after resigning his post as Warden of New College, Oxford University:

My advice to anyone young enough and unencumbered enough to do so is indeed to get out and stay out – out of academic life, or if not, out of the British academic system. British academic life has become unviable. It is ill-paid, overmanaged and increasingly uninteresting.

It’s a pity Ryan didn’t question the Secretary of State for Education, Keith Joseph, seventeen years beforehand about the future of research at Oxford when Joseph visited Balliol College. When the minister addressed an assembly of scientists he advised them: ‘If you want to do research, my advice to you is to emigrate.’ Not surprisingly, Gombrich (2000) notes: ‘I can report that my own doctor in Oxford has told me that hardly a day passes when he is not consulted by an academic suffering from stress.’ Again, the above anecdotal evidence is supported by the 2002 ‘Report of the Science and Technology Select Committee’ which notes that the RAE discourages long-term speculative research. It states that if Watson and Crick (who revealed the structure of DNA) were working today that ‘these researchers could be branded as inactive and shunted off to teach first-year undergraduates.’

The magic of Quality Assurance is that what was un-measurable has been rendered measurable - so long as one does not inquire too carefully into what words like ‘quality’ actually mean in operational terms. Although in the real world we are no nearer to measuring the excellence of teaching than ever we were, by the enchantment of QA, numerical values have been attached to quantified aspects of individual and institutional performance, marks have been awarded, league tables prepared, performance criteria monitored, differential funding allocated… In short the system has been rendered manageable. (Charlton, 2002)

Another business idea recently imported into the British education system is the ‘modular system’ which originated in the American motor industry. The modular system involves modules that are examined at the end of each term or ‘semester’ and has replaced the traditional British one-subject or two-subject B.A. or B.Sc. degree system which only involved examinations at the end of each academic year. This entails more assessment by tutors; the consequence from this is noted by Gombrich (2000):
Examining, like all evaluation, is a form of administration and takes time away from what used to be considered the essential duties of university teachers: teaching and research. At some of our universities there is now hardly any teaching between the Easter break and the summer holidays: the teachers are examining full-time.

The over-emphasis on examinations also leaves less time for research. As Pirsig (1974, p.147) notes, this policy reduces Dynamic Quality and leads to (static) stagnation:
At a teaching college you teach and you teach and you teach with no time for research, no time for contemplation, no time for participation in outside affairs… Your mind grows dull and your creativity vanishes and you become an automaton saying the same dull things over and over to endless waves of innocent students who cannot understand why you are so dull, lose respect and fan this disrespect out into the community.

The lowering of standards in British education through ‘modularisation’ is confirmed by Professor Mary Davis:

We now have an appalling modularised, semesterised system that reduces everything to the lowest common denominator. It is almost embarrassing to deliver the kind of courses I deliver. Students don’t know that what they are getting is terrible.

Professor Davis also complains that the modular system reduces staff-student contact time so tutorials are difficult to maintain and that it also leads to the cramming of courses. Moreover, Brecher (2002) criticises the self-containment of modules as it encourages the fragmentation of courses and facilitates the introduction of part-time hourly paid lecturers who only need to know the particular module they’re teaching. This process is insidious as it undermines ‘anything resembling an intellectual community’ and enables the training of a ‘workforce’ without encouraging independent thought:

Teaching students to want the right things – to become safe consumers, and occasional producers, of capitalism’s means of profit – is exactly what the [Qualispeak administrators] are pursuing… It is modules, not students, that are assessed; no account is taken of students’ intellectual development, their reflections on what they have learnt in light of later thought. (Brecher, 2002)

That modularisation has little relation to high quality is notable in the fact that neither the Universities of Oxford or Cambridge have introduced the system.

No one has argued that Oxbridge would benefit from modularising its degrees, and what is good for the best is equally good for the rest. That is the argument we need to make. We all know modularity is a sham and we should say so. (Brecher, 2002)

On the other hand, Clark (2002c) argues the non-modularisation of Oxford and Cambridge has:

A lot more to do with the intransigence of the Oxbridge establishment: I don’t believe there has been any argument about it. And another reason is that they simply have more resources.

