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Len Holmes, The Business School, University of North London (at time of presentation)

Prepared for EGOS Colloquium, "The Production and Diffusion of Managerial and Organizational Knowledge", July 1993


Please do not quote without author's permission



Over the past six years a major initiative on management education and development has been undertaken within the UK. Ostensibly the initiative is led by employers through the Management Charter Initiative (MCI), a consortium established in 1987 following a number of key reports about the state of management education, training and development in the UK. One of the key aspects of the initiative is the 'reform' of management qualifications. The new qualifications have been developed within the discourse of 'competence', a term which is used to mark what is claimed to be a significant difference from previous qualifications. The new approach is presented as self-evidently superior to 'traditional' approaches, particularly in being more effective and efficient in enabling managers to develop, and gain credit and credentials for, the key abilities they require for successful managerial performance. The rhetoric of managerial competence (Collin, 1989) has been accompanied by critical responses, largely from within the academic community, but this has not prevented a rapid process by which the discourse of competence has come to dominate within the field of management education and development.

New, 'competence-based' management education programmes and qualifications have been introduced within a government-instigated, national initiative on the 'reform' of vocational qualifications. However, the rapid rate at which both the discourse and the associated structures and practices have taken hold cannot be explained merely in terms of government fiat. In this paper I shall examine the origins of the MCI's approach and the consequences this has for the nature of what is taken to be 'managerial knowledge'.

In particular, I shall argue that the rise of the discourse of management competence, and especially the speed with which it has risen, is the result of a convergence of related discourses in government policy, management education theory and practice, and employers' organisational and employment practices. Such convergence has been accompanied by major restructuring of institutions and funding mechanisms, which have significantly affected the relations between management academia and other agencies within the field of management education. Both what counts as knowledge about management and what is perceived to be the nature of what managers need to know have been reconstructed within the discourse of competence, sustained and promoted by the material relations between restructured institutional framework.

I shall first need to describe the MCI's approach which differs significantly from competency approaches adopted in other countries, eg in the United States (Boyatzis, 1982), and which can only be properly examined when seen within the particular context of developments in the UK. Following this I shall describe how key elements within the three sets of influences have led to convergence around 'competence', then examine the effects of this on management knowledge.


The Management Charter Initiative (MCI) was established in 1988 as the operating arm of the Council for Management Education and Development (CMED), which itself was later renamed the National Forum for Management Education and Development. CMED had been formed in 1987 following the publication of two key reports on management education, 'The Making of Managers' (Handy et al, 1987) and 'The Making of British Managers' (Constable and McCormick, 1987). These reports had been preceded by a report, 'Management Training: Context and Practice' (Mangham and Silver, 1986). These reports all pointed to the relatively low level of education and training of UK managers compared with their counterparts in other significant countries. The reports were commissioned by various agencies involved in management education. These included various government agencies (for the Handy report and Mangham and Silver report), the national employers association and the main professional institute for managers (for the Constable/ McCormick report). The public launch of the Handy and Constable/ McCormick reports was followed by a sequence of activities leading to the establishment of MCI which employers and other organisations (eg providers of management education) could join. The subscriptions of member organisations were matched in the early stages by Government 'pump-priming' finance.

A number of key individuals were instrumental in establishing MCI, and their accounts of how this came about differ to a certain degree. The Trade and Industry Minister, Lord Young, states that the state of affairs described in the Handy and Constable/ McCormick reports prompted him

"to issue a challenge to chief executives to start a crusade to raise the status and competence of British management, to recognise the professionalism and enterprise of their managers at all levels as a key to their business success." (Young, 1991)

Bob Reid, then chairman and chief executive of Shell UK Ltd, describes how he was concerned that the Handy and Constable and McCormick reports should not suffer the same fate of other reports, which tended

"to be put carefully on the shelf and in short order covered in dust and forgotten about." (Reid, 1991)

However, at first it was not clear what was to be the particular role that MCI was to play within the institutional framework of management education. In the early days, MCI joined forces with the British Institute of Management, the main professional body for managers, on the proposal to develop a professional institute with a Royal Charter. The award of such a Royal Charter to a professional body, which is only given after rigorous scrutiny, provides high public status. The 'older' professions, ie the law, medicine, accountancy, architecture, etc, have such Royal Charters. Managers of such a 'chartered' institute for managers would be able to refer to themselves as 'chartered managers'. However, this proposal for a chartered institute was severely and publicly criticised by a wide range of key commentators in the field, and MCI withdrew from the proposal later in 1988. Although the British Institute of Management decided to pursue Royal Charter status, MCI began to distance itself. Moreover, aware that its members were predominantly large firms, MCI attempted to gain more support among small and medium sized enterprises.

A key aim which survived the breach with BIM was that of rationalising management qualifications structured on a framework of competences required by managers at various levels (Hornby, 1989). At this time the Government had already embarked on a 'reform' of vocational qualifications generally and a new system of 'national vocational qualifications' (NVQs) was being established. A common framework was being established within which existing qualifications, appropriately modified, and newly-devised qualifications would fit. Such qualifications would be designated or 'hallmarked' as NVQs only if they met the criteria established by the National Council for Vocational Qualifications (NCVQ). These criteria included the requirement that assessment leading to the award of a qualification should by based on standards of performance appropriate for the occupation in question. These standards of performance were to be established by the appropriate 'lead body' for the occupational area, with state funding for the work in developing such standards, through the Department of Employment. MCI was designated as the lead body for the occupation of management, thus providing it with a clearly defined institutional role, and a key source of funding in its early stages.


The NVQ system was proposed by a working party set up by the Government in 1985, reporting in 1986. The 'Review of Vocational Qualifications' (de Ville, 1986) report argued that employers and employees were confused by the 'jungle' of existing qualifications. A rationalised system was necessary in order to motivate more people to seek qualifications, and encourage more employers to provide the opportunity for their employees to gain such qualifications. NVQs were not in themselves new qualifications; the NVQ 'hallmark' was to be confirmation that the qualification had met the quality standards set by the National Council for proposed by the Working Party. NVQs would be organised into different occupational areas, five levels based on the degree of complexity, responsibility and autonomy associated with different occupations (figure 1).

