An article by one of the sufferer's of this abuse.

Anthony McWatt

November 2002


Since 1989, I have been within the British university system studying Robert Pirsig's work on Quality. Simultaneously, since the 1980s, there has been a move (initiated by the Thatcher [1] government) to pressurise British academia to cut costs. This is, not only a short-sighted way for any government to treat higher education but, for someone in the serious study of a Quality metaphysics, also highly irritating in the cack-handed way the term “Quality” has been recently used by government ministers (and their representatives). Though Thatcher's premiership ended in 1990, it should be emphasised that (like a zombie's tenacious grip to life) a Thatcherite ethos is still present in the UK's Higher education system. In this article, therefore, I will be re-addressing the balance to a small extent by providing an MOQ viewpoint of the developments initiated by her government. To facilitate this, the article is arranged in the following order, commencing with:

1. The historical background of how the term “Quality” first became used in the masking of the under-funding of British education. This section is then succeeded by;

2. The recent invention by academics of the term Qualispeakto denote this Orwellian use of the word “Quality”;

3. The Qualispeak auditing procedures employed by the British government;

4. The damage caused by such procedures to intellectual values such as trust and the truth and, more seriously, Dynamic Quality;

5. The educational systems such as teaching colleges and modules which are amenable to Qualispeak auditing procedures;

6.The present under-funding of the UK Higher Education system;

7. Proposed replacements to Qualispeak auditing procedures such as complexity theory, and, finally;

8.The conclusion that in order to prevent such procedures as Qualispeak arising in the future, there needs to be a replacement of SOM (subject-object metaphysics) with a world-view (such as the MOQ) that gives proper recognition to Dynamic Quality.


In parallel to the work of Pirsig on Quality from the early 1960s [2] has been the 'Quality' movement in modern business. The understanding of the latter (as it is applied to UK education) can be perceived as an example of Chinese whispers. Instead of having a directly imported understanding of Quality from Japan (as per Pirsig), UK auditors of education have a distorted understanding that has been processed via American business 'gurus' working in Japan, then further distorted via UK business and, then, via the UK government.

The word 'Quality' as used in a commercial context originated in the late 1940s and 1950s when American business 'gurus' (such as W. Edwards Deming , Joseph M. Juran and, Armand V. Feigenbaum ) visited Japan to assist in its economic regeneration. Knowing that the Japanese relate Quality to an objective harmony, it seems no coincidence that these business 'gurus' found the Japanese particularly amenable to the development of Quality in the workplace.

Evidence that 'Quality' is a central pivotal term for the Japanese is apparent in the Nissan Motor Company's The Dawns of Tradition, a text produced to 'encourage international understanding and bridge the numerous gaps between people of different cultures.' In a chapter titled Quality through Harmony, Nissan emphasises the importance of Quality to the Japanese. For instance, it notes that for them:

'Quality' goes far beyond makers boosting productivity and production technology… excellence must be cultivated in the hearts and minds of all involved. (Clark & Itoh, 1983, p.119)

In addition, it notes as Pirsig does, the spiritual aspect of Quality:

To most Japanese, quality has an almost religious significance and the attitudes of craftmanship are protected at all costs. (Clark & Itoh, 1983, p.111)

And, also supports Pirsig's (1974, p.239) assertion that Quality 'takes you out of yourself, makes you aware of the world around you':

Over the centuries, (Japanese) craftsmen have pushed themselves to respond to the needs and desires of their fellow citizens by placing work in a larger cultural context. And these craftsmen, with their unique cultural tradition, have also immersed themselves in the ideal of functional beauty. In their products they aim for an ultimate harmony of quality, beauty and practicality. This goal is not simply to satisfy as many people as possible, but rather, to express in a finished ware their own ideals. (Clark & Itoh, 1983, p.112)

It is clear that this understanding of Quality is similar to the one alluded to by the Zen arts (such as archery). For instance, just as the arrow, bow and target must harmonise as one with the archer, it is also seen that in Japanese craftsmanship 'the tool must harmonise with its wielder'. (Clark & Itoh, 1983, p.113)

Unfortunately, (and this is an important point overlooked by Mark Lerner's Forum essay Total Quality Management in the New Millennium) from the start of their time in Japan, the American business 'gurus' ignored the Japanese understanding of Quality (i.e. as relating to universal harmony) and defined 'Quality' as what is required by the customer. For instance, Deming taught that 'the consumer is the most important part of the production line,' Juran also emphasised the importance of the customer requirements (though also considered Quality as relating to 'fitness for purpose') while Feigenbaum stressed that Quality does not mean 'best' but 'best for the customer use and selling price.' [3]

The idea of 'fitness for purpose' grew out of twentieth century mass production (Fordism) and the breaking down of factory work into repetitive tasks (Taylorism). [4] Professor Richard Gombrich [5] (2000) notes that the modern British university now follows this model:

The factory mass-produces qualified students, thus adding value to the raw material. The academics, the workers on the shop floor, are there merely to operate the mechanical procedures which have been approved by the management and checked by the inspectorate. Since they are mere operatives, they can of course be paid accordingly. Recent job advertisements show that a secretary in the university and a young lecturer get… something over sixteen thousand pounds a year. In Oxford you cannot buy even a tiny house, or raise a family, on that money.

As far as the terminology of Deming et al is concerned if the word 'Quality' is struck out in the acronyms TQM, CQI, and QMMG [6] etc and replaced with either of the two following phrases 'making profit' or 'cutting costs', the true sentiments of the authors of audit culture (or, at least the ideology they represent) are revealed.

I think this offhand treatment of Quality by Western business 'gurus' is possibly not put under too much scrutiny because the SOM viewpoint largely underlying Western culture perceives Quality as subjective i.e. as not real. In consequence, I think there are less qualms in using a word out of its usual context if, ultimately, it's thought that what it refers to isn't real or particularly important.

However, there are serious ethical concerns arising from utilising Quality in the service of making profit. Even if mistaken about the metaphysical status of Quality, Pirsig genuinely believes that it's real and significant while the business writers who support capitalist ideology misuse the term to mask their underlying hidden agenda to promote capitalist values i.e. that making money is more important than anything else.

