Higher Administration versus Higher Education

Recently, Denis Rogatyuk wrote in a telesur article about

Britain: University Teachers Launch the Largest Strike in Modern History

There we find the sentence

university staff, lecturers, and students have organized picket lines, rallies, occupations and protests across all major cities in the country in their bid to defend their future livelihood and bring the university administration back to the negotiating table.

Well,it deserves some slow reading, becoming fully aware of the fact that administrators are not mentioned. – Admittedly and importantly,

In a number instances, the vice-chancellor of the University of Newcastle, Chris Day, came out in support of the academic staff’s decision to strike, while Glasgow University’s Vice-chancellor, Anton Muscatelli, joined the staff on the picket lines on February 27th. Even the Conservative Minister for Universities, Sam Gyimah, expressed support for further negotiations between UCU and UUK

[An image from a University and College Union rally in London on February 28th. | Photo: UCU]

Of course, the one point is simply a matter of the ‘organisational framework’: Administrations are formally responsible for dealing with the issues of payment. However, considering that today admin-staff in UK universities gets higher pay [raises] as academics, the underlying is getting clear: universities are money generating systems, the academic freedom and academic standard seems to be – in the institutional  light – increasingly a necessary, though not valued by-product – as it is with any other commodity. – Achieving high academic standards is a matter of private engagement.

In this context another point should be mentioned, though just anecdotal: I talked to several colleagues, who confirmed that forty, four-five percent of standard teaching is nowadays at their uiversity undertaken by casual teaching staff. Mind: standard teaching. These teachers, often highly committed, still have another commitment: paying rent and getting some food on the table.



It may be that future referencing look like this, at least I felt obliged to add the underlined part while having written an essay for publication

Herrmann, ongoing [a]: Is it really about Industry 4.0.?; https://www.researchgate.net/project/Is-it-really-about-Industry-40; [b] Wandel des Wirtschaftens – Wandel des Rechts. Forschungsskizze zu Sozialrecht und Sozialpolitik; https://www.researchgate.net/project/Wandel-des-Wirtschaftens-Wandel-des-Rechts-Forschungsskizze-zu-Sozialrecht-und-Sozialpolitik; 29/12/17; some of the references had been added by researchgate and are completely irrelevant to the work and/or content would be fundamentally criticised and even rejected. Actually thus confirms parts of what had been stated: the complete lack of competence of the algorithm jugglers and the lack of real power of users as those references cannot be manually deleted)

The paragraph I referred to reads as follows:

This pattern applies – cum grano salis – to many areas, and of course, it means higher efficiency, thus lower cost, the possibility of establishing user-friendly and comfortable use of services and purchase of goods, in selected cases even giving the customer/service user some space for interaction and increased influence, opening roads towards part-individualised services/goods. All this going hand in hand with decreasing prices. However, there is a price to be paid, and there are two different charges levied. The one is a – possibly twofold – pressure on working conditions; twofold means that pressure is increased on those who are directly involved as for instance UBER-drivers, foodora-deliverers but also hotels [individual or chains] that are engaging with booking.com. The other bill has to be paid by people and strata who are only peripherally concerned – we may even think about the click-workers on click-farms, boosting the image of their customers by making virtual reality to faked realities. The other reason is that the increased freedom and power of the customer/user is in actual fact more illusionary than anything else: one crucial point is that even the attempt to make use of the options requires a pre-empt formulations, making thus sure that ‘the system’ is able to process the data. In other words, increased variety is more qualitative than quantitative.

Adding a bit of the background: I am not extensively working with my researchgate-site, and the same applies to academia.edu which actually had been established a long time by my university in Budapest. Recently I saw by accident references to documents and texts as reference which had not been added by me, some of them I didn’t even know. I contacted the ResearchGate Community Support, complaining. I even received an answer whited not always been the case:

Thanks for contacting us. You are the only collaborator listed, so you are the only person who can add research items to this project.
If you are referring to the references (34), these are automatically added using the publications that you have added to your project. To remove the references, you need to remove the publication that you added as an update.

So, the first thing that can be said: they a liars – obviously they are also collaborators, to be more precise, a system that is not thought through is collaborating. On the point that this system is not thought through, the following my be said, quoting from my answer:

Thanks …, from the perspective of an academic researcher this is not reflecting how things should work. In the extreme – as known from an English case, doing research on fascism/right wing policy it ended up in the most contested position appearing as most outstanding work in this field of research. – It was not a researchgate-related case but shows that your management should revisit policies that are going into that direction.

