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Brenda Gourley, speaking from experience as a Vice Chancellor trying to co-create a `learning organisation', notes that: `Ironically, perhaps, we came to the conclusion, after an enormous amount of consultation and study that what was needed was less "control" not more control and more faith in the ability of the people in the organisation, with appropriately more investment in staff development.' Anyone familiar with the NCIHE report and UK HE might reasonably conclude that most recent innovations were about increased control and accountability in ways that stifle diversity.
The first two papers (by Laurillard then Peters) describe the context in which the workshop was set; specifically they refer to the 1997 report by NCIHE. The authors are well situated to comment on the Report and to reflect on the utility, or otherwise, of applying systems thinking to HE.
In 1997 the incoming Labour government announced changes within a few months of its election and softened this part of the package by `means testing' the individual contribution to fees (earlier, both major political parties had committed themselves to the NCIHE review as a means, amongst others of removing higher education from the agenda during the election campaign).
There are a number of other ways in which the NCIHE recommendations strengthen the potential sway of the student, and relate closely to the 1993 analysis.
The NCIHE recommendation also provided support for two other conclusions of the 1993 analysis.
As stated earlier the overall inadequacy of the resourcing for higher education was a major finding of the NCIHE. Also, it too found weaknesses in the current provision of learning opportunities to students.
It would seem that the NCIHE found a potential weakness in control or presentation of control mechanisms.
The five key focuses around which the National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education under the chairmanship of Sir Ron Dearing sought consultation and evidence (NCIHE, 1997) were as follows:
This agency will also maintain an approved pool of subject-based external examiners, `from which institutions must select' (NCIHE, 1997, Recommendation 24).
There is little attention to what HE might need to offer -- apart from high quality and more standardised awards -- if it is to offer added value, in the context of alternative choices for gaining information and knowledge, such as provided by the Internet or industrial universities (NCIHE, Recommendation 14).
The report began with the following terms of reference (NCIHE, 1997, emphases added):
(NCIHE, 1997) Economic Responsiveness: Perpetuating Illusions of Consensus?
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