The business 'gurus' of the West have, therefore, done the word 'Quality' (and, by inference, Quality itself) a great disservice. Despite the positive Zen connotations of Quality in Pirsig's work, the Western idea of Quality has been recently perverted by having the word 'Quality' associated with primarily making money and cutting costs.


Dr Michael Loughlin [7] (2002, p.71) terms the business jargon that employs 'Quality' in a commercial context, Qualispeak. He notes that, since the 1980s, it has become pervasive in areas (such as education) where it previously had little influence. Pfeffer & Coote (1991, p.4) note that Qualispeak is especially disingenuous as the general understanding of Quality as a synonym for excellence is not explicitly distanced from the commercial definition. They think this is done so when the ideology of the business 'gurus' is applied to the UK public services (such as health, social security & education) it can make highly contentious measures sound palatable.

As Loughlin (2002, p.73) notes, there 'is not a serious attempt to define quality at all' which allows the 'persuasive' element of the word to be retained together with the hidden commercial definition (i.e. 'Quality is what saves/makes the most money).' By 'persuasive', Loughlin is referring to the usual understanding of Quality as being a positive thing to achieve, whatever the real intentions of the policymaker. For example, a hospital ward being closed down due to reasons of 'Quality' sounds better than a NHS trust having a policy of 'cost-cutting.' Remember those NHS managers/consultants need paying from somewhere!

Quality plays a central part in a public relations exercise which is aimed at reassuring the public that recent changes will do them no harm, and may possibly do them some good. Activities which take place in the name of quality may indeed improve matters for the public. But even when they don't the quality message remains. (Pfeffer & Coote, 1991, p.4-5)


As far as UK education is concerned, it was in the late 1980s, under the influence of the Thatcher 'government' that the ideology of Deming, Juran and Feigenbaum (and their modern counterparts such as Philip Crosby, T.J. Peters [8] and Claus Moller) were first introduced. The concern with this encroachment of capitalist business ideology has been noted by Philip Tagg (2002a) and, as mentioned above, by Richard Gombrich (2000) and Michael Loughlin (2002).

The right-wing Thatcher government supported the belief that the free market should determine the operations of all sectors of life; not just the commercial. As such, it became more interested in where taxpayer's money was spent by the parts of society (such as education) which did not produce (short-term) profits. This requirement for government scrutiny led to the establishment of the RAE (Research Assessment Exercise) in 1986.


In the RAE , a committee of academics' from a particular subject area (e.g. philosophy) is appointed nationally to grade the 'quality' of research at a university department on a scale from 1 (the lowest grade) to 5* (the highest). The ratings they award then determine how much funding that each university receives from central government for that subject over a period of five years. However, the RAE committee itself is not accountable to any audit which throws doubt on its members' impartiality when dealing with their own departments. [9]

Another problem noted by Gombrich (2000) is, despite official policy, that it's the quantity of publications that tends to be assessed rather than their quality. Even if the message of Quality 'filters down,' I doubt that it's clear which understanding of Quality is meant. Is that Quality as an absolute good (as per Pirsig), 'fitness of use' in reference to a University's charter (which no doubt has further vague references to Quality) or the commercial Qualispeak definition? The fact that the underlying message that does filter down is an emphasis on quantity indicates that it isn't the first:

To my personal knowledge, university administrations tend to tell their staff that they have to submit four publications and that if they do not they may be invited to take early retirement. Staff are well aware that they are thus being constrained to publish work prematurely, or artificially to split what should be a single publication into two. Another abuse is that since universities are credited with the research of the staff they employ at the time of the assessment, regardless of where that research was done, people with good publications are hired for the year of the assessment and then 'let go'. (Gombrich, 2000)

In addition, Tagg (2002a) notes that academics' are often pressurised to submit research early to assist a department to 'fill the quota for the highest possible rating.' This has the result that long-term research is compromised and has less value for students and other researchers who might make use of it. This distortion of research practice is noted by the 2002 Report by the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee which found that one department awarded a 5* had submitted less than 60 per cent of its staff for the RAE . [10]


In 1992, the UK Conservative government passed the 'Further and Higher Education Act' in which the former polytechnics and teaching colleges became 'universities.' In consequence, a new governing body called the Higher Education Funding Council for England and Wales (HEFCE) was established for all universities; old and new alike. It is HEFCE and Universities UK [11] that jointly finance the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA).

The QAA was established in 1997 though its philosophy was originally developed between 1989 and 1990 from the Universities UK's own Academic Audit Unit (i.e. the AAU). As noted on the QAA website, the AAU employed Juran's 'fitness for purpose' definition of quality. The present mission for the QAA is to 'promote public confidence that quality of provision and standards of awards in higher education are being safeguarded and enhanced.'

It is also important to note that the definition of Quality used by the QAA quietly changed in 2000 from a relativistic definition of Quality where educational institutions had to just maintain their own pre-set standards of Quality to a more absolute definition where institutions had to maintain standards set on a national basis.

Gombrich (2000) notes the following about the TQA (Total Quality Audit) [12] which is the audit procedure of the QAA:

The TQA is even worse (than the RAE). Departments reckon that preparation for an assessment takes months. The documentation required beggars belief. For example, every course given has to show the inspectors not merely the syllabus and all hand-outs, bibliographies, etc., but samples of the best, the worst and the average written work produced by students on the course. I know of one department, employing six teaching staff, which weighed its submission; it came to 45 kilos of paper.

A pilot study by Leeds University and Leeds Metropolitan University worked out the real cost of a TQA (including the costs of lost teaching and research) as being around £250,000. [13] The 'Times Higher Educational Supplement' (THES) notes that the total cost of the TQAs (since they began in 1995) as approaching £100 million. [14] This is in addition to the £3 million to £5 million a year spent on the internal administration costs of the QAA.

The THES further notes [15] problems with 'grade inflation' in that the average grade for an TQA has increased annually due to academics' becoming more aware of what the QAA wants to hear (rather than any real quality improvement) while the failure rates (0.1% for 1996-98), (0.6% for 1998-2000) are very marginal and 'is what has convinced most academics that the exercise is a waste of resources.'


In addition to this waste, there is also the damage the RAE /TQA cause to intellectual values such as trust and the truth and, more seriously, Dynamic Quality.