NVQs were to be expressed in terms of 'statements of competence'. Each NVQ was to have a similar unit-based structure, enabling individuals to accumulate units rather than have to undergo a 'one-shot' attempt at gaining a qualification. Each 'unit of competence' was to be comprised of a number of 'elements of competence', defined as 'an action, behaviour or outcomes which a person should be able to demonstrate'. Each element of competence has a number of performance criteria describing the standard to which the element must be performed. Moreover, to range of significantly different situations and circumstances in which such performance might be undertaken is detailed through 'range statements'. An element of competence, together with its associated performance criteria and range statments, is referred to as a 'standard'. So, to be credited with a unit of competence, an individual must demonstrate performance to the standards stipulated in the performance criteria, in the appropriate range of different situations, for every element of competence within the unit. Accumulating credit in every unit leads to the award of the NVQ. Figure 2 shows the standard structure of NVQs, figure 3 shows the units and elements which make up the full set of management level 1 (first-line) or M1 'standards', figure 4 shows one of these standards (element, performance criteria and range statements).

[figures 2, 3,4 about here]

While NCVQ developed the five-level framework of NVQs, as recommended by the RVQ report (De Ville, 1986), MCI started work on a three-level model, based on levels of managerial jobs: first-level manager (M1), middle-manager (M2), and senior manager (M3). This matched to levels of management qualifications already well-established: Certificate in Management Studies (CMS), Diploma in Management Studies (DMS), and MBA. The DMS and MBA were normally regarded as graduate entry, although non-graduates were normally admitted if the institution considered them capable of postgraduate level work, often after administering some form of aptitude test. However, as the NCVQ framework developed, all postgraduate level qualifications were placed at level 5. The MCI levels were eventually matched with the NCVQ levels, so that M1 was put at level 4, and both M2 and M3 were put at level 5.

Some confusion also existed over MCI's role in the NVQ system. MCI had been designated the 'lead body', responsible for developing the 'standards' and qualifications framework (ie stipulating what qualifications were appropriate). However, for a time MCI also saw itself as an accrediting and awarding body. Such a combination of roles was not allowed by NCVQ because of the possible conflict of interest, and MCI has now dropped the accrediting (of courses) and awarding (of qualifications) roles.

So far, the main accrediting body to adopt the MCI standards is the Business and Technology Education Council (BTEC). BTEC was established by Government in 1983, bringing together two separate bodies established a decade earlier. It has responsibility for the quality of vocational educational courses mainly in the post-16 area. Polytechnics and colleges of further or higher education could seek and obtain accreditation for courses leading to nationally recognised BTEC qualifications, if they met the criteria established by BTEC, subject to external moderation and quality assurance procedures. One of qualifications awarded by BTEC was the Certificate in Management Studies; this has now been replaced by the BTEC Certificate in Management, the level 4 NVQ in management based on the MCI M1 level standards. BTEC has also introduced an NVQ level 5 qualification, but its relationship to the existing Diploma in Management Studies, and the internationally recognised MBA, is not clear.


We can identify three main sets of influences which have led to the establishment of MCI and the new management qualifications. Government policy and intervention in the 'reform' of vocational qualifications have been major influences. The institutional framework, particularly changes in the framework, has been an important aspect of this. However, it was not solely government intervention which resulted in the rapid introduction of the new system. MCI was established by a number of employers and employer bodies, and has gained a significant degree of employer support. So, the reasons for this provide a second set of influences. The involvement of educational interests provides a third set of influences. The notion of 'competence' and associated terms have provided a vehicle for perceived common interest and action.


The immediately obvious influence of Government policy has been in respect of the 'reform' of vocational qualifications, formally initiated through a White Paper (policy document) in 1986 (DE/ DES, 1986). This drew attention to increasing international competition and Britain's need to respond.

"Success will go to those (be they firms, communities or nations) whose people can use them to the best advantage.... People - with their knowledge, learning, skills, intelligence, innovation and competence - are our most important asset and resource." (op cit. p.1)

The White Paper stated that there was a need for 'reform and modernisation' of the vocational education and training system with a number of objectives, including:

- increased choice and opportunities in vocational education and training;

- greater responsiveness to the needs of the labour market;

- employers, students and trainees to be able to decide, as customers, what, when, where and how best they can learn; - recognition of competence and achievement, and removal of unnecessary barriers to progression;

- development of 'a structure of recognised qualifications which are based on competence and match the needs of employment';

- enhancement of the quality, reliability and professionalism of suppliers of vocational education and training 'who can profit from the maintenance of quality and from meeting customer needs';

- ensuring that value for money (for employers, individuals and taxpayers) is demonstrated;

- development of a system understood, respected and fully used by both employers and employees.

This was not a change of policy but a further development of policy already put in place earlier in the 1980s. In 1981, the Government had introduced a 'New Training Initiative' (MSC 1981, DE/ DES, 1981), which called for 'standards-based' training for young people. Even earlier, the Central Policy Review Staff, popularly known as the 'Downing Street Think Tank', had called for objective standards for qualification to be laid down (CPRS, 1980). The content and duration of training courses should be determined by what is required to reach such standards.

Such policy developments emerging from central government (and government agencies) mark a shift from practice prior to the election of the Conservative government in 1979. Before then, issues of qualifications and curricula were generally devolved to local education authorities, sectoral training bodies, professional institutes, and various qualifications-awarding bodies. These tended to have representation from employers, trade unions, and educational and training providers, and were relatively autonomous of each other and of government. However, in a speech in 1976, the then Prime Minister, James Callaghan, raised questions about the extent to which the educational system was meeting the needs of the country and its citizens. This gave rise to what has been termed the 'Great Debate', focussing initially on compulsory education but also affecting other parts of the education and training system.