Just showing up is thus sufficient, substance, positions of researchers are erased from the agenda. and still it has something of the Berufsverbote we had been fighting – be it under terms of Berufsverbote, McCarthyism, censorship or anything the like. All this is worrying enough.

There is still another point that deserves mention. Those days with the little encounter with the ‘community’ I wrote a mail to a friend in China:

I made yesterday a somewhat funny experience: the midwife saying something, i.e. ‘ I am obliged to inform you …. – but from my own experience …’ – so after her midwife-business was done, I asked what this would actually mean: ‘I am obliged …’. Who and what would oblige her. The professional organisation, the medical professionals, some administration …. – she did not know. All was based on some statistical surveys, not a matter of experience. – Doesn’t acceptance begin with such small things? Doesn’t it begin as well with people like myself simply completely accepting the requirements … put up by national ministries, by other universities like Bangor, Warwick, LSE etc,, by ministries from other countries … ? As said, difficult and there is probably no ‘one answer’. Refusing on some occasions to comply, I actually had to pay thousands of Euro over the years leaving aside other payments like being ignored, censored, bullied or not being accepted for certain jobs based on ‘political’ reasons. Still, this is also something linked to the issue of knowledge versus skills. Skills … it is something for computers and robots … – but knowledge …
And real knowledge is …, well another experience from one of the recent days, when I went to the opera in Munich. I met one guy who works there – after ??? some five years at least, he still remembered me …, bit of chatting, also about the performance – during the pause he said: you will enjoy the third act — one must really be a very good side and dancer to be able to sing and dance wrongly. – Similar to what Picasso once said – something like: it took me three years to learn painting like the classical painters, and it took me many more years to learn painting like a child.

The world isn’t flat – though accepting that some people suggest it would be is sad to say the least, and seeing them making a career and having the power to algorithm-ise the careers of others and the way knowledge develops is appalling. The fact that major journals do it, should for researchgate and similar a motivation to do better instead reproducing the publishers ‘artificial bashfulness’, borrowing a term from from Hito Steyerl.

trying to open the box


Looking at how academic institutions deal with applications by students – and with lecturers who support their endeavour – when it comes to applications there seems to be little hope: one meets ignorance, lack of respect and unqualified ways of handling procedures – I referred to this issue earlier.. I suppose part of the problem is also that we usually accept such misbehavior and move on, allowing ‘them’ to move on their way. Hopeless …

“HOPE is what makes us strong. It is why we are here. It is what we fight with when all else is lost.”
– Pandora’s last words

With this attitude I wrote the letter/mail to some completely ignorant universities: if asking for a reference that supports students to follow their path of curiosity, has any meaning, there are some institutions that themselves delve in complete lack of meaning.


Dear colleague, I am writing to you after overcoming some hesitation and also after reflecting if there is any point in it.

Still, for the sake of students and due to my commitment to academia and academic standards I feel obliged to follow up on the way your university is dealing with applications. If there is any claim on hour side to be an academic institution of reputable rank and with an international standing, at least revisiting the following is highly advisable – to say the least.
Lecturers today are encouraged to move, and some actually manage to be engaged by different universities and research institutes – for my part I can humbly state that I had been in the lucky situation of being involved in teaching and research in different countries, linked to various institutions, amongst them those with high international standing. However, this also means that e-mail addresses change. Apparently, so I had been informed, your institution requires students to submit contact details of lectures whom they nominate for their recommendation, valid at the time of teaching. In other words, I had been teaching students who asked me for a reference after I left the respective university – and still the students are asked to provide contact details from an outdated position. In this light, what is really outdated is the requirement you set. It shows that your institution does not reflect standards of todays academia, and instead follows somewhat ‘provincial’, ‘parochial’ ideas. – I may add, that historically at least in Europe, the mobility of academics had been the norm, the settled, academic the exception – settled in terms of space usually also meant settled in thinking, lacking openness to exchange and innovation.
Now, moving on to the next point: In several cases it is [was] possible for me to keep the e-mail address from an earlier position. One option to deal with this is to check different mail accounts. Sometimes it is possible to forward mails; and another option is to set an automatic reply, informing and asking the sender to use a different e-mail-address. I had to chose with one of the accounts the latter option. So, the request for a reference, sent by our university to the one ‘official’ mail address, was answered by such automatic reply, providing an alternative address. Although the mail from your institution was not sent by a completely automated system and replies had been received, the responsible department or person did not consider to react in an appropriate way. On the contrary, later a reminder was sent to the same, inactive, address. This behaviour from your institution shows in my opinion cum gram salis the same attitude as that mentioned previously. It is highly disrespectful, ignoring the serious interests of students and showing no collegiality to academics. It is even topped by the fact that I once set a mail to the relevant department of your institution, using the ‘dormant address’. The rely I received gave apt evidence of the fact that the mail I sent was not properly read.
I may then add: the standardised ‘questionnaires’, used to ask to assess students, are substandard. In general I think it is questionable to use multiple choice questions and similar for such assessment – it is about young personalities and not machines or fat-stock. Still, if such approach is used, the design requires a bit more reflection. If a student of mine, would submit such questionnaire which I had been asked to complete, as part of exams, that student would end, on a generous day, with a very low grade.
Again, the way your institution is currently handling – at least – this part of the application process is simply appalling and lacks any respect towards students and those lecturers who are in a position to support their curiosity about learning. This part of their learning experience provided by you is apt to undermine such curiosity, and teach that studies you offer may not deliver what they promise.
Sincerely disappointed
Peter Herrmann