As Gombrich (2000) notes, the work of a lecturer is to promote a general good i.e. to promote education.

To carry out their work requires both expertise and an ethical commitment. They get paid for their work, but it is virtually impossible for outsiders to evaluate it, so one of their commitments is not to overcharge. They take responsibility for exercising their judgment in the interest of their clients. The public… has generally been inclined to trust the professions and to allow them to regulate their own affairs through professional councils.

Largely due to the recent audit culture, the individual self-regulation of universities is no longer the case and there is now an unspoken assumption that academics' can only be trusted if audited. The increase of external assessment that has arisen with the RAE/TQA has engendered, in Tagg's (2002a) words, 'dishonesty, cynicism and hypocrisy.'

It is one of my duties to encourage good intellectual practice. If I take part in activities which do not constitute such practice, I open myself to accusations of hypocrisy. I do not think any university teacher should be forced to act hypocritically. (Tagg, 2002a)

The dishonesty and cynicism is brought about because most academics', up to now, have cooperated with audits even though they think such procedures have little value:

Most colleagues find audit exercises ludicrous but nevertheless go through the motions of complying with their imperatives lest the wrath of management be incurred… A recurrent quip from colleagues is that we're forced, like circus animals, 'to jump through hoops'. The more circus tricks we perform, the more we demean ourselves. After all, the whole idea of forcing someone to carry out a pointless task is to demean that person. (Tagg, 2002a)

Other than making-up the numbers in meetings, educational audits also waste academics' time with form filling. Tagg (2002a) notes that forms introduce dishonesty and cynicism as they are completed so that 'management will interpret (them) in the least negative way when apportioning funds.' Ball [16] (2001) also notes that audit culture encourages lecturers to be seen doing what looks good rather than doing work they actually think is good.

However, this lack of trust in academics' is ultimately self-defeating. Tagg (2002a) gives the interesting comparison of Toyota (which being Japanese almost certainly has a high regard for Dynamic Quality) with General Motors (which being American almost certainly follows the Quality = profit models of Deming, Juran or Feigenbaum). Though General Motors employs ten times as many people as Toyota , it produces very few more cars. This is essentially because Toyota depends on trust to sustain long-term relationships with its suppliers. The important point is that this trust gives Toyota 'an openness with information and a flexibility of response which the General Motors structure lacks.' Because General Motors controls and monitors its factories along the lines of Deming etc. it's less flexible, slower and less reliable. The incorporation of trust and openness employed by Toyota give it a real competitive edge. [17]

The more regulations there are, the easier it is to cheat the system because each regulation provides yet another cover behind which the clever 'bad apple' who 'knows the rules of the game' can hide and manipulate. In a more open system based on trust, on the other hand, the peer pressure of not wanting to 'let the side down' has, in my experience, been far more effective a deterrent than rigid prescriptive regulation. (Tagg, 2002a)

Tagg (2002a) also notes that auditors didn't prevent the collapse of the Allied Irish Bank [18] or Enron [19] though suggests that the solution doesn't lie in the appointment of yet more auditors for the auditors:

Indeed, audit's prudence principle, if applied systematically would demand that auditors be audited by auditors who should be audited by more auditors, and so on, in an endless chain of audits and meta-audits. It is clear that audit culture's notion of prudence is not only restricted and misleading but also, if applied properly, never-ending and, consequently, an inordinate waste of time, money and energy. (Tagg, 2002a)

It's also worth noting that the auditing procedures of the UK education system follow the American model where the only people who audit the auditors are people within the same industry. Moreover, the similarities don't end there. In reference to the recent fraud scandals at WorldCom and Xerox, [20] Sir David Tweedie , the chairman of the International Accounting Standards Board notes that American business is dominated by a static 'rule-based approach to accounting standards'. This allows a culture of complacency as it 'allows companies and their auditors to feel they have done their jobs so long as they can tick off boxes to say they complied with certain rules'. [21] In the context of educational auditing, Tagg (2002b) notes the danger with such policies:

Even though the original intentions behind some of the audit exercises may have been noble, they are so flawed by uncritical acceptance of only what can be counted counts that any such noble intentions are thwarted… It is also quite human to conflate the institution established to carry out noble intentions with the noble intentions themselves and then to stick up for an idealised notion of the institution as signifier of the intentions, even when it demonstrably spells mayhem. I think a lot of people who took part in the Russian revolution must have acted similarly when Stalin came to power.


Institutions work best if they have clear goals and are designed to achieve those goals. Hospitals are for care of the sick, orchestras for playing music, and they should be used for those goals, entrusted to the professionals who understand them, and only judged by how well they fulfil them. Universities are for truth: to promote its pursuit (curiosity) and encourage its use under all circumstances.

Gombrich's (2000) contention that truth is the paramount concern for universities is not necessarily served by academic audits because the procedure of auditing is unavoidably distortive. As Strathern (2000) notes, 'audit produces its own effect' i.e. an audit has a certain number of preset quantifiable outputs that will be given priority over outputs which aren't measured. As such, it encourages university departments to concentrate on audited outputs to the detriment of non-audited outputs:

'What can be counted counts' and nothing else, so to speak. The SPR , the RAE , league tables, etc. all exhibit an almost metaphysical belief in the quantifiability of everything. (Tagg, 2002a)

Moreover, the RAE and QAA's audit culture of objectivity rests on the erroneous assumption that numerical measures constitute the only reliable means of assessing anything. This leads to the overlooking of values which are important for research but aren't easily quantifiable such as:

…curiosity, enthusiasm, the ability to cooperate, intellectual generosity, artistic independence, originality, innovation and many other unquantifiable qualities essential to good education and research. (Tagg, 2002a)

i.e. the most Dynamic qualities and, therefore, most important.