The election of the Conservative Government, under Prime Minister Thatcher, in 1979 led to an intensification of the focus on making education and training more relevant to the economic needs of the country, expressed in terms of the needs of employers. This was coupled with fiscal policies concerned with the reduction of public exchequer funding for such education and training. Deregulation and other institutional restructuring took place in the early 1980s, including the abolition of two-thirds of the industrial training boards (ITBs). These were sectorally-based tri-partite organisations (with representation of employers, trade unions and educationists), with statutory powers to impose levies on employers and grant-aid particular training activities. The Government argued that such activities were better undertaken by voluntary arrangements between employers. Apprenticeships declined rapidly in this period, partly as a result of the extended recession and restructuring of industry, partly because of the reduction of grant aid from ITBs (Benn and Fairley, 1986; Senker, 1992).

By the mid-1980s, there was growing concern about the state Britain's vocational and educational, both in terms of how it compared with that of competitor economies (US, Japan, West Germany) (Institute of Manpower Studies, 1984), and in terms of the attitudes of employers and employees (Coopers and Lybrand, 1985). These criticisms were taken by Government not as indicators of the ineffectiveness of the policy, but as reasons to accelerate the changes already introduced (Department of Employment, 1985, 1986). A major institutional reorganisation has taken place in the following years.

The establishment of the National Council for Vocational Qualifications has led to a centralised process of endorsement of qualifications previously under the direct control of individual awarding bodies in consultation and negotiation with educational and training providers. The endorsement process includes the requirement to base the 'reformed' qualifications on the 'competence-based' occupational standards. The Manpower Services Commission (MSC) was instructed to take the lead on bring together the appropriate interests and agencies to develop such occupational standards for the various sectors within industry, commerce and public services. The MSC was a tri-partite body established in 1974 to oversee national employment and training policy and strategy, with devolved responsibility and authority from the Department of Employment. In 1988, the Commission was abolished and its activities brought back under the direct control of the Department, as the Training Agency (subsequently renamed the Training, Enterprise and Education Directorate). A new framework of locally-based, employer-led Training and Enterprise Councils (TECs) were established, ostensibly modelled on the American Private Industry Councils. The TECs disburse Government funding for youth training, and training and other programmes for adult unemployed. All but one of the remaining Industrial Training Boards were deregulated.

These and other changes have thus led to the establishment of a significantly new institutional framework. A key characteristic of this new framework is a combination of centralised policy direction with deregulated, market-based implementation. Funding has flowed to those agencies (statutory and voluntary) which have contracted to undertaken work specified under national policy, and have then fulfilled such contracts (output-based funding). This funding regime mirrors that recently introduced into the health service, and is similar to that introduced into secondary education. The recent establishment of 'national targets' in vocational education and training has provided an over-arching rationale for increasing the tightness of contract and output-related funding.

Although many of the individuals employed within the new organisations were employed in the former agencies, the institutional network and relationships have changed significantly. The discourse of 'standards' and 'competence', as expressed in the development of the NVQ system, must be understood within the context of such major institutional change and the underlying political and economic agenda of Government by a political party which has maintained electoral majority over nearly a decade and half.


"The employers' role [in management education] has been increasingly proactive. A major feature of their approach now is their desire for control. While this trend was apparent anyway, the competence basis gives them a perfect field in which to exercise their influence." (CNAA, 1992, emphasis in original)

This finding from a review of the 1991-92 position on management education contrasts sharply with the findings of Mangham and Silver in 1986, and those of the Handy and the Constable and McCormick reports in 1987. Mangham and Silver found that over one half of all UK companies made no provision for training of their managers. Whilst the smaller company was prone to no training, this also held true for one fifth of large companies (over 1000 employees). The average expenditure on management training was less than 600 per year - 'roughly equivalent to the cost of a packet of cigarettes a day'! (Mangham and Silver, 1996). Constable and McCormick drew on the Mangham and Silver and on other research to conclude that

"... the total scale of management training is currently at a very low level. The general situation will only improve when many more companies consciously embrace a positive plan for management development." (p.21)

Handy and his colleagues argued that

"... Britain has neglected her managerial stock. ... companies have asked too little from their would-be managers and given them too little in terms of education, training and development." (Handy et al, 1987, p.13)

Of course, the reports did indicate that there were many companies which did undertake and support considerable valuable management education and development. Indeed the Handy report called for such employers to form a 'Charter Group' of companies, committed to a code of good practice on management development and acting as a good example to others. Lord Young states that the Handy and Constable/ McCormick reports prompted him

"to issue a challenge to chief executives to start a crusade to raise the status and competence of British management..." (Young, 1991)

The Council for Management Education and Development, which set up MCI as its operating arm, was established largely as a result of the initiative of Bob Reid, Chairman of Shell UK, in response to the reports. MCI's promotional literature has stressed that it is employer-led. Thus the degree of publicity surrounding the publication of the reports, the involvement of key employers and other public figures in initiating action, and the deliberate strategy of attempting to bring in more employers, have all contributed to employer interest and support for competence-based management education. However, this has taken place in the context of other developments and must be understood within that context.

Employment policy and practice: industrial relations

Changes in employers' employment practices during the past decade or so have been subject to considerable study. An initial area of research interest has been that of the changing industrial relations scene, following the legislative programme of the Thatcher Governments from 1979 onwards. A major element in the 1979 election campaign had been concern over the perceived excessive power of trade unions (or at least the leaders - 'trade union barons') which had resulted, according to Conservative Party election campaigning, in the 1978-79 'winter of discontent'. Legislation changes in 1980 and more in 1982 were presented as making trade unions more accountable to their members and restoring managers' right to manage. These changes were supported by the employers' associations, particularly the Confederation of British Industry, and the managers' professional body, the British Institute of Management. Despite academic debate on the significance of the legislative changes compared with other factors such as mass unemployment, the decline in disputes and days lost through industrial action was presented by Government and its supporters as indicating the success of the programme. A number of highly public disputes, in British Leyland, the steel industry and coalmining, resulted in apparent victory for the employers.

