Assessing the social value of universities

By Mark Wakefield

Loughborough University Library
Loughborough University Library

Anyone interested in the future of higher education would do well to read the NCCPE’s recent report on the social value of universities. Paul Manners, the NCCPE’s Director, sets the context for the report when he quotes research for Universities UK in 2010 which suggested that less than one in five people in the UK recognise the wider impacts that universities have on society. This alarming statistic goes some way to explaining the relative ease with which the government has introduced its controversial reforms. Where the public has shown concern it has been focused almost exclusively on the level of fees rather than on the implications for the sector and its contribution to the life and health of the nation.

Continue reading “Assessing the social value of universities”

Public value in a commercial space

By Mark Wakefield

Primrose Hill
The public valuing the public space at Primrose Hill

Last week we learnt that, despite “Project Merlin”, bank lending to small and medium sized enterprises fell short of expectations by some £2bn in the first quarter of this year, only adding to fears that we are set for a sluggish recovery.  This together with the news that the Chief Executives of both Barclays and HSBC have been awarded £9m in pay apiece will have done little to assuage public anger over bankers’ behaviour.    What is so strange in all this is that the banks are apparently oblivious both to the public mood and to what seems to be the makings of an emerging consensus amongst politicians and policy makers that business must urgently rediscover its social purpose.  Suffice it to say that when as luminous a business luminary as Harvard Business School’s Michael Porter argues that capitalism is facing a crisis of legitimacy you know that something is up.

Continue reading “Public value in a commercial space”

The LSE and Gaddafi

By Martin Vogel

Colonel Gaddafi, erstwhile friend of the LSE
Colonel Gaddafi, erstwhile friend of the LSE

Sir Howard Davies, Director of the LSE, defending the LSE’s acceptance of a £1.5 million donation from Saif Gaddafi makes for interesting listening.

Today, it is uncontroversial to point out that a leading university of the social sciences might be compromised by accepting money from the family of a pernicious dictator. Saif Gaddafi’s bellicose statement last week in support of his father’s regime in Libya has seen to that. But when the decision was taken – only seven weeks ago – the calculation must have looked very different.

Continue reading “The LSE and Gaddafi”

Health care and the dignity of humans

By Martin Vogel

hands_002-thumb1

The Health Service Ombudsman’s report on how the NHS is failing to treat elderly people with care, dignity and respect begs the question of how a service whose raison d’être is to look after people can so dehumanise them.

The report highlights the cases of ten people who suffered grievous neglect. Many of them were fit, active and healthy before treatment but all but one died during or soon after the events they experienced in the care of the NHS, and in circumstances which caused distress and anger to the patients and their families.

Continue reading “Health care and the dignity of humans”

Mind the gap: how to focus on your purpose in the arts

By Martin Vogel

gallery
Empty gallery.

A theatre won funding to improve its engagement with disadvantaged groups. It approached the challenge as the chance to spread the word about its work. But it discovered that to get the target groups through the doors, the work would need to change. What the theatre was doing from day to day turned out to be irrelevant to a section of the community it was meant to serve. This is an example of the gap that can occur between the way an organisation behaves compared to its avowed mission, one that provides the sense of purpose from a shared understanding among everyone who works in a company.

Continue reading “Mind the gap: how to focus on your purpose in the arts”

Another crisis in public service broadcasting

By Martin Vogel

Another crisis in public service broadcasting
Lord Reith.

Goodness gracious, what would Reith have thought?

Lord Reith, the founder of the BBC, would certainly not have shared the bemusement that many have felt at the extent of media coverage and public outrage focussed on the Sachsgate scandal.  He would have viscerally appreciated why the national conversation has been dominated by reaction to two boorish entertainers, handsomely paid by the public purse, using the public airwaves to humiliate a young woman in obscene phone calls to her grandfather, a much-loved actor.

The clarity of Reith’s original mission for the BBC to inform, educate and entertain pointed to some degree of moral purpose which still shapes people’s expectations of the organisation.  Since the last renewal of the BBC’s charter at the beginning of 2007, the Reithian mission has given way to six, rather more mushy, “public purposes“.  These could justify almost any activity the BBC chooses to undertake – and, inside the BBC, they do, if we are to judge by Russell Brand’s and Jonathan Ross’s antics and the tardiness of the management’s response.

What is strange is that this is still the case, given everything that has happened in recent years: Hutton, Queengate and the phone-in scandals.  Last week’s events are an object lesson in how an organisation in reputational crisis fails to learn the lessons of its previous mistakes.  Banks, take note.

Continue reading “Another crisis in public service broadcasting”

Libraries are needed now more than ever

By Martin Vogel

West End Lane, NW6 – home to a dozen cafes and a library

Camden Council in north London, where I live, is considering changing the ethos of its libraries – to allow people to bring in food and drink and use their mobile phones.  The intention is to make libraries more appealing to young people.

As both a library user and the parent of a young person, this strikes me as an unfortunate and misguided idea.  Libraries are one of the few public spaces in the inner city to which people can turn for quiet.  Swiss Cottage, in the borough, hosts one of the best public libraries in the capital.  Young people constitute a significant proportion of the users.  They go there to find space where they can give unashamed attention to learning.  It’s a place of thought, study and contemplation.  It is wholly unsuited to be a stage for mobile phone conversations or snacking.  Urban life provides an abundance of venues for these activities.  The library offers an alternative realm.

Continue reading “Libraries are needed now more than ever”