Times Higher Education,
Metrics, Sporting Metaphors and the Impoverishment of Higher Education

Liz Morrish, writing in the Times Higher Education Blog, highlights problems of sports metaphors and metrics for improving higher education:

“The bar must be raised, and raised again. No one must slip beneath the bar. There is only the bar, the metric that cannot lie.

Except it does. There is always a rush to judgement as metrics occlude any other evidence. This is the weak spot, and one that offers a route to resistance. What about content? What about the imagination, passion and risk-taking that animate research? What about bright people having fortuitous conversations?

[…]

So let’s indeed raise the bar. Let’s raise the bar for decency, humanity, respect and trust. Let’s realise that academic staff do not have either the resources or the capacity to keep expanding their workloads and output every year, and please let’s keep in mind the human consequences of systems that push people above, over and beyond.”

Well said.

The desire to better manage higher education through metrics reduces the richness of the conversations that are at the heart of discovering the new — in research and teaching. These rich and, at times, messy, fractious and difficult conversations are where the flaws in orthodoxy are found and are the necessary obstacles on the path to better understand of our world. Creating management systems that reduce time and energy for such conversations sets back our intellectual progress.

Metrics based management of higher education also has another deeply troubling effect, especially in teaching. As students become more accustomed to ‘studying for the test’ and their lecturers and tutors buy in to the idea that students only do things if being assessed, the circumstances for authoritarianism are strengthened.

Critical thinking, critically engaged reviewing and critically engaged teaching and learning is hard work, much more so that narrow methods-sound research and knowledge-aquisitation education.

So yes, let’s not treat academic endeavour as a game of high-jump, with the metaphors and logic of metrics of the sporting business. Instead, we should use our understanding of the development of knowledge and judge by those terms if our research and teaching are satisfactory.

Summary
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Metrics, Sporting Metaphors and the Impoverishment of Higher Education
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The desire to better manage higher education through metrics reduces the richness of the conversations that are at the heart of discovering the new -- in research and teaching -- risking diminishing education and setting the stage for a more authoritarian society.

Read the full article on Times Higher Education website.

See also:Academic Irregularities (extended version of Times Higher Education post)