13 June 2011

Will higher education buy this snake oil?

It may be a tired old cliché to describe consultancies as organisations that charge outrageous fee to borrow your watch to tell you the time. But there are times when the sideswipe seems aposite.

One recent piece of self puffery hints at why the Conservative government, stuffed as it is with people who have consulted in their previous lives, wasn’t completely bonkers when it told civil servants to stop hiring these purveyors of snake oil. Deloitte Development LLC is touting its services to higher education. In just 117 words, the business manages to cram in more gibberish than seems possible.

There is the usual gobbledygook about “ongoing challenges”. What does the ongoing bring to the party? If universities face challenges, they face challenges – ongoing, a word that should instantly arouse suspicion, is irrelevant, put in there to make it seem more important.

Maybe the consultants charge for their advice by the word. Perhaps that is why they always use three words where one will do.

How does “drawing upon a pool of multidisciplinary resources” differ from “drawing upon multidisciplinary resources”? What are these “resources”? Perhaps they mean, "We have lots of experts."

And what in heck does it mean by “Reengineered business processes that align personnel activities with institutional goals and strategies”?

It would be nice to think that the UK’s persistently contrary universities can see through this gibberish. With luck they too will ask themselves what consultants mean when they trot out twaddle like retaining “quality students, faculty and staff”. High quality? Low quality? Indifferent quality? Or do they just mean “good students, faculty and staff”?

It may seem picky to dismember an organisation’s language, but it is as good a way as any of sorting out the consultants who will bring clear thinking to the problems they tackle. If they can’t even make sense in their own sales pitch, what will their advice look like?

The sign-off sentence says: “The Deloitte difference is recognized in the higher education marketplace locally, nationally and globally.” With luck, globally excludes the UK from the clutches of this semi-literature North American operation.