Clearing is here now, and Jessica Guiver’s blog about targets – and what happens if you miss them – has got me thinking about this issue. A recruitment target is a number: it seems clear, precise and very measurable; but in fact a recruitment target is also a cultural artifact that can only be understood correctly in a particular context. Let me explain what I mean.
Broadly there are two approaches to targets. Some Vice Chancellors I have worked with in the past have seen targets as an essentially rhetorical device. Their role is to encourage the troops to try even harder and therefore it isn’t important that they can necessarily be achieved. It may even be detrimental to the intended incentive effect. Dull number crunchers like me tend to see targets as part of a rational planning apparatus in which we work out a budget and resource model robustly based on a realistic target number. Now whilst these approaches to targets can be contrasted in principle, in practice they are continually held in tension. Even the coldest technocrat does not actively wish to discourage recruitment. Perhaps there are some VCs out there so ardent for growth that they genuinely don’t care if the students all wind up in one department whilst the budget to teach them is in another, but they assuredly employ many people – both academic staff and accountants – who do.