So, in the early 1980s, the 'problematic nature' of Britain's industrial relations system served well as an explanation for economic underperformance. However, by the mid-1980s, employers could no longer use such an explanation. As in previous times of economic crisis, education and training became the focus for explaining underperformance (and continuing high rates of unemployment), and thus the target for change (Benn and Fairley, 1986; Finn, 1987). Government initiatives increasingly offered employers the chance to take increasing control over parts of the education and training system. The rhetoric of improving 'relevance' provided moral justification for taking up these opportunities, and Government-sponsored trainees provided financial inducement. The 'final' step of reforming qualifications so that they were 'competence-based' was thus taken after much preparation.


According the Atkinson (1984), in the early to mid-1980s many firms were responding to a variety of factors by developing employment plans which provided significant flexibility. Market stagnation, job loss, economic uncertainty, increasing pace and decreasing cost of new technology, and continued reduction in basic working hours, all have combined to put pressure on firms to find more flexible patterns of employment as a matter of policy, rather than responding merely in pragmatic terms. Atkinson argued that two kinds of quantitative flexibility, numerical and financial, were being obtained by developing and expanding peripheral groups of employees. In addition, qualitative functional flexibility was being sought amongst the core group of employees, so that they could be redeployed quickly and smoothly in response to external demands. Multi-skilling and relaxation of demarcation lines provide for such functional flexibility, and secure employment conditions and the development of a strong culture maintain worker loyalty.

This 'flexible firm thesis' has been subjected to some debate and criticism (eg Nichols, 1986; Pollert, 1988; MacInnes, 1988; Prowse, 1990). Whether the trends postulated are empirically observable in any significant number of firms has been questioned. There is dispute about the extent to which the evidence points to structural change in the labour market, and questions about the definitions of who is to count amongst the 'core' labour force. However, the idea has provided rhetorical support for employers seeking to cope with market uncertainty through employment policies and strategies. In providing a rationale for differentiated employment practices, related to corporate strategy, it provided a route to a more thorough-going re-presentation of what had previously been a predominantly administrative or even welfare approaches to the management of employees.

Human resource management

The term 'human resource management' has come into vogue during the 1980s and 1990s, although it was being used even earlier (eg Department of Employment, 1972). Storey (1989) argues that what distinguishes the use of the term in the 1980s from previously is not so much the message itself but that it was now being taken more seriously. As with the 'flexible firm' thesis, there is debate about the concept itself and about the empirical grounding of claims that distinct and substantively different practices are being adopted. Storey (1987) argues that there is empirical support for claims that there has been a resurgence of interest by major firms in the UK in the constituent elements of human resource management, ie selection, appraisal, rewards and development. The integration of these, and with corporate strategy, involving in a significant way line management, arguably have created a paradigmatic rupture from previous employment practice.

Boam and Sparrow (1992) bring together a number of writers on competence (or 'competency'). They preface their collection by stating that by the late 1980s many organisations began to focus on a defined set of 'competences' for managers as a key element in their human resource management system. This is immediately attractive to chief executives and senior managers, who when they hear that

"it is possible to define exactly what is needed in the important jobs in the organization and exactly what people need to bring to those jobs in order to perform effectively [...] begin to listen. This 'elixir' of organizational life represents a powerful lever."

Boam and Sparrow argue that there are two main factors that have led to the growth of the competency-based approach as a human resource management strategy,

- the failure of large-scale change programmes to deliver the required change in the behaviour of individuals, and

- a growing link between business performance and the skills of employees.

They also point to the problems of skills supply which arose during the 1980s because of the reduction in the number of employees (downsizing) and recruitment bans. This led employers to seek approaches which promised to provide the specific abilities which were lacking as the firms faced new challenges at the end of the decade.

Flatter organisations

Of course, downsizing has meant not only an absolute reduction in numbers of employees but has also been accompanied with a reduction in the numbers of levels of management, the 'flatter organisation'. Broadening of skills to reduce reliance on specialisms and the development of computer-technology based information and control systems have enabled organisations to reduce the levels of the managerial hierarchy. This has led to problems in respect of the skills required by managers (Coulson and Coe, 1993), and in the degree of commitment they have to the organisation (Scase and Goffee, 1989). The promise of the competence-based approach here is that the specific skills requirements can be clearly identified and developed, and that managers will be motivated by the recognition of their proven abilities.



Over the past two decades or so there have been a number of developments in the practice of management education and development. As in any area of education or training, the question of what needs to be learned, ie the curriculum of education or content of training, has been a continuing one. This is usually expressed in terms of 'relevance', and during the 1970s the criterion of relevance of curricula/ content was the relationship to managerial effectiveness (Brodie and Bennett, 1979; Burgoyne, 1976; Campbell, et al, 1970; Hales, 1980; Reddin, 1970). In essence, this approach attempted to identify the factors which determined managerial effectiveness; the methodology usually involved the comparison of the characteristics or behavioural patterns of managers judged to be effective, with those managers judged to be ineffective (or less effective).

By the early 1980s, the term 'effectiveness' had been replaced by the term 'competence'. The seminal work in respect of managerial competence, "The Competent Manager" by Boyatzis (1982), was subtitled "A Model for Effective Performance". Boyatzis reported the work undertaken by McBer consultants for the American Management Association, explaining the objective of the study as being

"to explain some of the differences in general qualitative distinctions of performance (eg poor versus average versus superior managers) which may occur across specific jobs and organizations as a result of certain competencies which managers share." (op cit, p9)

A job competency was defined within the study as

"an underlying characteristic of a person which results in effective and/or superior performance in a job." (op cit, p.21)

The research undertaken by Boyatzis and his colleagues involved the development of a list of characteristics perceived or hypothesized to relate to superior performance, and testing these against the assessed characteristics of actual managers judged (by their immediate superiors and peers, and on the basis of measured performance) using a variety of multi-variate statistical techniques.

Of course, in the North American context the quest for such 'competencies' was not restricted to managerial occupations, but has already been promoted as route for improved education in general, and teacher education in particular. The 1970s saw considerable development and implementation of 'competence-based', or 'performance-based', programmes of education. Critical views on these concepts and on their implementation formed at least two edited collections (Smith, R. (ed.), 1975; Short, E. (ed.), 1984).