As noted by Pirsig in LILA, Dynamic Quality (which represents the unknown, the creative and the intuitive) is the most important aspect of reality alluded to by the MOQ. Unfortunately, Dynamic Quality is the one most seriously damaged by the static orientated procedures employed by the RAE and TQA:

Innovation cannot be audited because it involves, by definition, unknowns, experimentation and the development of previously untried (combinations of) materials, methods or ideas. Audit offers no reward to those who strive for the innovation necessary to keep abreast or in front of social, cultural, technological, intellectual or ideological change; it does, however, provide countless incentives for those who meet prescribed targets based on what is already known and established. (Tagg, 2002a) [22]

The key words in the above reflect a static viewpoint i.e. 'prescribed targets based on what is already known and established.' Anecdotal evidence that Dynamic Quality is gradually being put to one side in education is provided by Gombrich (2000):

On a recent inspection of Oxford teaching the inspector sat in on a history tutorial. The student read an essay; the teacher discussed it with him. In the course of the discussion the teacher rose and pulled a book out of his bookcase to show it to the student. The inspector asked if it was on the syllabus. It was not, (i.e. it was not a pre-established static good) so the teacher was officially criticized for introducing an element (i.e. a Dynamic good) into his teaching which had not been previously announced. Spontaneous interaction (i.e. Dynamic Quality) with a student and the exercise of judgment are both frowned on. [23]

A more depressing account from a primary school teacher story is given by Jeffrey & Woods (1998, p.118). I state depressing as it could become the future experience of lecturers in Higher Education:

I don't have the job satisfaction now I once had working with young kids because I feel every time I do something intuitive (i.e. Dynamic) I just feel guilty about it. 'Is this right; am I doing this the right way; does this cover what I am supposed to be covering: should I be doing something else: should I be more structured; should I have this in place; should I have done this?' (i.e. followed the static procedures). You start to query everything you are doing.

Possibly, not surprisingly, Alan Ryan (2002, p.14) [24] gave the following advice after resigning his post as Warden of New College, Oxford University and travelling to the States:

My advice to anyone young enough and unencumbered enough to do so is indeed to get out and stay out – out of academic life, or if not, out of the British academic system. British academic life has become unviable. It is ill-paid, [25] over managed and increasingly uninteresting.

It's a pity Ryan didn't ask the Secretary of State for Education Keith Joseph seventeen years beforehand about the future of research at Oxford when the minister visited Balliol College . When Joseph addressed an assembly of scientists he advised them: 'If you want to do research, my advice to you is to emigrate.' [26] Not surprisingly, Gombrich (2000) notes:

I can report that my own doctor in Oxford has told me that hardly a day passes when he is not consulted by an academic suffering from stress.

Again, the above anecdotal evidence is supported by the 2002 Report of the Science and Technology Select Committee which notes that the RAE discourages long-term speculative research. It states that if Watson and Crick (who revealed the structure of DNA) were working today that 'these researchers could be branded as inactive and shunted off to teach first-year undergraduates.' [27]


Another business idea that has been imported into British education has been the 'modular system' which originated in the American car industry. The modular system has replaced the traditional British one-subject or two-subject B.A. or B.Sc. degree course. The traditional British degrees only involved examinations at the end of each academic year while modules are examined at the end of each semester. This means considerably more marking for tutors; the consequence from this is noted by Gombrich (2000):

Examining, like all evaluation, is a form of administration and takes time away from what used to be considered the essential duties of university teachers: teaching and research. At some of our universities there is now hardly any teaching between the Easter break and the summer holidays: the teachers are examining full-time.

The over-emphasis on examinations also leaves less time for research. Pirsig (1974, p.147) notes that this policy reduces Dynamic Quality and leads to (static) stagnation:

At a teaching college you teach and you teach and you teach with no time for research, no time for contemplation, no time for participation in outside affairs… Your mind grows dull and your creativity vanishes and you become an automaton saying the same dull things over and over to endless waves of innocent students who cannot understand why you are so dull, lose respect and fan this disrespect out into the community.

The lowering of standards in British education caused by the modular system is noted by Professor Mary Davis (2002):

We now have an appalling modularised, semesterised system that reduces everything to the lowest common denominator. It is almost embarrassing to deliver the kind of courses I deliver. Students don't know that what they are getting is terrible. [28]

Davis (2002a) also complains that the modular system reduces staff-student contact time so tutorials are difficult to maintain and that it also leads to the cramming of courses.

In addition, Robert Brecher (2002) [29] criticises the self-containment of modules as it encourages the fragmentation of courses and makes it easier for universities to introduce part-time hourly paid lecturers who only need to know the particular module they're teaching. This process is insidious as it undermines 'anything resembling an intellectual community' and enables the training of a 'workforce' without encouraging independent thought:

Teaching students to want the right things – to become safe consumers, and occasional producers, of capitalism's means of profit – is exactly what the (Qualispeak administrators) are pursuing… It is modules, not students, that are assessed; no account is taken of students' intellectual development, their reflections on what they have learnt in light of later thought. (Brecher, 2002)

As Pirsig (1974, p.147) notes, universities that become 'teaching colleges' are a 'clever way of running a college on the cheap while giving a false appearance of genuine education' and indicates the real reason for the introduction of modules.

I think the MOQ regards any government supervision of the university curriculum as a form of evil because this is a social pattern attempting to control intellectual patterns. It is hypocritical for conservatives to denounce government interference in the free market place of commerce and then turn around and enforce government interference in the free market place of thought. As long as academic institutions are competitive the word gets around as to which ones are the best. The best teachers will tend to migrate to these schools and avoid government-dominated schools that try to muzzle them. Thus government domination of education defeats its own ostensive purpose. All this is ignored, of course, because the government's non-ostensive purpose – its real purpose -- is not improvement of education but short sighted tax-payer greed. (Pirsig 2002b)

That modularisation has little relation to high quality is notable in the fact that neither the universities of Oxford or Cambridge have introduced the system.

No one has argued that Oxbridge would benefit from modularising its degrees, and what is good for the best is equally good for the rest. That is the argument we need to make. We all know modularity is a sham and we should say so. (Brecher, 2002) [30]

The modular system is encouraged by under-funding which is examined next.


Essentially, it seems that the introduction of American business-style auditing in the UK's Higher Education system was to reduce costs for a right-wing government (essentially hostile to publicly paid education) while, simultaneously, giving the false impression of improving standards (being a government not hostile to those public votes).

