• Read through the article. Consider the following questions, which we discuss in our notes below.
• First note down your initial responses. For example: What does it make you think or feel? Do you feel engaged or not by it?
• What does its central idea seem to be? Is this actually expressed in one or two sentences? Can you grasp this from the beginning?
• Do you find yourself persuaded by the article?
• What do you think the writer wants you to believe?
We have numbered the paragraphs of this article - some of which are very short - in order to help with the discussion which follows.
• What kinds of supporting evidence does it use?
• Where and how does the article draw on an assumption of shared understanding or agreement in its reader?
• What effect does the use of 'I' have on you as reader?
1. A love of knowledge, the most valuable resource of Universities UK, is being squandered by policies designed for the marketplace.
2. A colleague who bubbles with enthusiasm for his subject recently told me he was taking early retirement. When asked why, he said, 'So that I can pursue my studies'. When I retold this story to a number of others, they sympathized. Whether a university is the best, or even a good, place for intellectual pursuit seems to be in question. And if it is in question for staff, will it not soon be in question for students?
3. The negative consequences of accountability will be familiar to anyone who reads THES. They include requirements that research proposals should detail the outcomes of research before it has even begun; that publication should be in forms and timescales that suit assessment exercises; that teaching should be conducted in ways that ensure its outcomes are predictable; that trails of paper should document every decision; and that increasing effort should be put into reports (and reports on the reports) of academic work, at the expense of academic work itself.
4. As a result, not only does the academic have increasingly little time to teach or research, but a culture has developed which lacks trust and is fearful of risk. Students become reluctant to learn anything that does not translate directly into improved exam grades; staff are encouraged to teach only in ways that maximize 'satisfaction' ratings from their 'customers'; and research is driven by a lust for publication lists and funding rather than a love of knowledge.
5. Government policies have reflected a view that higher education which is pursued out of a search for truth may have been alright for the scholarly elites of a few cloistered institutions, but not appropriate to the masses which modern higher education serves. Such a view is narrow-minded and patronizing to a public that is assumed to have little interest in the pursuit of knowledge. If the next generation of graduates is to address the problems of our increas ingly complex global society, their curiosity and critical faculties need to be nurtured and directed toward the common good. Skills training for employment does not, on its own, provide a sufficient justification for a higher education.
6. The old dichotomy between employment versus knowledge for its own sake should be abandoned. In the longer term, the prospects for a prosperous as well as a more civilized society will be best served by valuing knowledge and the curiosity - with its associated risks - that is characteristic of the best students and staff.
7. So what policies do I recommend?
8. First, the sector appears to be tired of new initiatives and funding arrangements in competition for resources. A disproportionate amount of energy is spent administering and accounting for small, ring-fenced, funds and too much time has been spent learning games in order to maximize chances of success in relation to research and teaching. Government needs to hold back on new initiatives in order to provide a breathing space for higher education.
9. Second, there should be fewer, simpler systems of accountability that give prominence to qualitative professional judgement rather than the spurious measurements which inevitably lead to game-playing.
10. Third, curricula and research which emphasize genuine exploration, particularly across disciplinary, professional and other cultural boundaries, should be encouraged at all levels, acknowledging that risk and the possibility of failure are an inevitable part of innovation in an uncertain world.
11. Finally, government should start a wider public debate on the purposes of higher education, in which the economic are related to the wider cultural benefits of a more educated public. Higher education has changed radically over the last 30 years in response to the market, but these changes have not been the consequence of public or academic debate. To achieve this, intellectual leadership is required rather than managerial accounting.
12. But such changes to policy will come to nothing unless the higher education community contributes imaginatively to this debate. Too ready to comply with, and then complain about the consequences of, government impositions, academics have been reluctant to explain the value of their work.
13. Leaders of institutions have let us down. Protesting the excellence of their own institutions, they have said little about their purposes or those of the sector as a whole, and how these relate to the needs of society. Mission statements and strap lines have come to replace serious thinking about what universities are for, rather than be a distillation of that thinking. The sector needs to be much more courageous in setting out its stall.
14. A system of higher education which celebrates a love of knowledge in pursuit of the common good would involve all academics in such debate. And students too. Now that would be real accountability.
(Rowland, S (2007) Now then what am I meant to be doing here? Times Higher Educational Supplement, June 2007)
In the first sentence (1) a strong and potentially contentious claim, that could be considered the thesis statement for the article, is made: A love of knowledge ... is being squandered by policies designed for the marketplace'. The article will have to provide support for the statement. The phrase, 'the most valuable resource of Universities UK', is also a claim but is slipped in as if it is a fact that the reader is bound to accept. It is expressed as a shared assumption that expects you, as a reader of this newspaper, to agree with.