In the UK, the development of such a focus on 'competence' was slower, the term only coming into significant use in the mid-1980s. The Downing Street 'Think-Tank' report (CPRS, 1980) spoke mainly about developing 'objective standards for qualifications', but did not use the term 'competence' (it used the term 'competent' once). The New Training Initiative (MSC, 1981) used the phrase 'agreed standards of skill'. In 1984, the Further Education Unit (established by Government in 1977 to promote more coherence in the provision of further education) published 'Towards a Competence-Based System' (FEU, 1984), followed by a report in 1986 on 'Assessment, Quality and Competence' (FEU, 1986) and a case study report in 1987 (Hermann and Kenyon, 1987). The Further Education Staff College published a short document in 1985, proposing a model of 'job competence' (Mansfield and Matthews, 1985). The authors of this report were to have a key part to play in the technical work on standards development.

The main thrust for the adoption of the term 'competence' came with the Review of Vocational Qualifications report (De Ville, 1986), which stated that a vocational qualification should be defined as ' a statement of competence'. Government response (Department of Employment, 1986) emphasised the need to specify 'standards of (occupational) competence' as the basis for rationalising the existing structure of vocational qualifications. The MSC (later the Training Agency, then TEED, the Training, Enterprise and Education Directorate of the Employment Department), and NCVQ have taken the term as central to their respective roles, publishing a considerable amount of promotional and informational/ technical literature about competence, how it is identified and how it may be assessed. The MCI has supplemented such literature on competence generally with its own publications on management competence.

The two main accrediting and awarding bodies for the non-university (pre-1992) sector of higher education responded to such developing focus on competence, particularly in respect of management qualifications. One of these bodies, the Council for National Academic Awards (CNAA), has now been abolished as a result of the Government decision to allow polytechnics to award their own degrees and to adopt names which incorporate the title of 'university'. However, at present these institutions appear to be continuing to follow the guidelines for management programmes which were developed in the period after the MCI was established. The main CNAA programme had been the Diploma in Management Studies (DMS), generally provided as a two-year part-time course. In 1990, the CNAA introduced a new Certificate in Management programme (CM), holders of which would be able to gain admission with credit (ie partial-exemption) to the DMS. The criteria for accreditation of such programmes included that they should provide for the development of 'core competences required for effective first level management', and that they should 'specify competence outcomes'. Moreover, the criteria for assessment of students 'should clearly indicate the level of performance for each of the competences within their programme' (CNAA, 1990a). CNAA pointed out that while there was a distinction between the CM and the MCI's Certificate level accreditation, there was 'overlap and much common purpose'. The revised criteria for accreditation of DMS programmes placed less emphasis on competence, but did state that

"Attention is drawn to the Assessment Guidelines published by CNAA-BTEC arising from a Project on the Assessment of Management Competences." (CNAA 1990b)

BTEC has been less circumspect in its approach, and has adopted the MCI standards and guidelines almost wholesale (BTEC, 1991, 1992).

The central place of the term 'competence' may be seen also in the literature which has developed around the documents from these public agencies. Several writers have attempted to describe in broadly supportive terms what is happening in respect of competence-based approaches, either generally or more specifically with regard to management (eg Hornby and Thomas, 1989; Harrison, 1989; Jones, 1990; Elkind, 1990; Boak, 1991; Miller, 1991; Boam and Sparrow, 1992). Some have described what is taking place in particular organizations (eg Glaze, 1989; Greatrex and Phillips, 1989; Cockerill, 1989). Yet others have presented arguments for and against in the form of debate (Silver, 1991, an edited collection; Wills, 1993). Finally, many writers have presented critiques of competence-based approaches from a variety of theoretical and practical stances (Fielding, 1988; Burgoyne, 1989; Collin, 1989; Everard, 1990; Holmes, 1990, 1992; Ashworth and Saxton, 1990; Whitty and Willmott, 1991; Norris, 1991; Stewart and Hamlin, 1992a; Stewart and Hamlin, 1992b; Holmes and Joyce, forthcoming; Jones and Moore, forthcoming).

Experience-based learning

An emphasis on the role of experience has been of considerable influence, with the Kolb model (Kolb and Fry, 1975) of the experiential learning cycle being espoused as a key principle in the design of programmes. Kolb describes the effective learning process as a four-stage cyclical process involving in turn experience, reflection and observation on that experience, the formulation of abstract conceptualisations and generalisations, and the testing out of these in new situations. In order to maximise learning effective an individual requires abilities in each of these four aspects, but in practice most people develop tendencies and preferences towards only some rather than all. The particular preferences make up the learning style of the individual.

A key element of the Kolb model is, then, the strong value placed on experience and action rather than merely reflection and conceptualisation. This is generally taken to emphasise the need for practical activity in management education. This is also stressed by others, for example Revans in the Action Learning approach he has advocated over forty years. MCI interprets such views as showing that, contrary to 'traditional' management development, which tries to help managers apply theory to practice

'there is growing recognition that this might NOT be the most effective way to develop and managers should be encouraged to turn it the other way round - to develop theory from managerial practice.' (MCI, 1991a)


The nature of assessment has also been an educational issue which has been subject to debate over recent years. The form of assessment, particularly in respect of formal examinations, has been questioned. Formal examinations where individual students answer a set of previously unseen questions in a specified time under supervision have increasingly been modified, supplemented or replaced as the main method. In management education an increasing use has been made of problem, task or project-based work, particularly where this is undertaken in real workplace settings. In essence, the arguments put forward to support such change have focussed on the need to assess the manager's ability to manage, not merely to discuss management.

A further issue concerned the criteria by which student-managers' performance was assessed. Criticisms that 'traditional' assessment tended to be norm-referenced accompanied calls for clear criteria to be established and for students' work to be subject to criterion-referenced assessment (Ball, 1992). A somewhat different criticism concerned to inherent power and authority relationships in traditional forms of assessment:

"Nothing makes an adult feel more childlike than being judged by another adult." (Knowles, 1980)

One aspect of this was seen in the extent to which the assessment criteria were 'hidden' from students rather than being 'transparent' to students (and other parties eg employers). A further aspect was the way that the teachers/ assessors specified the task to be undertaken, with the student having little or no choice. This limited the extent to which the workplace and work-based activity might be used for assessment because of the variety and difficulty of comparison.