Prof. Dr. Peter Herrmann
Max Planck Institute for Social Law and Social Policy/
Max-Planck-Institut für Sozialrecht und Sozialpolitik
[section social law]
– Research Fellow –
skype: …
QQ: …
University of Eastern Finland (UEF)
Department of Social Sciences
PL 1627
70211 Kuopio
—-Corvinus University
Institute of World Economy
Faculty of Social Sciences and International Relations
Fővám tér 8
1093 Budapest
Active Member of the European Academy of Science and Arts

babies and bathing water

With this reference I ended a comment on the entry of Paul’s blog, where he looks at the CORE-project.

In a nutshell: a textbook that is slightly better as others, does not make it sufficiently fit for use.

As my experience of working with the text-book shows, some more radical change is needed. And blaming a faulty economic system, narrow-minded economists and trumpy-dumy politicians should not tempt us to kill the baby …

Why can’t we do what we like to do?

Why can’t we do what we like to do?
– this was the question a Chinese student asked me when I visited the country the last time and walked across the Campus before going to the conference. It had been one of these somewhat strange encounters: a student seeing a Westener, taking the opportunity to proudly exercise a bit of English. I am never sure what to think about it – it reminds me of what can be read in Bakewell’s ‘Existentialist café’:
Not being black, not being gay, not being in Switzerland, there is still sometimes ‘something special’ about being white and hetero and in China [similar applies in other countries, including the occasional introduction as ‘Herrmann the German’ after having lived there nearly twenty years, and an introduction that actually was meant to be very kind] – sure, there is some ambiguity about it, depending on the ‘other person’ [the one who looks, stares or dares to talk …], the own mood and …, ah, so many things, including a possible nice smile or a somewhat rebukingly-fearing look.Is all this what some people man when they are talking about ‘social skills’?
A sentence in Marten Blix book on Digitalization, Immigration and the Welfare State [Edward Elgar, 2017] made me thinking about this in a wider context. On page 84 we can read:
Whether automation will hit an insuperable obstacle when it comes to to tackling tacit skills remains to be seen. Rather than being brick wall beyond which automation cannot venture, tacit knowledge might be reshaped or subject to circumvention and redefinition.
The highlighted part is as remarkable as easily overlooked: Skills, by [my??] definition have the tendency to be as set of rules, more or less easy to learn and also simple to algorithm-ise – the simplicity consists basically in something we may call ‘cutting off the edges, making the wedges’.
Life and living is not just a technical rule – though in the context of digitisation and IT-development technical rules surely play a more pronounced, more visible role. Underlying is a social rule: the arrogance of a class that aims on shaping a world according to its own image …. Doesn’t this remind the person, well versed in the bible of Genesis 26 ff.? There we read:
 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food”; and it was so. God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
Those in the dark, remain invisible, are expelled, allowing the untouchables to be amongst themselves:
This egalitarian style can clash with the Valley’s reality of extreme income polarization. ‘Many tech companies solved this problem by having the lowest-paid workers not actually be employees. They’re contracted out’, Schmidt explained. ‘We can treat them differently, because we don’t really hire them. The person who’s cleaning the bathroom is not exactly the same sort of person.’
(Freeland, Chrystia, 2012: Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else; New York: The Penguin Press)
Are we really talking about New Princedoms and refeudalisation?
Coming back then to Anhui [and Changsha … – and even some international airports or some ‘melting pots’ of apparently complete and absolute indifference], perhaps one should think also more about the need of social knowledge as something that entails sovereign mastering of technical rules going hand in hand with empathy when encountering the other: fully understanding the other person [the one who looks or stares or dares to talk …], the own mood and …, ah, so many things, not least the respect of oneself as part of the situation: also with his/her own rights, defined by the interaction ….
And coming back to the question of the student:
why can’t we do what we like to do?
I suppose the answer is simple: because we are teaching and learning too many skills, and too little real knowledge. We are, even after the supposed enlightenment, and perhaps increasingly again ruled by gods, not by ourselves. And we do not even need a question as the answer is always the same, not allowing any critique anyway. And not even allowing a question … – boxing people ….

