The knowledge economy, performance management and academic freedom

09 August 2010

The UCT Academic Freedom Committee - which represents students, academic staff, management, Senate and Council - has planned a full programme for this semester.

A major event on the UCT calendar since 1959 is the annual TB Davie Memorial Lecture, which is to be presented on 12 August by Robin Briggs of All Souls College, Oxford, in Leslie lecture theatre 2D. Briggs has been a prominent contributor to debates on the restructuring of the university in the UK and a commentator on similar initiatives in France.

He lecture is titled The Knowledge Economy and Academic Freedom.

This theme addresses one of the main concerns of the Academic Freedom Committee (AFC). The AFC was established in 1959 in response to the threat of the apartheid state to university autonomy. The view of the AFC is that today, in South Africa and globally, it is managerial rather than racial ideology that threatens the ideals of academic freedom.

"The managerial university arises mainly from pressures to commodify knowledge and to mimic economic productivity," says AFC chair Associate Professor Andrew Nash of the Department of Political Studies. "But it's hard to run a university like a factory. So performance management takes the place of the assembly line, and changes the whole character of teaching and learning in the process."

The AFC will hold a lunch-hour debate on whether and how performance management impacts on academic freedom on Monday 16 August at 13h00 in Menzies lecture theatre 10. Briggs will act as discussant.

This debate is a sequel to a motion adopted at the AFC meeting of 17 May, after several earlier discussions. The resolution expressed concern about the effects of performance management in pressurising academics into choosing research topics that lead to quick publication in accredited journals, rather than taking on research projects into more difficult topics or topics of great social importance which are not guaranteed to achieve success.

It warned that performance management may contribute to the erosion of democratic processes and free debate, and called for "inclusive and sustained deliberation over not only the details of Performance Assessment, but also over the implications of performance metrics for university governance and knowledge generation".

A symposium on the impact of performance management will be held on 22 September from 16h00 to 18h30. Speakers and topics will be announced closer to the time.

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