MCI, and other proponents of the NVQ system, engaged with these developments in presenting the 'new' form of standards-based assessment as significantly better than 'traditional' forms:

'Traditionally most assessment has been confined to the ability to pass a test, with the assessor often defining the standards for success as well as carrying out the assessment.

Now, with the development of standards that describe the role expectations and performance requirements in an occupational area, judgements can be made against a set of activities for which specific and precise criteria have been defined.' (MCI, 1991b, p.5)

MCI has promoted what it calls a 'portfolio approach' for assessment. Rather than being required to undertake tasks set for assessment purposes, managers should be encouraged to identify for themselves the evidence they can collect which demonstrates their competence, and present this for assessment against the published standards.


These three sets of influences, government policy, educational developments, and changing employment practices within organisations, find common ground in the notion of 'competence'. Although the concerns which have led these three groups to focus on this notion are different, as are the particular purposes to be served, the term provides rhetorical support for a programme of action in which all three can engage. The underlying conceptual soundness of the notion, and the empirical reality of the benefits claimed for it, may be subjected to critical analysis. But the social forces which have coalesced around 'competence' are certainly powerful ones, and their effects are certainly real in terms of changes in the form of management education which is emerging. This may be seen as a new managerial discourse, with ideological and material aspects. The discourse of managerial competence enables the capture of the previously separate discourses of policy making, education and organisaional management, within a single discourse. In the processes of accommodation and convergence involved in bringing this about, the nature of what can be known about management, and what managers can know is being reconstituted.

The meaning of 'competence'

It is clear that the dominant approach to competence is positivist in nature, based in functionalist social theory and behaviourist psychology (Jacobs, 1990; Marshall, 1991; Hodkinson, 1992; Holmes and Joyce, forthcoming; Holmes, 1993). The underlying assumption is that competence is a real characteristic of managers, present in individuals to a greater or lesser degree. As a characteristic of certain managers ('successful' or effective' ones), missing or present to a lesser degree in others, its precise nature may be discovered by appropriate research. Its presence or absence in particular managers may be determined by appropriate assessment methods. Although these may not be easy tasks, nevertheless they are in principle and practice possible; all that is required is the will to undertake the necessary work and the expertise to do so.

A clue to the problematic nature of such a view lies in the purpose for which the term 'competent' is used. This is normally in the context of making decisions on the granting or with-holding of some desirable good, eg a qualification, a job, a promotion. That is, there is some social process in which one party is making a decision in which resources are allocated (or with-held) from another, with material consequences for both. We need therefore to examine the nature of that social process in order to understand the way in which the language adopted is being used.

I have previously argued (Holmes and Joyce, forthcoming; Holmes, 1993) that the term 'competence' is best understood as linguistic indicator of the degree of confidence which one party has that the future performance of an individual will match the desired performance. The anticipation of the standard of future performance is based on an inference normally made from observation (whether directly or indirectly) of performance, but also from other known or assumed factors (eg learning process). Observation of performance, and the anticipation of desired performance, can only be done with some implicit model of performance which differentiates between significant and non-significant aspects. But human work performance is highly complex, and a variety of models of performance have been developed and used for dealing with different types of situation. There is no indication that some superordinate model may encompass these, as they are based on fundamentally different ways of perceiving the nature of performance.

Linguistic Transformation

This focus on the activity of the agent making the attribution of competence, rather than the presumed characteristics of the individual being assessed, is also suggested by the theory of transformation of syntagmic models put forward by Hodge and Kress (1979). As fundamental categories of language, syntagmic models classify events in the world. The basic distinction in their framework (see fig. 5) is between actionals and relationals. Actionals may be transactive, in which an actor affects another entity (noun+verb+noun), or non-transactive in which only one entity is involved in the process (noun+verb). Relationals express relationship (equative, attributive, possessive) between entities, but where no process is involved; typically the verb used is either to be or to have.

Clearly, the statement "Manager M is competent" takes the surface form of an attributive relational, in the model produced by Hodge and Kress. However, when we examine the social context in which such a statement is uttered we can see that a transformation has been performed, whereby the surface model has been substituted for a different syntagmic model at a 'deeper' level. The original model may be recovered as follows:

1. Assessor A observes M's performance ("M perform X")

2. A anticipates M's future performance ("I infer that M will perform Y")

3. A judges that future performance to be satisfactory (to standard) ("I judge performance Y to be satisfactory")

4. A grants to M some desired good (a job, a qualification) ("I grant M the job/ qualification")

5. A states "M is competent"

Each of these utterances except the final one is an actional, and the agent changes from M to A between utterance 1 and utterance 2. This marks the critical issue in competence-based assessment for qualifications, ie how can we make reasonable inferences about future performance. However, this is masked by the adoption of the attributive relational model, which presents the issue as question of the qualities of the manager. The term 'competence' makes the use of the relational available whilst masking the social processes of judgement and resource allocation.


The MCI standards, as the basis for a 'competence' approach, thus implicitly carry a model of management, ie what can be known about management. In constructing the criteria for assessing whether or not any particular managers are competent, MCI has constructed a definition of what counts as management. This model is discursively conveyed to the world at large, legitimated within the rhetoric of the 'reform' of vocational qualifications and materially effected through the educational and credentialising practices of management development and certificating institutions. Analysis of this discourse allows us to access the underlying model, in order to examine its effects on managerial knowledge.

One important feature of the model is the claim that management can be defined in universal, generic terms.