… boxing humans …

Well, moving in the academic realm is too often about boxing humans – yes, both sides going together: putting people into boxes and brutally beating them up. The following a letter I sent to relevant newspapers as comment on what is going on, how students [and lecturers] are mal-treated, disrespectful encounters when students are following their curiosity. It makes me increasingly sad, and I feel deeply ashamed …


Dear colleagues,

adding to the various discussions on ranking and formalistic approaches to studying, admission to universities and performance of third-level teaching and research, one point is easily overlooked – the following example is perhaps extreme, though not necessarily completely exceptional.

I worked for two years as professor of economics at Bangor College China, Changsha [BCC] before taking up my current position as research fellow at the Max-Planck Institute for Social Law and Social Policy in Munich, Germany. Still, one persisting bond to the previous job is concerned with writing references for some students. Some universities where students applied, accepted only references, requiring my mail-address from the previous job – but shouldn’t universities at this time and age accept that scholars are moving, following ambitions and calls in other positions? This means: they should also accept that mail addresses change, and one may even prefer to use a non-institutional address. Anyway, I mentioned the BCC-mail address – however, sending a mail to that address is answered by an auto-reply referring the sender to another address. This is the first point where the institution that was seeking the reference – the Graduate School, The Chinese University of Hong Kong – failed. They ignored the auto-reply and I did not know about the request they sent. Finally I was made aware of it [by the bright applying student], checked the dormant mail box and continued to the website for the submission of the reference. A form opened [after going through a more or less cumbersome procedure], asking for replies to multiple choice questions. I still think students are not made up of multiple choice elements, instead: they are real beings, humans with a multifaceted personality that cannot be squeezed into such forms – even when considering data-processing as an at-times appropriate tool. So, instead of ticking the boxes I preferred skipping them, attaching a recommendation letter instead. However, the system did not allow me to submit the letter unless I would first answer the multiple-choice questions which would feed into a one-dimensional profile. I complained, sent the letter as a mail attachment – and did not receive a reply by the said office of the Hong Kong University. At some stage, I agreed – honestly disgusted by the lack of qualification and respect towards students – ticked the boxes and attached the letter [again cumbersome, as one had to enter a code which was not clearly legible, not allowing to distinguish 0 and O]. I sent another letter of complaint to the Graduate School, The Chinese University of Hong Kong – which was again answered to the BCC address, and again they failed to resend the mail to the e-mail address mentioned in the auto-reply.

If these are the standards of entering higher education, one should not be surprised that at the other end, i.e. at the time of finishing studies, many people have difficulties. They feel their creativity being limited by the requirements of publishing, acquiring funding and the competition along lines of subordination under expectations instead of striving for innovation [see Maximilain Sippenauer: Doktor Bologna; Sueddeutsche Zeitung, 20.10.2017: 11]

Still, it is a bit surprising that all this is well known and still not much is changing. Surprising … ? Perhaps it is not really surprising if we consider that the income of top-administration posts increase while the income of lecturers does not follow accordingly [see for instance the article titled: Times Higher Education pay survey 2016 in The Times Higher Education; https://www.timeshighereducation.com/features/times-higher-education-pay-survey-2016%5D.

It seems that there is a long way towards ‘supporting the brightest by open systems’, overcoming the dominant administrative policy of ‘wedge the narrowest by furthering their smart submission’.


Peter Herrmann

What we See – What we sometimes think – and What we have to learn

A Dedication to my Students, Around the World

The first impression on one of the the websites of my previous position was yesterday that of the

in its own way a very pleasing tune, matching the mood of the nicety of the previous Friday – for me much more than a beautiful autumn day

A day proving  the enjoyable lightness of being …

I scrolled down the site, saw the old photo showing me during the Shanghai Forum and was getting a bit curious, started the decipher …, wearisome …, to find out that all this is about the media centre and the ‘hyper-modern way of the networked world’ – where the global and the village come together …, perhaps not bad at all, if handled with care. Perhaps this is more important: the way to control the handling, not the instruments …

It surely means not least to be there for students – real, not virtual, and respecting …, no, accepting that we as teachers and as students have more in common than there are differences – where differences and arrogance, where delay and ‘servant-attitudes’ prevail, we have lost already our ingenuity.