Find time for courage

Take Courage

At the MOOC research conference last week Amy Collier gave an impassioned call for courage in relation to MOOCs, and in the way I interpreted it, openness in general. As she put it "some things are too important not to have courage".

This quote came back to me last week, when I was in discussions about open access publishing at the OU. The responses from others in different departments were sensible and cautious, a wait and see strategy. I couldn't disagree with them, but part of me felt, 'remember when we used to take risks and do stuff because we thought it was right?' This isn't a moan about that decision, but rather that it made me consider the wider context in universities.

My concern is this – post-austerity, and particularly post-fees in the UK, all universities have become risk averse and cautious. There are lots of factors to consider. I don't blame an individual – it's not a great outcome to take a risk, get a bad NSS score and have to lay off staff the following year because of reduced enrolments. But I think this cautious approach seeps into the culture and takes years to overcome. Imagine you are a new academic who takes on a management role, sub-dean say. You are being enculturated into how a sub-dean behaves by observing others. If the appropriate sub-dean type behaviour is sensible caution, that is the mode you adopt. And then this gets passed down to the next incomer, and so on. Twenty years from now you find yourself asking "where did all our innovators go?". But if you reverse that and have people taking appropriate but occassional risky decisions, then this becomes the behaviour you adopt. 

So I make a plea to all of those in universities, especially myself as I lack it on a daily basis – have the occasional flash of courage.

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