The 3 ‘i’s versus the 3 ‘r’s

This blog post is coming to you from the west coast of the United States of America. It is an interesting place to be right now, as the US swings into election mode for 2012 and therefore looks more thoroughly into its soul. A good bit of the public discourse here follows similar patterns to those across the Atlantic: concerns about economic recession, public debt and unemployment – as well as criticism of the behaviour of bankers, property speculators and politicians. But what caught my eye was an article in the local newspaper here, reporting on an opinion poll that found most Americans feel that 2011 was a bad year; and yet they viewed 2012 with optimism.

Of course 2012 may turn out to be as bad or worse for all of us. Many commentators are predicting exactly that. But I cannot help feeling that the irrepressible American tendency to be optimistic gives them an edge, and a sense of purpose and energy that Europeans sometimes lack.

And here’s something else that attracted my attention. A local politician here said recently that the country will be in peril if everyone just focuses on what he called the three ‘R’s: ‘regulation’, ‘risk’ and ‘routine’. What was needed much more was a push for three ‘i’s: ‘innovation’, ‘information’ and ‘initiative’. Events over the past 3-4 years have pushed people to look for more regulation, when in fact there is not that much evidence that we had too little: rather, we had too little effective application of regulation, and not enough appropriate information. In the end increased regulation usually settles down as bureaucratisation, and a mentality in which caution stifles the drive for renewal.

Universities are in exactly this position: where some believe that more regulation and less autonomy is the answer. It almost certainly isn’t. More responsibility and a greater sense of community is needed, but that’s something quite different.

My hope for 2012 is that we don’t all become mesmerised by the problems we now face, and that we allow innovation and initiative to flourish, while also recognising that we need to do this as a community with a common cause.

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4 Comments on “The 3 ‘i’s versus the 3 ‘r’s”

  1. I don’t wish to be *too* much the Christmas grump, but I think if you are wishing for less HE regulation in 2012 you might as well wish us all ponies while you are about it.

  2. Andrew Smith Says:

    Agree, but often over regulating may occur when institutions and their personnel shy away from accountability and responsibility?

    Interesting case study will be Australia where university and high education institutions will be responsible for visa complaince under new student visa system.

    If they do take responsibility through an assurance system e.g. application of student evaluations via survey and interviews on how they were found (which marketing and communication channels), academic progress, social welfare and visa compliance, excellent.

    If not, they will lose access to the streamlined system…..

    All in all should be better marketing, but one thinks many personnel will not be too happy about it…..

  3. anna notaro Says:

    *But I cannot help feeling that the irrepressible American tendency to be optimistic gives them an edge, and a sense of purpose and energy that Europeans sometimes lack.*
    This might be true, especially from a European perspective, however when it comes to *innovation* Americans & Europeans are experiencing a very similar cultural paradox, as the sociologist Kurt Anderson calls it in a recent article on Vanity Fair (
    ‘We seem to have trapped ourselves’ he writes considering the past 25 years ‘in a vicious cycle—economic progress and innovation stagnated, except in information technology; which leads us to embrace the past and turn the present into a pleasantly eclectic for-profit museum; which deprives the cultures of innovation of the fuel they need to conjure genuinely new ideas and forms; which deters radical change, reinforcing the economic (and political) stagnation. The irony is that new technology has reinforced the *nostalgic cultural gaze* by giving us access to every old image and recorded sound we forget the future and we dream of the past. For Anderson the reasons for this phenomenon is twofold: an unconscious collective reaction to all the profound nonstop newness we’re experiencing on the tech and geopolitical and economic fronts and also economic (shifts in taste make it more expensive to do business). While I agree with the gist of Anderson’s argument (although I would emphasize that a certain ‘newenness’ is still to be found even in nostalgically infused contemporary styles) I would add another possible cause for the cultural paradox he describes, the lack of conflict. Conflict (in its various manifestations) as a powerful engine for innovation and change has been gradually eradicated from our Western societies (the OWS movement is some ‘innovation’ in this sense), the ‘art of compromise’ at all costs has colonized political discourse with consequences which are far from satisfactory (as the recent divergent views on Europe within the Lib & conservative British coalition government have illustrated). Universities must understand and help us interpret the cultural paradoxes our societies are experiencing, we might so discover that conflict is not necessarily something to be feared because true innovation does not come out of stasis.

  4. Vince Says:

    Newcastle 3-0 Man-U
    Just in case you missed it over in La-La land

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