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Is there a crisis of trust in universities? CIHE/SRHE Consultation Trust, Accountability and the World to Come St George’s House, Windsor Castle, 22-23 April 2010. Rob Cuthbert Professor of Higher Education Management University of the West of England [email protected]

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Is there a crisis of trust in universities?CIHE/SRHE ConsultationTrust, Accountability and the World to ComeSt George’s House, Windsor Castle, 22-23 April 2010

Rob Cuthbert

Professor of Higher Education Management

University of the West of England

[email protected]

what is the problem
What is the problem?
  • Managing in an atmosphere of distrust
  • Worldwide concern
  • Quality: everything and nothing?
  • Audit culture –v- self-regulation
  • Private and public
“We set detailed performance targets for public bodies, but are complacent about the perverse incentives they create. We try to micro-manage complex institutions from the centre, and wonder why we get over-complex and inadequate rather than good and effective governance. We try to judge quality by performance indicators rather than by seeking independent and informed evaluation. We aspire to complete transparency in public life, but neglect the more fundamental goal of limiting deception.”

O’Neill (2002:viii)

trust accountability
Trust, accountability …
  • Trust and accountability
  • Audit and self-regulation
  • Getting the balance right depends on:
    • Better mutual understanding
    • Better connections between policy and practice
    • Better communication
and the world to come
… and the world to come
  • The nature of trust
  • Trust in public bodies
  • HE and the state
  • How does HE change?
  • The opportunity we have now
  • Diagnosis rather than prescription
the nature of trust
The nature of trust

n.Belief: Confidence in a person or plan

Certainty: based on past experience

Trait: believing in others’ honesty/reliability

v.Believe … expect … extend credit to … allow without fear …confer a trust upon … expect and wish

the nature of trust1
The nature of trust
  • Charitable: trust
  • Professional: trust me, I’m a doctor
  • Social: trussst in me …
  • Domestic: can I trust you to …
  • Financial: too trusting?
  • A two-edged concept
the nature of trust2
The nature of trust
  • Social and technological changes systematically dismantle trust, which needs to be reconstructed (Misztal)
  • Confidence –v- trust (Luhmann)
  • Vicious circle of anxiety and suspicion
  • Reputation is the key to trust (Dasgupta)
the nature of trust3
The nature of trust

“ ... trust (or symmetrically, distrust) is a particular level of the subjective probability with which an agent assesses that another agent or group of agents will perform a particular action, both before he can monitor such action (or independently of his capacity ever to be able to monitor it) and in a context in which it affects his own action.” (Gambetta:216, emphasis in original).

trust in public bodies
Trust in public bodies
  • High profile cases: MPs’ expenses
  • Election debate: public spending = ‘waste’
  • A once familiar narrative: private good, public bad. But:
  • More high profile cases: Worldcom, Enron
  • The world financial crisis
trust in public bodies1
Trust in public bodies
  • A seeming irony: the public sector must pay for private excesses
  • But what is public, what is private? (Watson).
  • BAe, VT, Mouchel
  • U of Buckingham, BPP, Carter & Carter
trust in public bodies2
Trust in public bodies

Changing the narrative:

  • Not private or public, but:
  • Market or political/hierarchical choice? (Vickers)
  • Selective or comprehensive concerns?
  • Making a profit, or making a difference?
trust in public bodies3
Trust in public bodies
  • The primacy of values and beliefs
  • Communication, and how mass media can distort perceptions and beliefs
  • Prejudice: public and private
  • Capitalism is comparatively scrupulous (Weber)
trust in public bodies4
Trust in public bodies
  • New public management and the ‘perverse social defence’; the negative outcomes of managerialism and Performance Management
  • Virtual reality and the ‘auditable surface’
  • “… the further removed the observer (ie managers, policymakers, politicians) is from the reality of the frontline the more they are likely to be taken in by the illusion they themselves have been instrumental in creating.” (Hoggett)
  • There is nothing a manager wants done which cannot be undone by educated subordinates
higher education and the state
Higher education and the state
  • New public management: insightful analysis, but in HE, mostly a literature of whingeing
  • Academic capitalism: insights, but more whingeing (Bok)
  • League tables: condemnation and collusion; failures of managerial imagination
  • Breaking through the ‘auditable surface’: new communication, re-education not appeasement
how does he change
How does HE change?
  • Elite (3%) to mass to universal (40-50%)
  • <15 universities to >150 universities
  • Unit costs down 80-90%
  • Funding from secret to transparent
  • Modularisation, credit, e-learning
  • Diversifying: staff and students
  • The idea of the university: global context
how does he change1
How does HE change?