As Gombrich (2000) notes, even though Margaret Thatcher enjoyed the advantages of studying at Oxford University , she went a long way to deny future generations the benefit of a similar education. The present UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was also an Oxford graduate, and though his sentiments are in a more positive direction, [31] he has been slow to dismantle the auditing systems or the under-funding his government inherited from the Conservatives. This was notably seen in the failure of the Blair government to fully fund the improved performance in Higher Education noted by the 2001 RAE and the continual avoidance of his ministers to provide the future funding plans for the sector.

This avoidance is not too surprising when it's noted that the 2002 report by the Science and Technology Select Committee warned that an extra £200 million is required on top of HEFCE's annual research budget of £888 million [32] and an additional £1 billion a year is needed for general infrastructure in Higher Education. [33] The Committee's report further recommended a 'lighter touch' RAE, exemptions from this completely for top-rated departments and a development fund in research for new departments. Though the Committee's chairman Dr Ian Gibson was confident that the government would provide additional funding in its Summer 2002 comprehensive spending review, the editorial of the THES of June 7th 2002 noted that 'the message from the Treasury… has been to play down hopes for such a solution.'

As Gombrich (2000) notes, the main contribution of universities to economic growth is through applied science. However, scientific research will become mediocre if there's inadequate money to pay for salaries or laboratories. He also notes that the policy of the Thatcher government to cut expenditure on books and periodicals 'to the bone and beyond' for university libraries has continued.

There is alas the plainest of evidence that the lure of short-term gain is killing the goose that lays the golden eggs… untutored ignorance is thought of as natural, and any interference with that ignorance is a kind of bonus or, as Mrs Thatcher would say, a luxury. Can poor Britain afford such luxuries? Well, in the eighties someone had the bright idea of printing a button for people like me to wear; it said: 'If you think education is expensive, try ignorance'. (Gombrich, 2000)

Gombrich's last point is important as it points towards the fallacy of thinking that a high quality society can be developed without a high quality education for all.


Well, obviously, increased funding is critical to this. The Blair government is spending more per student in real terms and the funding for universities and the science budget is also rising. [34] However, as noted above, there is still a shortfall in the Higher Education research budget of around £200 million per year and a budget shortfall for the whole sector of at least a £1 billion per annum. It looks unlikely that this present shortfall will be provided by the present UK government. This is unfortunate because if this is made up by business this could encourage the bad practice of Qualispeak that is presently damaging the quality of British education. 'The only research will be done by the McDonald's chair of human nutrition.' ( Davis , 2002b) [35]

I think academics' are partly to blame for the present situation in that there's been a general apathy in challenging the imposition of Qualispeak policies [36] though, as can be seen by the increasing number of universities rejecting quality inspection (e.g. Universities Scotland total suspension of SPRs during 2002-03) matters are improving. There is also ignorance. The latter reason is also excusable to some extent as (I've realised in writing this article) it takes time to unpick the various historical and philosophical strands of Qualispeak. Matters aren't made any easier as there is an undeclared policy to keep the background and the audit requirements of Qualispeak 'volatile, slippery and opaque.' (Shore & Wright, 1999 p. 569)

Other than maintaining pressure on HEFCE (and the other UK university funding bodies) to request funds from central government [37] and non-cooperation with audit procedures, there are other options open to academics'. These include ensuring that the two University trade unions (the AUT [38] and NATFHE [39] ) have clear policies rejecting external audit procedures, [40] the establishment of inter-institutional initiatives such as the English Subject Centre [41] to protect the academic quality of subjects and, a dismissal of the objectification which underlies Qualispeak policy. Another positive development is the establishment of complexity theory which is examined in the next section.


One model along MOQ lines for operating complex social systems (such as universities) is complexity theory. According to Blackman (2001) 'complex management' entails a 'whole systems' approach that includes within its frame of reference the wider environment, democratic problem-solving and decentralised experimentation (rather than Qualispeak's culture of coercive accountability and central control). [42]

A complex system interacts with its environment both in terms of feed-backs (i.e. static quality) and feed-forwards (i.e. Dynamic Quality), so its boundaries connect the system with its environment rather than separate it (Blackman, 2000). It is open and dynamic but control and/or co-operation need to be present so that the system does not simply dissipate. (Blackman, 2001)

In other words, complex systems (such as universities) need to be able to maintain a static/Dynamic balance. In order to achieve this, they require:

Information about their external environment, particularly to be able to cope with being out of equilibrium due to environmental change by having the capacity to represent the environment, learn about it and communicate this learning. Communication, learning, common purpose or alignment, and continuous adaptation and improvement are essential features of complex human systems. Although dynamic, in the long run they may settle down to an attractor, (such as the truth) which is a steady state with generic, describable features. (Blackman, 2001)

Complexity theory does not deny the need for monitoring but thinks that performance information should be fed back directly back to the people running the relevant parts of a system (rather than indirectly through imposed targets and managerial control of external audits). As it's the people in the field who are monitoring quality, this allows the system to be more responsive and innovative (i.e. Dynamic).

Above all, organisations need to have the autonomy to initiate innovation rather than be constrained by pre-defined performance targets. This is increasingly being revealed by studies of performance management (Newman, Raine and Skelcher, 2001). Working with the self-organisational capacity of local systems acknowledges local agency and democratic participation. Prescribed performance indicators… (of RAE /TQM) leave little room for local debate and decision about what to prioritise and how. (Blackman, 2001)

To summarise then, unlike Qualispeak cultures, complexity theory allows systems such as universities to support their Dynamic nature which is essential for their successful development.


Ironically, the problems seen in Qualispeak audits have also been noted in the area where they were originally developed i.e. corporate business. Tagg (2002a) notes that Professor Charles Goodhart (who was the Chief Adviser to the Bank of England) testifies to the fact that the criticism of Qualispeak audits is now 'just as strong in the world of finance as in academe.' Tagg further notes that this observation is adequately substantiated [43] by the following business experts: Peter Miller, Colette Bowe, Clare Spottiswoode, Teresa Graham and, John Kay. [44] They assert that good business practice depends, to a large extent, on informal arrangements, trust, and the necessity of interacting with the real world, with all its complexity of loose ends and unpredictability. As Pirsig (1991, p.225) notes, in his comparison of capitalist and socialist economies, static intellectual patterns can guide people to a limited extent but they cannot pre-empt all the Dynamic complex realities of social and economic relations at the basis of doing business:

The reason the major capitalist economies of the world have done so much better since World War II than the major socialist economies… is that the socialists, reasoning intelligently and objectively, have inadvertently closed the door to Dynamic Quality in the buying and selling of things. They closed it because the metaphysical structure of their objectivity never told them Dynamic Quality exists.

