Thursday, 11 December 2008

Loss of autonomy. Or bureaucratic amnesia. Or the Disturbing side of Parliamentary democracy. Dawkins.

The following is a quote from a public servant interviewed for oral history purposes regarding the Dawkins reforms, kept in the National Library (this links to the full reference).

What I found disturbing about this quote is the discussion of the need for an advisory body. Originally, of course, it was considered to be important to put an independent body between government (as source of funds) and universities to ensure the ongoing autonomy of universities. This is because it had long been felt that universities could not do their job properly unless they are autonomous, as it protects knowledge from being influenced, especially by money.

"He [Dawkins] suggested or I suggested did we need an advisory structure at all, given that he knew what he wanted and by and large he’d be hard pressed to find people who would give him advice which exactly coincided with what he wanted to do.

Could we in fact defer the whole idea of an advisory structure for a substantial period of time until he’d got in place what he wanted?

His reaction to that as I recall iwas that it wasn’t a bad idea but we’d never get away with it because, particularly the higher education sector having viewed CTEC as basically its own creature would not put up with at least the veneer of consultation, even if Dawkins was basically going to be doing what Dawkins wanted to do.

In the end I think I’d have to say that I came to the view that I think it probably would have been quite good to put off having an advisory structure for a while because the advisory structure itself was going to absorb a great deal of time and effort in putting it together and really we had bigger fish to fry at the time. But John’s judgment was that no we had to, particularly on the higher education front have something that was acceptable to the sector and give him an ongoing consultative arrangement which would if you like replace the purple circle, which caused a great deal of pain out there in the sector as a whole. It was fine for those who were in it, but for those who were outside it they felt excluded and marginalised."

No kidding.

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