As Pirsig (1974, p.147) notes, universities that become ‘teaching colleges’ are a ‘clever way of running a college on the cheap while giving a false appearance of genuine education’ and indicates the real reason for the introduction of modules. Unfortunately, the AUT (2004b) notes that in the 2003 white paper on Higher Education, the British Government still intends to award university status to institutions which teach undergraduate students but do not offer research degrees.

In 2002, Michael Thorne, the vice-chancellor of the University of East London was already concerned that his institution was being pressurised by government to concentrate on teaching and close down its research facilities: ‘I’m darned if we’ll be shut out of research, that’s what makes a university’ yet, in June 2003, Margaret Hodge (the then Higher Education minister) confirmed that the government was pressing ahead with concentrating research funding in fewer top departments and hinted that research would be limited to a group of elite universities despite this policy being vehemently opposed by the universities and the funding councils. For instance, Sir Howard Newby (2003), chief executive of the funding council HEFCE, argues that ‘The funding council has always intended true research excellence to be sustained and supported wherever it is found’ and that designating universities as research or non-research institutions would entail some institutions becoming complacent and others demoralised. Furthermore, Roderick Floud (2003), president of the UUK, states that university vice-chancellors are against further concentration of research funding (already more concentrated than in the US) as removing funding from grade four departments would threaten vital disciplines (such as engineering and medicine) and have a negative effect on teaching. Floud (2003) judges that the evidence for research concentration is weak and its consequences have not been thought through properly.

UK research as currently distributed is great. Where is the evidence that concentrating it all on a few universities would be more successful? We are sometimes told that the government aims to produce more competition into higher education, but in fact the proposals seem intended to reduce competition by excluding many institutions, downgrading others and making it impossible for them to compete.

This government over-interference is also criticised by Pirsig (2002):

I think the MOQ regards any government supervision of the university curriculum as a form of evil because this is a social pattern attempting to control intellectual patterns. It is hypocritical for conservatives to denounce government interference in the free market place of commerce and then turn around and enforce government interference in the free market place of thought.

Of course, as seen in the emigration of some of the top academics in the UK to the United States, such policies are often self-defeating:

As long as academic institutions are competitive the word gets around as to which ones are the best. The best teachers will tend to migrate to these schools and avoid government-dominated schools that try to muzzle them. Thus government domination of education defeats its own ostensive purpose. All this is ignored, of course, because the government’s non-ostensive purpose - its real purpose - is not improvement of education but short sighted tax-payer greed. (Pirsig 2002)

Essentially, it appears that the introduction of American business-style auditing in the UK’s Higher Education system was to reduce costs for the government while, simultaneously, giving the false impression of improving standards. As Gombrich (2000) argues, even though Margaret Thatcher enjoyed the advantages of studying at Oxford University, she went a long way to deny future generations the benefit of a similar education. The present Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was also an Oxford graduate, and though his sentiments are in a more positive direction, he has remained slow to dismantle the auditing systems or the under-funding his government inherited from the Conservatives. This continued under-funding is noted by Steven Schwartz (2003), the vice-chancellor of Brunel University:

Although British higher education is still rated highly around the world, that could change because of funding, deteriorating infrastructure, academics leaving to go to the US. A lot of the problems focus on money. Universities are very, very desperate for more funding. You only have to go to see them to see that - poor infrastructure, rubbish all over the place. They need a lot more money to raise salaries and improve the infrastructure for leading-edge research.

The Education Minister Charles Clarke (2004) stated in the March 2004 Education Budget Statement to the House of Commons that spending for the education sector as a whole will rise from £48bn per annum (from 2004-05) to £63.9bn in 2007-2008; expenditure on Higher Education science and research alone increasing ‘in 2005-06 by £1.25 billion a year compared to 2002-03 - around 30% in real terms’. The latter figure isn’t particularly revealing by itself though at least it appears that the Minister had taken on board the 2002 report by the ‘Science and Technology Select Committee’ warning that an extra £200 million was required on top of HEFCE’s annual research budget of £888 million.