In other words, SOM not only negates the benefits of capitalism (in its objectification of people) but also socialism in its non-recognition of Dynamic Quality.

People, like everything else, work better in parallel than they do in series… When things are organized socialistically in a bureaucratic series, any increase in complexity increases the probability of failure. But when they're organized in a free-enterprise parallel, an increase in complexity becomes an increase in diversity more capable of responding to Dynamic Quality, and thus an increase of the probability of success. (Pirsig, 1991, p.225)

It is interesting to note that Pirsig picks-up on the advantages of complexity theory here. It seems that the business community have finally caught up as Qualispeak auditing is now seen as out-of-date [45] and "multi-attribute" (or Dynamic) modelling on the lines of complexity theory is now encouraged.

The emergence of Complexity Studies (e.g. Elliott and Kiel 1997; Hoskin 1996; Morel and Ramanujam 1999), which attempt to confront the reality of all those 'loose ends', and which address that reality in the management of public institutions (e.g. Blackman 2001), seems to have resulted from the realisation that rigid (i.e. static) quantifiability is counterproductive when assessing the success of procedures in the sphere of economics, business and management. (Tagg, 2002a)

It's just unfortunate for British Higher Education that the above wasn't realised by the business community in the 1950s as Qualispeak auditing and its damaging effects seem set to stay within this system (and in the education systems of other countries such as Australia ) for a while yet.


Though the business community is becoming more aware of how Dynamic Quality operates in complex systems, there seems little indication that they realise that capitalism is not the only system that can benefit from it. In order to avoid the SOM tendency to objectify people a free market needs to be tied in with a more socialistic economic system that recognises people as intellectual Dynamic beings. Moreover, it's the parallel random access that underlies a free market that makes it work so well rather than its usual close relationship with capitalism. In consequence, it doesn't follow that a free market system is necessarily appropriate outside an economic context.

Local government, health, welfare and education require systems based on parallel random access specifically tailored to their needs, not a commercial one derived from the free market. For example, the parallel access that works well in a library is the Dewey Decimal System as it allows an infinite addition of new books without having to re-number the existing ones. In contrast, the parallel access of free market ideology can be destructive for libraries. As noted by Gombrich (2000):

Expenditure on books and periodicals for university libraries was cut (by) government policy initiated in the Thatcher years and (has) continued since… It may be believed that the Internet makes books redundant, but the very books… missing are most unlikely ever to be recorded electronically. Once such gaps in acquisition have gone on for a couple of years the lost ground cannot be recovered and the collection will never again be satisfactory. This means that in certain fields British scholars will have to rely on libraries abroad, probably the library of Congress.


If the MOQ is assumed to be a valid way of viewing reality (especially in its contention that Dynamic Quality is real) then it helps to challenge audit culture by providing conceptual tools that highlight the problems involved. In the first place, the MOQ differentiates and evaluates the various definitions of 'Quality' used in educational auditing by assessing how well they promote truth and the Dynamic values such as creativity. This immediately indicates that the Quality measure of Deming et al (i.e. what provides the most profit) is a social value and is inappropriate for educational institutions whose primary concern is the promotion (of the intellectual value) of truth.

Moreover, the MOQ shares the post-modernist critique that SOM is too static in its outlook. Though remaining a metaphysical system, the MOQ recognises that open-ended Dynamic values are important and critical for high quality research. For their development in academia, Pirsig (2002a) suggests the following:

Less exclusive, objective study of how things are done and more inclusive Dynamic study of how to do them: that is; less literature and more creative writing, less art appreciation and more art, less philosophology (i.e. the history of philosophical ideas) and more philosophising. [46] The idea of the scholar as someone who knows much but cannot do anything weakens respect for all academia.

Finally, the MOQ is valuable because it reveals the static SOM culture underlying educational audits. The removal of Qualispeak audit culture would certainly be a first step to improving Higher Education but this would be in vain if its underlying SOM foundations aren't dismantled as well. This is because if an SOM worldview for assessing universities remains in place, it will just give rise to further policies that objectify and quantify yet, at the same time, overlook the Dynamic aspects of reality so important in educational development.

To tear down a factory or to revolt against a government or to avoid repair of a motorcycle because it is a system is to attack effects rather than causes; and as long as the attack is upon effects only, no change is possible. The true system, the real system, is our present construction of systematic thought itself… (i.e. SOM) If a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory. If a revolution destroys a systematic government, but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves in the succeeding government. There's so much talk about the system. And so little understanding. (Pirsig, 1974, p.102)


[1] Margaret Thatcher was famous for being the UK's first woman prime minister and infamous as the harbinger of the poll tax, the instigator of anti-Trade Union laws, the destroyer of the British coal industry and a believer in the free market; privatising a considerable proportion of British industry such as the utility, motor and aero companies.

'She was the greatest centralizer of power Britain has known in modern times and energetically promoted the state's "second guessing" the decisions of local government and the professions - in fact, of everyone except businessmen.' (Gombrich, 2000).

It's important to note that though Thatcher's period in office as prime minister ended in 1990, her policies were still continued by the John Major government and, to a lesser extent, by Tony Blair. The latter's beliefs have been, no doubt, adversely affected by the low quality social values promoted in his 'public' school education. For instance, note the legal action brought in October 2002 by Shujaat Husain against Shrewsbury School on grounds of racial prejudice.,5500,144359,00.html (October 26th 2002)

[2] The first academic paper Pirsig wrote on Quality was 'Quality in Freshman Composition' delivered at the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association regional convention on October 13th 1961.

[3] Referenced from the Dept. of Trade & Industry's web page on Quality business 'gurus' found at: (March 1st 2002)

[4] This idea of Quality is still promoted by the British Standards Institute who define Quality as '…the totality of features and characteristics of a product or service that bear on its ability to satisfy a given need.' (Pfeffer & Coote, 1991, p.5)

[5] Richard Gombrich is the Professor of Oriental Languages at Oxford University .

