This essay is the full text of a response made to David Colquhoun's comment on a Times Higher Education article. You should probably go and read the originals first.
Sadly and predictably, Mr Colquhoun is quick to turn a perfectly reasonable article celebrating the 20th anniversary of the 1992 Further and Higher Education Act into one of his oft-seen rants on the award of degrees in complementary medicine (aka CAM). The fact seems lost on him that the 1992 Act opened wide the door to university education for thousands of people who, previously, were effectively excluded.
As a Middlesex graduate from one of the degrees so hated by Mr Colquhoun, I feel a mixture of amusement, mild annoyance and pity at his continued intellectual snobbery. I don’t doubt Mr Colquhoun quotes accurately, albeit massively out of context, from the bullet-pointed slides he mentions. However, as he well knows from his many years of university experience, a few headlines on a slide does not make a lecture. What his persistent and irrelevant freedom of information requests fail to trawl up are the actual words spoken by lecturers in classes; the hours of interaction between enquiring student minds and experienced practitioner-lecturers; the weeks of student clinical observation/practice.
Mr Colquhoun also misrepresents Middlesex and many other CAM courses when he calls them “anti-science”. A quick search of readily available information (no need to waste other people's time and money with freedom of info requests) highlights that the current Middlesex CAM courses comprise modules that are split approximately ¼ Western medicine, ⅓ research related with the remaining 40% or so being CAM. Unscientific? Unsafe? An appropriately holistic view of the courses would suggest not.
I wonder if Mr Colquhoun’s real gripe is not so much with CAM degrees but with the belief that the 1992 Act began an evolution (or perhaps he would prefer the word “erosion”) within the British university system that saw universities become businesses and students become customers. Like it or not, in a free market, the forces of economics will prevail.
Circa 1995, some visionary and perceptive people within Middlesex saw that students/customers wanted to study CAM and so they supplied courses to meet that demand. Personally speaking, Middlesex did not make me study a CAM degree, I chose the subject and then found an institution that provided what I wanted (interestingly, doing a lot of my studying on a campus Middlesex share with Mr Colquhoun’s überscientific UCL). No doubt, if the demand ever diminishes, so will the number of CAM courses on offer (although Middlesex’s 17 straight years of offering degree level CAM courses would suggest demand remains good).
Despite the bullying tactics of Mr Colquhoun, and others with equally sincere but misguided beliefs, it is refreshing to see universities such as Middlesex coming out so strongly and robustly in support of CAM and, in Middlesex’s case, seeming to make CAM a specialist subject area or “centre of excellence”. Long may this freedom of choice continue to be victorious over the academic censorship Mr Colquhoun seems to advocate.
VC Driscoll’s article reads rather like that of any CEO heading a company in a crowded, competitive market place during difficult economic times. His company needs to adapt, change, specialise and successfully sell its products. The difficult decisions taken by VC Driscoll and the governors will determine whether Middlesex follows in the footsteps of Kodak or Fuji; Rover or Nissan; RBS or Santander. My guess would be that CAM degrees, like all other university courses, will remain for as long as they are popular with students and, as VC Driscoll suggests, they are “thoroughly entitled”.
Before embarking on any more of his epic and infamous whinges, perhaps Mr Colquhoun would do well to step back and take time to appreciate the rapidly changing environment within which universities, both pre and post 1992, must now operate. VC Driscoll looks to be successfully cutting his cloth accordingly.
I await Mr Colquhoun's inevitable response.
Declaration of interests: the writer is an acupuncturist/herbalist in private practice and part-time supervisor/lecturer on a BSc (Hons) Acupuncture course (but not the one at Middlesex). In other words, the writer makes his living from CAM in the same way that Mr Colquhoun makes his living from “science”.