Audit Cultures: Anthropological Studies in Accountability, Ethics, and the Academy

By Marilyn Strathern | Go to book overview

Chapter 3

Generic genius-how does it all add up?

Eleanor Rimoldi

In an essay titled 'Only quality can save universities' in The Times, December 6, 1993, the then U K Education Secretary Patten set out his 'vision for the future of higher education' in England. The essay opens with a reference to a New Zealand university that is meant as a kind of cautionary tale:

Some 11,000 miles away at New Zealand's University of Otago, courses are being offered to the 'intellectually challenged'. Opening the doors of universities to all and sundry is one way of growing a higher education sector. It is, however, not a good one if universities are to remain the pinnacles of excellence, the ivory silos fit for the toil of scholarly elites that we expect them to be. The day we sacrifice these essential principles on the ever-growing altar of political correctness will mark the beginning of the self-destruction of one of the nation's greatest assets. 1

As part of the international family of tertiary scholars, New Zealand academics also struggle to maintain 'excellence' and it would be a mistake to assume that our universities are unthinkingly driven by what Patten called 'political correctness'. A far greater challenge is posed by government initiatives such as those that seek to codify 'excellence' or to itemize the 'skills' inherent in a discipline so that they can be branded, marketed and purchased from any number of 'providers'. This chapter will explore the New Zealand manifestation of the global phenomenon of 'audit culture' (Strathern 1997), including the influence of the New Zealand Qualifications Authority and the Government 'Green Paper' ('A Future Tertiary Education Policy for New Zealand: Tertiary Education Review',

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