[6] These acronyms stand for the following: Total 'Quality' Management (TQM), Continuous 'Quality' Improvement (CQI) and 'Quality' Management Maturity Grid (QMMG).

[7] Michael Loughlin is a lecturer in philosophy and professional ethics at Manchester Metropolitan University .

[8] Pfeffer & Coote (1991, p.9) locate the mainstream acceptance (in the UK) of the American business 'gurus' specifically to the best selling book 'In Search of Excellence: lessons from America's best-run companies' by T.J. Peters & R.H. Waterman which was published in 1982. Though companies (such as Sainsbury's and Marks & Spencer) had used these ideas before, it was only when the commercially orientated Thatcher government arrived that such ideas were used in Britain on a large scale.

[9] However, Stephen Clark (2002) who is a QAA auditor (as well as a professor in philosophy at Liverpool University ), does note that RAE '…panel-members are explicitly and completely excluded from the debates about their own departments (or any departments with which they are associated).'

[10] From 'MPs' report calls RAE 'damaging distraction' an article by Caroline Davis in THES, No. 1535, (April 26th 2002), p.1.

[11] Before Summer 2002, Universities UK was known as the CVCP (Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals). It was originally founded in 1918 and consists of the executive heads of all of the universities in the UK . Universities UK is incorporated as a private company limited by guarantee with charitable status, and is funded by annual contributions from the member universities in proportion to their size.

[12] The TQA is officially termed the SPR (subject programme review).

[13] From an article by Donald MacLeod & Lee Elliot Major featured in the Guardian, March 28th 2000. The THES (March 30th 2001) has a lower estimate of between £20,000 and £200,000 for each TQA. From 'Worthy project or just a game?' an article by Phil Baty in THES, No. 1480 (March 30th 2001), p.7.

[14] From 'Worthy project or just a game?' an article by Phil Baty in THES, No. 1480 (March 30th 2001), p.7.

[15] ibid.

[16] Stephen J. Ball is the Karl Mannheim Professor of Sociology of Education at the University of London 's Institute of Education .

[17] It's interesting to note that people have started to collect 1980s Toyotas because of their reliability.

[18] 'In early February (2002) when the director of the Allied Irish Bank was interviewed on Channel 4 News about the bank's failure to discover the disappearance of billions of its dollars through embezzlement by one of its middle-management employees. According to the director, nothing was wrong with the bank's auditing because, as he put it, 'we have robust mechanisms in place' to root out that sort of thing. Pressed further by the interviewer, the director explained that, unfortunately, some employees knew the mechanisms inside out and how to use them to their own advantage.' (Tagg, 2002a)

[19] Robert Harris (2002) notes: 'I think the recent collapse of ENRON and Global Crossing are directly a result of an SOM approach to business run to the extreme. I continue to write and speak on the core choice of business models for client firms:

(1) The old model of "money creates value" versus (2) the new model of "value creates money." They are obviously interrelated. The question is which is the dominant paradigm? There is no question that today the old (SOM) model prevails, but the new (MOQ) one is gaining. A thousand years from now the tables may be reversed.

Evidence that the new one is gaining can be found in positive examples like British Petroleum and Ford, both of whom are now led by a younger generation of baby boomer executives who see life a little differently than their previous generation.'

[20] WorldCom inflated its profit figures by $4bn (£2.5bn) while Xerox overstated its revenue by $2bn (£1.3bn). Figures from The Guardian (June 29th 2002) p.1 and enclosed supplement 'The Editor' p.4.

[21] Quoted from 'Calvinist on a clean-up quest' an article by Jill Treanor in The Guardian (June 29th 2002) p.26.

[22] Tagg (2002a) notes a personal example of Dynamic Quality that was overlooked by auditors: 'In 1981 there was no official incentive for me to co-found the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM), just a lot of encouragement from institutionally isolated colleagues. Where previously no academic forum for exchange of information and ideas in our subject area existed, we now have an association organising around 600 scholars in some 40 nations. Today, holding office in IASPM even qualifies for official UK audit brownie points (as it is now a static good!), but setting it up did not and I lost both time and money in the process!'

[23] Stephen Clark (2002) does note that such an incident is not a true reflection of the usual procedures followed by auditors: 'I find this a very odd anecdote. It might conceivably be true for A-level teaching (where it is indeed important that students not reveal more knowledge than the syllabus requires), but as far as University teaching goes, SPR teams are expressly forbidden from making such personalized comments and from intervening in teaching situations. And I can't believe that the (SPR) report made any such criticism.'

However, in reply to Clark, Gombrich (2002) states: 'My anecdote is simply true and happened to a colleague of mine in this college (Balliol). I do not think it necessary to give you his name, as in these days one has to be wary of repercussions. I also think that for me to cite "history" is specific enough.'

[24] From 'Ryan quits as "ill-paid" Oxford don' an article by Phil Baty in THES, No. 1540 (May 31st 2002), p.5.

[25] A survey carried out by the Trade Research Unit at Ruskin College , Oxford noted that 89 per cent of the 1900 F.E. lecturers and managers asked 'thought that poor pay had eroded lecturers' morale.' From ' Union urges local control for ex-polys' an article by Phil Baty in THES, No. 1540 (May 31st 2002), p.1.

[26] Anecdote from Gombrich, 2000.

[27] From 'MPs' report calls RAE "damaging distraction"' an article by Caroline Davis in THES, No. 1535 (April 26th 2002) p.5.

[28] Professor Mary Davis (a union representative) quoted at the NATFHE 2002 Torquay Conference in an article titled 'Members condemn unfunded growth' by Phil Baty. In THES, No. 1541 (June 7th 2002), p.6.

[29] Brecher is a reader in moral philosophy at the University of Brighton . From 'Fast food is no substitute for an intellectual feast' an article in THES, No. 1541 (June 7th 2002), p.18.

[30] Stephen Clark (2002) actually thinks the non-modularisation of Oxford and Cambridge has 'a lot more to do with the intransigence of the Oxbridge establishment: I don't believe there has been any argument about it. And another reason is that they simply have more resources.'

[31] Shortly before the UK budget in 2002, Blair stated that education 'is and always will be our number one priority.' From 'A few things bound to dampen your party spirit' an article by Stephen Court in THES, No. 1541 (June 7th 2002), p.14.