QA for improvement or justification? Can we do both? If so QA must:

make a difference for students; be owned by HEIs; be relevant to HE’s purposes; promote diversity; be cyclical not sporadic; address standards; be done by peers, at subject or program level; contain international comparative measures; be reported in terms easily understood by a lay audience (Massaro)

how does he change2
How does HE change?

The case of the RAE

  • Seems to meet many of Massaro’s criteria
  • Improvement and justification?
  • Attacked, but then defended, why?
  • Problem with its uses as much as its methods
  • The devil we know
  • Self-regulation and peer review
how does he change3
How does HE change?
  • QA and the RAE: not seeing the wood for the trees
  • We need to see academic practice as a whole, not as R and T, separately funded
  • The true meaning of ‘brand’ is the integrity of academic practice in corporate strategy
  • The integrity of the HE sector
the opportunity we have now
The opportunity we have now
  • Let’s not waste a good crisis
  • HE has been trying too hard to be accountable, and not hard enough to be trustworthy
  • Less spending should mean less control, not more (anti Mandelson)
  • A trust dividend – really reducing the bureaucratic burden
the opportunity we have now1
The opportunity we have now

To change the narrative/discourse:

  • Distrust in/ignorance of modern higher education
  • a lack of understanding of ‘science’ (boffins)
  • academics deliberately obscure things (dons)
  • English anti-intellectualism
  • HE isn’t ‘worth it’ anymore, it’s not what it was
  • wider access means lower standards
changing the discourse
Changing the discourse
  • Too many graduates, ‘non-graduate’ jobs
  • Too many people fail
  • UK plc is slipping; education is partly to blame
  • New universities better off as polytechnics
  • Vocational education is OK … for other people’s children (Wolf)
  • Academics don’t know when they’re well off
tests for a new narrative
Tests for a new narrative

Meet the global challenges of

  • Mission definition
  • Funding structures and arrangements
  • Student engagement
  • Transparency and accountability
  • Ability to partner


so he must
So HE must:
  • Be willing to change
  • Broaden vision to include schools/HEI axis
  • Understand/improve student engagement
  • Commit to change, be seen to change
  • Improve assessment and accountability
  • Involve staff and students, study what works best
trust accountability and the world to come let s scrap
Trust, accountability and the world to come. Let’s scrap:
  • The myth of choice
  • Targets, specifications, inspections
  • Deliverology
  • Obsession with ‘sharing back office services’
  • The Audit Commission
  • The centralised regime that oversees the public sector (Middleton, Seddon)
trust accountability and the he world to come
Trust, accountability and the HE world to come
  • Avoid obsession with elite universities
  • Make HE policy less institution-focused
  • End CUC-style KPI management
  • Scrap programme specifications
  • More trouble-shooting, less audit
  • ‘Skills’ and ‘Quality’ not fit for purpose
changing the narrative
Changing the narrative

Main Street not Wall Street?

  • “The social responsibility of business is to increase its profits.” (Friedman)
  • Mortgage meltdown: immoral but not illegal (Hirsch and Morris)
  • Making markets more moral: can HE catch a wave of change?
changing the he narrative
Changing the HE narrative
  • Management not managerialism
  • More ‘general educational character’, less ‘mission’
  • More openness, transparency, rigour, morality, ethical behaviour
  • Education not propaganda, for HE staff, governors, politicians, regulators, journalists, publics (eg Streeting and Wise)
changing the narrative1
Changing the narrative
  • Authenticity: “Universities are about habits of truth” (Blackburn) but Heidegger! Humility, the provisionality of knowledge.
  • Integrity and diversity of the HE sector; comprehensive not selective concern; make a difference for and to society
trust accountability and the world to come
Trust, accountability and the world to come

A trust dividend for a virtuous circle:

  • more trust, leading to
  • better accountability, leading to
  • better higher education performance, leading to
  • more trust

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