Wednesday, October 27, 2010

John Browne's Misplaced Culture of Higher Education

Lord John Browne of Madingley released his report on British higher education.  He stated noble aims:

It is designed to make a system which lasts and increases quality and allows participation to go up.

It succeeds on the latter. University students will be charged £6,000 a year or more under Browne's plan. The reference to quality in the report, universities will "maintain minimum standards."  As for making the system last, Browne was mum on the details:

I don't know how much the government needs to take out of the higher education budget, but this system is designed to be sustainable for the future.

That sounds like the Lord John Browne giving deposition in fifteen deaths at BP's Texas City refinery.  For a Fortune 500 leader, Browne knew surprisingly little.

Lord Brown has a history of misplaced emphasis. James A. Baker, III's investigative report on the refinery explosion blamed a "misplaced culture of safety."  It cited a focus on personal safety vs. process safety.

Dr. W. Edwards Deming, once the world's foremost quality expert,  noted the overwhelming impact of organizational systems vs. individual effort on outcomes.  He said the system comprised 94%, the individual only 6%.  BP CEO Lord John Browne focused on the 6%, when he zeroed in on personal safety, while slashing operating costs, 25% in one year's time. 

Dr. Deming said profound knowledge comes from the outside.  That means people, i.e students, don't know what they don't know.  Lord Browne's plan puts the individual student in charge of their education, especially financially.  He's back to focusing on the 6%.  How will these changes impact higher education systems, the other 94%?

Lord Browne carved out a profitable student-housing niche for his employer, The Carlyle Group. No means testing is required for student living loans.  Carlyle has huge plans for student housing in London.  Carlyle loves when government effectively guarantees payment for services.  Browne is maddeningly slippery.

Lord John Browne's misplaced culture surfaces again, this time with a PEU odor.  Apparently, leaders are used to the smell, as private equity underwriters are now mainstream..

Update 10-31-10:  Browne aims for a 40% cut in government operating funds for higher education.

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