"The draft standards [...] contain MCI's current thinking on what constitutes generic management competences. By generic we mean what is common to management, across both private and public sectors." (MCI, 1989, p.6)

"MCI has identified the common core which runs through all managerial jobs...." (MCI 1990b, p.1)

"The MCI believes that it is possible to agree standards of competence that are common to all organisations." (Fennell, 1989)

Moreover, the generic nature of management, according to MCI's model, is not merely contingent and empirical, but is absolute and universal. Its nature is identifiable through a rigorous process of analysis of the universal function or purpose of management, which applied whatever the nature of the particular organisation or the context in which it operates. Thus management consists of four key roles which

"[r]ather like the four elements of the ancients - earth, air, fire and water - ... are a way of dividing and describing the universe of management." (loc cit.)

The use of the analogy of 'the four elements of the ancients' is rather strange in a discussion of management in the latter part of the twentieth century. While at the surface level it may be read as just a quirky use of language, an alternative interpretation is possible which points to a deeper attempt to reinforce the (ideological) message that management is an atemporal phenomenon. So

just as the same physical reality dealt with by 'the ancients' (alchemists) is dealt with by modern scientists, so the same social or organisational reality faced by people of ancient times is now dealt with by modern management.

Such a reading is suggested by the use of the modal phrase 'rather like' which begins the statement, rendering ambiguous the validity claim on which the model of four key management roles is based.

Derivation of competence statements

The framework of elements of competence is derived by using an analytic method called functional analysis. This itself is based on a simplistic goal-directed, consensual systems view of organisations as harmonious wholes:

"Within any organisation - whether business, commerce or public sector - each individual contributes to the organisation performing effectively. They do so by carrying out those functions which lead to the organisation satisfying its mission or purpose. Functional analysis is the process of identifying those functions and breaking them down until they are described in sufficient detail to be used as standards." (Training Agency, 1989)

The functional analysis method has been mainly developed within the 'standards programme', having its origins in the mid-1980s in work undertaken by a local examining body for certification of participants on the Youth Training Scheme operated by the Manpower Services Commission (YHAFHE, 1986). One of the key developers stated in 1989 that

"Functional analysis is not, as yet, a highly developed method with well developed rules and procedures." (Mansfield, 1989)

Despite its relative novelty the method has been adopted for all occupational standards, including those for managerial and professional occupations.

Functional analysis of an occupation involves the 'identification' of its key purpose, then disaggregating from this through key roles, units of competence and then elements of competence. The framework derived is the same as the framework of elements and units of competence, and overall 'statement of competence' making up NVQs. The process involves considerable 'field trials' and feedback from persons and agencies whose views and support are deemed by the lead body to be important. This process is referred to as 'research', although in normal business terms would probably be called 'market testing'.

MCI thus claims that the management standards are research based:

"Research undertaken by the MCI has identified that management has four key roles:

A: To initiate, plan, implement and improve the production and delivery of goods and services.

B: To recruit, develop and integrate the deployment of human resources.

C: To plan, control and optimise the utilisation of financial resources.

D: To collect, interpret and communicate information to support and co-ordinate organisational functioning." (Fennell, 1989)

At the same time, the model of management is presented as having a taxonomic structure (fig. 3); it is categorical rather than contingent. This structure, derived by analytical 'research', encapsulates all that can and need be known about management, irrespective of the specific and different contexts in which it is effected.


Performance versus knowledge and understanding

The MCI's competence approach prioritises managerial performance over knowledge and understanding.

"... this new approach ... is based on behaviour that managers use and that can be clearly observed, rather than surrounding itself in mysticism, and is welcomed by managers." (Cockerill, 1989) (emphasis added)

"The importance of the competence approach to training and qualifications is that it provides a measure of what people can actually do rather than what they know or understand." (MCI 1989b)

This emphasis on assessing observable behaviour has been a key aspect of the NVQ/ Standards approach, from the early stages of its development:

"Evidence [from which to infer competence] can essentially be of two forms - performance or knowledge. As competence is the ability to perform to the standards expected in employment, performance evidence must be the prime candidate for consideration, with assessment in the ongoing course of work the one most likely to offer highest validity." (Mitchell, 1989)

Thus knowledge and understanding (and skills) are treated as underpinning performance, often assessable through workplace performance without the need for separate assessment.

"If sufficient evidence to attribute competence can be gained from performance at work or from simulations of performance at work, then no more evidence of the underpinning skills, knowledge and understanding need be collected." (Fennell, 1991, p.52)

Assessment of knowledge and understanding is referred to as eliciting 'supplementary evidence', to be distinguished from performance evidence, although

"[t]he distinction is not clear cut in that some knowledge and understanding can be inferred from performance, while some written and oral responses may tap some aspects of performance." (NCVQ, 1988)

However, such supplementary evidence need be collected only in the absence of sufficient evidence from performance alone, or to indicate an individual's understanding of applications in other situations than those observed (BTEC, 1991). Moreover, the knowledge and understanding to be assessed are themselves specified for each element of competence within the framework of standards. BTEC expresses these in terms of 'purpose and context', 'principles and methods' and 'data' (op cit.), ie in form, not substance.

Again, it is important to note the way in which the language used in the texts produced by MCI and other agencies involved with NVQs. In particular, we should note the way that within the texts certain key meanings are 'exchanged' (Dant, 1991) whereby certain elements are treated as equivalent. Thus in the quotation from Cockerill we can note that:

new approach = competence approach = based on observable behaviour

observable behaviour = clear clear = surrounded by mysticism

approach surrounded by mysticism = welcomed by managers

old (not new) approach = not welcomed by managers

Thus the valued quality of being welcomed by managers is denied to the 'old' approach, even this is not defined nor is the validity of the attribution of 'mysticism' argued. Similarly, in the MCI and Mitchell quotations:

competence approach = measure what people can do

what people can do = what they know or understand

performance = knowledge

evidence for competence = performance

assessment in work = (most valid) performance evidence

knowledge = evidence for competence.

We may note also the way in which the authors of the texts from which these quotations are taken have attempted to protect the authoritative validity their claims from challenge by modal operations:

"Modality in general establishes the degree of authority of an utterance. .. modal auxiliaries perform this function, but they contain a systematic ambiguity about the nature of authority - whether it is based primarily on knowledge or on power." (Hodge and Kress, 1979, p122).