Paragraph 2 begins with the statement about 'A colleague ... taking early retirement so that "I can pursue my studies"'. We are told that ' others sympathized'. These two sentences are offered as evidence or rather as an illustration of that strong first claim. As 'evidence' it would be weak; we do not even know that the 'colleague' spoke the words given. It is anecdotal evidence, which the reader has simply to accept is true. The writer appears to assume that many of his readers - and certainly the reader he imagines - would agree with what the 'colleague' says. So the anecdote serves to include the reader in this way of thinking.
The next two paragraphs, 3 and 4, support the central claim that a love of knowledge is being squandered by policies for the marketplace with examples of what is happening in universities. The writer's main job at this point is to make a case to support the phrase 'policies designed for the marketplace'.
In paragraph 3, 'Accountability' is used as a pejorative term to suggest 'policies designed for the work place'. Some people might think that accountability was a good thing but the examples given here strongly refute any good' aspect and focus on ways in which accountability destroys a love of the subject' and how it is just about the 'marketplace'.
In paragraph 4, the language becomes increasingly more polemical: staff are ' reluctant to take risks' (by implication ' risks' are a good thing); ' students become reluctant to learn'; teaching becomes a transaction between ' customer' and seller. Notice, too, that a dichotomy is set up between ' lust for publication' and the ' love of knowledge'.
Paragraph 5 refers back to paragraph 1, claiming that government policies have reflected a particular view of HE (that the pursuit of truth is not appropriate to the masses); and also that this view is 'patronizing and narrow'. Note that in this paragraph the ' love of truth' is equated with 'pursuit of knowledge'. If the reader were to question this, the central idea of the argument could be challenged.
Notice too the suggestion that ' the pursuit of truth' is not suitable for the masses' is immediately countered by the statement the curiosity and critical faculties of the next generation needs to be nurtured and directed towards the common good'. It is as if the writer has set up a rather exaggerated counterargument only in order to claim that it is mistaken, that it is narrow-minded and patronizing'.
The next paragraph (6) contains two more claims written in just two sentences: The old dichotomy between employment and knowledge for its own sake should be abandoned.' The idea that there is such a dichotomy has been set up already in the previous paragraph. The next sentence gives a further reason for the reader to agree with the claim: the prospects for a prosperous as well as a more civilized society will be best served by valuing knowledge and the curiosity that is characteristic of the best students and staff'.
So by now there has been a movement from the claim that the love of knowledge is being squandered to a claim that it should instead be nurtured'. This concludes the first section of this 800-word piece of writing.
In paragraph 7, the author uses I' to assert his right to recommend new policies. Each of the four recommendations is signalled to the reader clearly as a numbered list in paragraphs 8-11. Each recommendation, to ' hold back on new initiatives'; have 'fewer systems of accountability', 'genuine exploration', 'a wider public debate with intellectual leadership' is based on the assumption that the reader will be in agreement with the claim that knowledge and curiosity should be valued in HE.
Paragraph 12 qualifies these last four recommendations and, having urged the government to change, now turns back and urges the same of academics. Suddenly, the writer seems to be attacking academics: Academics have been ' too ready to comply', have 'been reluctant' to object. In paragraph 13, the leaders of academic institutions are criticized in even stronger terms than the government with a new claim, 'Leaders of institutions have let us down'. Here, us' includes the reader who has come to agree with what has been said. This claim is supported by a series of points which back up the idea that leaders of institutions have let us down'.
The final paragraph (14) offers a change in the meaning of ' accountability': at the beginning of the piece accountability was equated with the 'marketplace'. Now 'real' accountability celebrates a 'love of knowledge', which is now - having got rid of the dichotomy' between employment and knowledge' - presented as 'for the common good'. The common good involves everyone, including all the readers who by now, the article assumes, agree with all that has been argued.
So, in this article the author uses anecdote, assertions and claims, and strong language both to bring himself into the piece, and to include the reader in the process of building his argument. It makes strong claims in simple, short sentences and clear, accessible language.
Although this is obviously not an academic essay, nevertheless, it is a well-argued piece of writing about the aims and purposes of higher education for an educated and well-informed reader that can help us in thinking about making an argument. It demonstrates how writing can be used rhetorically to persuade a reader. This is something that you might well be asked to do for different kinds of assignments during your studies (see Chapter 12).
Making an argument is about the process of sorting out what you really want to say, after a good deal of thought and preliminary, exploratory writing. When you use writing to make a claim, and to engage your reader, you will find that you are getting closer to the ' strong argument' that your tutors often ask for. You will become the owner of your ideas and will find your own voice and a sense of authorship of your university writing, as we explore further in Chapter 9. Before that, in the next chapter, we look at how you can use a wide range of sources as a basis for developing your own argument.
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