Though this planned budget increase is a positive move for the Higher Education sector, it’s already clear that the government is seeking £9bn of this extra funding via top-up fees for students (McSmith, 2003). There are already numerous articles arguing against this controversial policy though I will simply add here that a typical undergraduate loses around £15,000 wages per annum even before any further costs for education are taken into account and, after 2006, when universities are able to set their own charges for courses above the present maximum of £3000 (Imperial College had already planned to introduce £15,000 fees for some courses in 2003), a further discrepancy in access will be introduced (as poorer students will be put off taking the most sought after courses because of the higher long-term debt that this will entail).

There is alas the plainest of evidence that the lure of short-term gain is killing the goose that lays the golden eggs… untutored ignorance is thought of as natural, and any interference with that ignorance is a kind of bonus or, as Mrs Thatcher would say, a luxury. Can poor Britain afford such luxuries? Well, in the eighties someone had the bright idea of printing a button for people like me to wear; it said: ‘If you think education is expensive, try ignorance’. (Gombrich, 2000)

The most obvious solution in dealing with the budget shortfall masked by Qualispeak is increased funding through an increase of general taxation; possibly through an increase of income tax rate for salaries of over £50,000 per annum. This is supported by the anecdotal evidence in comparing the UK to other European states with higher tax regimes. For instance, Geoffrey Saunders (2004), a regular traveller between England and France, observes that:

The French pay higher taxes for a health system that cares, schools that teach and transport that works. Britain’s Thatcherite culture of ‘me first’, ‘what does it cost?’, has destroyed its society.

While, the latter sentiment is certainly an exaggeration, it remains true that the higher tax option has been ignored by the Blair government (probably on the grounds of short term political considerations) even though the higher level of income tax of 40% would affect only 10% of workers (if the present cut-off point of £34,515 per annum was retained). Though the 40% income tax level was introduced by Mrs Thatcher, this relatively low rate was only introduced after she had been in power for nearly ten years; throughout most of her premiership, Thatcher’s government retained a higher rate of 60%. Yet, when Commons leader Peter Hain suggested in an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme in June 2003, that relatively minor taxation increases for the very richest (for instance, around 5% for a company director earning £500,000 plus) be introduced in order to cut the tax bills for people who earn between £35,000 and £50,000, he was quickly ‘swatted down’ by Tony Blair. Blair (2003), speaking at an EU summit in Greece, replied to Hain’s concerns by stating that: ‘Tax policy is not going to change. We are not going to be raising the top rate of tax’ and added that he had not spent 10 years ensuring that Labour had secured a policy of not raising the top rate of income tax for it to be changed now. (It’s unfortunate that Mr Blair wasn’t as equally determined not to reverse his policies concerning top-up fees). In addition, when Labour came to office in 1997, the full rate of corporation tax was 33 percent but has been since reduced to 28 percent, entailing an estimated £20 billion of national income being lost. The Iraqi military dispute alone had cost the UK taxpayer a further £3bn by March 2004 (Smith, 2004), which (like the cut in corporation tax) could arguably have been better spent on education. Unfortunately, if the Conservatives are returned to power at the next election, the outlook for Higher Education spending would be bleaker (than under Labour) as the Shadow Chancellor Oliver Letwin announced plans in February 2004 to shave a further £34bn off public expenditure; some of which would be ‘saved’ from the health and education budgets. No doubt, the reduction of corporation tax would also not be reversed by a Conservative government.

Even if the budget shortfall for education is made up (even partially) by company directors and corporations directly (through sponsorship etc) this could feasibly entail the bad practice of Qualispeak through the prioritisation of commercial interests over academic ones. ‘The only research will be done by the McDonald’s chair of human nutrition.’ As there appears little possibility of the Liberal Democrats winning the next general election (despite their more education friendly policies), action must focus on maintaining pressure on the present incumbents (for instance, through union action) to revise their policies in a more positive manner. Other than maintaining pressure on HEFCE (and the other UK university funding bodies) to request funds from central government and non-cooperation with audit procedures, there are other options open to academics’. These include ensuring that the two University trade unions (the AUT and NATFHE) have clear policies rejecting external audit procedures (at least, the AUT now provides these), the establishment of inter-institutional initiatives such as the English Subject Centre to protect the academic quality of subjects and an examination of other initiatives (such as complexity theory) that are concerned with educational Quality procedures that return control to academics on the ‘front-line’.