[32] From 'MPs' report calls RAE 'damaging distraction'' an article by Caroline Davis in THES, No. 1535 (April 26th 2002) p.5.

[33] From 'A few things bound to dampen your party spirit' an article by Stephen Court in THES, No. 1541 (June 7th 2002), p.14.

[34] ibid.

[35] Professor Mary Davis (a representative of NATFHE) quoted at the NATFHE 2002 Conference in an article titled 'Union rounds on RAE debacle' an article by Phil Baty in THES, No. 1541 (June 7th 2002) p.6.

[36] As noted in 'No one challenges Big Brother' an article by Mary Evans in THES, No. 1540 (May 31st 2002), p.14. Evans believes that the 'mass participation' of academics' in complying – without question - to the RAE , QAA and the 50% participation rate (of young people in HE) is undermining professionalism and academic standards. She also thinks that what is stated as 'public accountability' by university administrators is nothing of the sort.

[37] Ian Gibson, the chairman of the 2002 Report of the Science and Technology Select Committee recommended 'that HEFCE be more aggressive in negotiating funding from the government and should ensure it backs up the universities.' From 'MPs signal radical RAE overhaul' an article by Caroline Davis in THES, No. 1535 (April 26th 2002) p.1.

[38] The Association of University Teachers.

[39] The National Association of Teachers in Further & Higher Education.

[40] 'If it is the duty of our trade union to represent the interests of the majority of its members, then the majority's demonstrable opposition to audit should be part of union policy. The fact that it is not is both illogical and unethical. It also means that, if we are serious about our work as educators and researchers under current conditions, we have to resort to individual measures to try and counteract the most adverse effects of audit.' (Tagg, 2002a)

[41] The English Subject Centre was set-up to maintain high quality standards in the teaching of English by Royal Holloway College , King's College, London and the Council for College and University English (CCUE). The Centre's main aim is to 're-focus attention on the central business of educating our students' and to 'return academics to the genuine excitement of teaching, one of the reasons why most of us went into this business in the first place.' (Simons 2001)

[42] Tim Blackman is the Professor of Sociology and Social Policy and Director of the School of Social Sciences at the University of Teesside . He first encountered complexity theory in Newcastle through working with Professor Carol Fitz-Gibbon on a research project about educational achievement.

[43] These business experts took part in the BBC Radio 4 Analysis programme with the theme 'Rough Counting' originally broadcast on November 4th 1999. Transcript accessible at:

[44] Peter Miller is the Professor of Accounting at the London School of Economics, Collette Bowe is the executive Chairperson of Save and Prosper, and former head of the Personal Investment Authority; Clare Spottiswoode is a member of the Management Team of PA Consulting, London; Tessa Graham is a Partner in the Accountancy firm, Baker and Tilly, London, and a member of the UK Better Regulation Task Force, while John Kay is a Director of Halifax plc, the former Professor of Economics at Oxford and, a former director of the Said Business School.

[45] Andrew Grave, a business research executive from the London accountants BDO Stoy Hayward noted (June 6th 2002) the following (after reading a rough draft of this article): 'I think you need to understand the introduction of Quality as business jargon. My feeling is that it came over with the Japanese but has died out in importance. Since then you've had stuff like Y2K, Investors in People and now ISO 1400 (Environmental).'

[46] I think Pirsig's ideas follow the original understanding of 'education' as a dynamic 'drawing out' of students rather than just the inculcation of predetermined static information.


Ball, Stephen J. (2001).The Teacher's Soul & the Terrors of Performativity. (June 1st 2002)

Clark, Stephen R.L. (2002). E-mail to Anthony McWatt dated June 13th 2002.

Clark, G. & Itoh, T. Eds. (1983). The Dawns of Tradition, Nissan Motor Co., Kyoto , Japan .

Crosby, Philip B. (1979). Quality is Free, 1980 Mentor Paperback edition, Penguin, New York .

Di Santo, R.L. & Steele, T.J. (1990). Guidebook to Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, William Morrow & Co., New York .

Gombrich, Richard (2000). British Higher Education Policy in the last Twenty Years: The Murder of a Profession. (March 2nd 2001)

Gombrich, Richard (2002). E-mail to Anthony McWatt dated June 26th 2002.

Grave, Andrew (2002). E-mail to Anthony McWatt dated June 6th 2002.

Harris, Robert J. (2002). E-mail to Anthony McWatt dated March 13th 2002.

Jeffrey, B. & Woods, P. (1998). Testing Teachers, Falmer Press, London .

Loughlin, Michael (2002). Ethics, Management & Mythology, Radcliffe Medical Press, Oxford .

Pfeffer N. & Coote, A. (1991). Is Quality Good for You?, 1996 Paperback edition, Institute for Public Policy Research, London .

Pirsig, Robert M. (1974). Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values, 1999 25th Anniversary Edition, William Morrow, New York .

Pirsig, R.M. (1991). Lila: An Inquiry into Morals, Bantam Books, London .

Pirsig, R.M. (2002a). E-mail to Anthony McWatt dated June 16th 2002.

Pirsig, R.M. (2002b). E-mail to Anthony McWatt dated July 3rd 2002.

Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, The. Various documents posted at their website (Accessed between January 2001 to June 2002)

Shore, C. & Wright, S. (1999). 'Audit Culture & Anthropology: Neo-liberalism in British Higher Education' in The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol. 5, Issue 4, pp. 557-75.

Strathern, Marilyn (2000). Virtual Society? Get Real! (June 1st 2002)

Tagg, Philip (2002a). Conscientious Objections to Audit Background. (June 1st 2002)

Tagg, Philip (2002b). E-mail to Anthony McWatt dated July 1st 2002.

Various issues of the Times Higher Educational Supplement dated from March 2001 to June 2002. The specific references used are given in the above footnotes.

Copyright © Anthony McWatt, 2002

I would like to acknowledge the following in their assistance with the above: Robert Pirsig, Professor Stephen Clark, Professor Philip Tagg, Dr Robert Harris, Andrew Grave and, Professor Richard Gombrich.

Also many thanks to 'Horse' in formatting this document for

Anyone particularly interested in examining the above issues further is recommended to visit Professor Tagg's website at