Complexity theory provides a model for operating complex social systems (such as universities) that avoids the ideology of Qualispeak and takes some account, at least, of Dynamic Quality. According to Blackman (2001) ‘complex management’ entails a ‘whole systems’ approach that includes within its frame of reference the wider environment, democratic problem-solving and decentralised experimentation (rather than Qualispeak’s culture of coercive accountability and central control).

A complex system interacts with its environment both in terms of feed-backs [i.e. static quality] and feed-forwards [i.e. Dynamic Quality], so its boundaries connect the system with its environment rather than separate it (Blackman, 2000). It is open and dynamic but control and/or co-operation need to be present so that the system does not simply dissipate.

In other words, complex systems (such as universities) need to be able to maintain a static/Dynamic balance. In order to achieve this, they require:

Information about their external environment, particularly to be able to cope with being out of equilibrium due to environmental change by having the capacity to represent the environment, learn about it and communicate this learning. Communication, learning, common purpose or alignment, and continuous adaptation and improvement are essential features of complex human systems. Although dynamic, in the long run they may settle down to an attractor, [such as the truth] which is a steady state with generic, describable features. (Blackman, 2001)

Complexity theory does not deny the need for monitoring but feeds performance information directly back to the elements running relevant parts of the system (rather than indirectly through imposed targets and managerial control of external audits). Analogous to the Native American tribes who now employ their own people to manage anthropological studies, it’s the people in the field (rather than outsiders with ‘objective’ remits) who monitor quality thus allowing the system to be more responsive and innovative.

Above all, organisations need to have the autonomy to initiate innovation rather than be constrained by pre-defined performance targets. This is increasingly being revealed by studies of performance management (Newman, Raine and Skelcher, 2001). Working with the self-organisational capacity of local systems acknowledges local agency and democratic participation. Prescribed performance indicators… (of RAE/TQM) leave little room for local debate and decision about what to prioritise and how. (Blackman, 2001)

Finally, Tagg (2002a) notes that Professor Charles Goodhart (who was the Chief Adviser to the Bank of England) testifies to the fact that the criticism of Qualispeak audits is now ‘just as strong in the world of finance as in academe.’ Tagg further notes that this observation is substantiated by a number of UK business experts who assert that good business practice (like high quality education) depends, to a large extent, on informal arrangements, trust, and the necessity of interacting with the real world, with all its complexity of loose ends and unpredictability.

If the MOQ is assumed to be a valid way of viewing reality then it assists in challenging the credibility of Qualispeak audit culture by providing conceptual tools that assess how adequately the various definitions of ‘Quality’ employed in auditing promote intellectual and Dynamic values such as truth, trust, creativity and enthusiasm. As noted above, Pirsig’s system indicates that the Quality measure of Deming et al (i.e. what provides the most profit) is a social value and is inappropriate for educational institutions whose primary concern is the intellectual value of truth. Moreover, the MOQ implies that universities should be assessed through a rapid feedback system such as complexity theory that examines the extent that the research and teaching of an institution promotes truth and non-quantifiables (such as creativity, curiosity, enthusiasm & originality). In other words, a return to the original understanding of ‘education’ as a Dynamic ‘drawing out’ from students rather than an inculcation by the lecturer of predetermined static information largely dictated by the State.

Finally, to maintain intellectual and Dynamic values the simple but hard fact is that Higher Education (as with the BBC or the National Health Service) requires adequate funding through general taxation rather than being imposed with commercial funding (which tends to support research that provides short gain profit) or an inappropriate commercial auditing system (which simply masks under funding). As the Blair government still maintains the (relatively low) income tax level of the Conservatives this change in policy is certainly a realistic one for academics (and their unions) to forcefully argue for. Philosophers would certainly help their case by leaving their ivory towers occasionally to support local philosophy groups (such as Liverpool’s “Philosophy in the pub” society) and by running evening classes for the general public. This not only continues the tradition of Socrates who taught his fellow citizens in the local marketplace but makes the value of philosophy more explicit to the general taxpayer. By making philosophy relevant to the person in the street, this helps prevent any government attempt to close down a “centre of questioning” in any particular geographical area and, in turn, makes the populace in any given town or city, that much more critical and inquiring of their politicians!





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