In the Cockerill quotation, the phrase "welcomed by managers" omits any reference to which managers do the welcoming: all managers?; most managers (how many)?; some managers? The MCI quotation uses the indefinite article 'a' ("provides a measure"), leaving ambiguity about whether there are other, equally or more effective approaches. Mitchell's text uses the terms 'must' and 'prime' (candidate for consideration) together, followed by 'most likely', again leaving ambiguity about the status of alternatives.

Thus, through the process of meaning-exchanges and the use of modal auxiliaries, the discourse of competence systematically distorts the communication concerning the relationship between knowledge, performance and assessment.

Interpretation of relative terms

Moreover, the notion of a set of definitions of clearly observable behaviours (requiring no explanation in terms of the knowledge and understanding they express) is not carried through into the language actually used. Throughout the MCI Standards a variety of relative terms are used, eg 'appropriate', 'relevant', 'valid', 'suitable'. Performance criteria using such terms clearly cannot be unequivocal definitions. This is partly recognised by the MCI in a section on 'how to use the standards', which states that

"You will need to identify what these terms mean in the context of your own job." (MCI, 1990, p.3)

Yet the use of the word 'identify' here is misplaced, as these terms are subject to interpretation in the actual context. For example, element 1.1 performance criterion e) is

"Information about operations which may affect customers is passed to the appropriate people."

There are two levels of interpretation involved here:

- the judgement that any particular operation may affect customers, and

- the judgement of exactly who are the appropriate people to whom information needs to be passed.

The junior manager will have to make such judgements based on her/his interpretation of the particular situation, as it arises. The middle manager, or other assessor, will then have to make a judgement about the junior manager's performance, which itself is based on the above judgements. Since the performance is so essentially based on interpretations ('may affect', 'appropriate') the assessment of competence against this criterion is inescapably interpretive.

Similarly, difficulties arise with many of the elements in the 'key role' area of 'Managing People', where the performance criteria refer to what are essentially interpersonal processes. For example, element 7.1, performance criterion a) states that:

"Time is taken with subordinates to establish and maintain honest and constructive relationships."

The process of establishing any type of relationship clearly depends on both parties to the relationship. There may be reasons why the subordinate is unwilling to take part in the development of the type of relationship described, factors outside the control of the manager. Similarly, the achievement of agreement as required by several performance criteria is the outcome of an interaction between both sides to the agreement. It is therefore not possible to take these as categorical descriptors of competent performance of an individual.

Nature of assessment process

Such problems with the actual implementation point to a more fundamental problem over the way in which the assessment process is viewed. The MCI/ Standards approach is clearly based on the view that assessment is a process of relating descriptions of performance to categorical descriptions of desired performance.

"A manager is matched against the 'ideal' of the standards to see whether he/she as an individual is able to achieve the standards set. The individual either meets the standards and is therefore deemed to be competent, or fails to meet the standards and is not yet competent." (Mitchell, 1991)

Such a view plays down the reality that assessment is a social act carried out by one or more individuals ('assessors'). The act consists of attributing some quality ('competence') to the assessee and declaring this to a wider public. This is undertaken in the expectation that, as a consequence, a formal recognition of such attribution will be made, in some form of credentialisation.

Moreover, the assumption in the MCI/Standards approach is that the assessee's performance is not influenced by the process of assessment.

"The portfolio approach offers a way for managers to recognise their experience and achievements and record it in a way which has both usefulness and meaning." (MCI, 1991)

The portfolio approach is a form of 'record of achievement', with relevant evidence recorded in a manner which shows how each element of competence has been achieved to the standards required by the performance criteria, across the range of contexts prescribed. MCI promotes the portfolio approach as a method by which managers can produce evidence of performance when seeking certification, and the approach is a key element in the MCI's version of accreditation of prior experiential learning ('Crediting Competence'). Even when assessment takes place within a programme of management education and development, there is an emphasis on the assessee being responsible for presenting relevant evidence:

"Whatever the sources and methods of assessment, however, it is essential that the candidates are aware of the requirements of the statements of competence against which their performance will be measured.

As competence-based assessment places responsibility upon the candidate for providing the evidence, centres must be both flexible and responsive to initiatives from the candidate in assessment against the statement of competence." (BTEC, 1991)

The MCI/ Standards approach appears, therefore, to give considerable autonomy to the assessee in providing evidence that they are competent. However, this autonomy does not extend to the definition of what counts as criteria for judging competence. Rather, the assessee is required to reconstrue past experience, and construe present or planned activity, as examples of the performances specified in the Standards. Experience and action, past, present and future, is only meaningful (as management experience and action) if it can be described and interpreted within the language of the Management Standards.

Viewing assessment as a social act recognises that it take place within a context which is socially produced and sustained. The relationship between assessor and assessee is a non-transitive relationship of power and authority. In engaging in the act of assessing the assessor makes and reinforces the right to judge the assessee; in accepting the assessment made, the assessee accepts and re-confirms that right. Moreover, the assessor occupies a privileged position within a wider social structure, carrying the socially endorsed authority to recommend award of a desired qualification.

On this view, the criteria for assessment are not some objective descriptions of behaviour, but part of the discourse of the social group which controls the assessment process. The manager who is seeking to be assessed as competent must engage in a social process in which that discourse determines what counts as being competent. In other words, she/he must accept the appropriateness of the discourse and its consequences in terms of what counts as being a competent manager, particularly in respect of gaining a qualification and the enhanced career mobility purportedly flowing from this. Where performance cann ot be unequivocally taken as clear evidence of competence, knowledge may be drawn upon but only insofar as it can be expressed in a way which supports the defined performance elements and criteria.

The use of relative terms such as 'appropriate', 'relevant', etc enables the assessor to maintain control over the process, whilst appearing to be using objective (or at least, 'transparent') criteria. Reference to hypothetical situations, such events which might have but did not happen, provides the assessor with considerable interpretive scope. Although the assessee may be allowed to negotiate such interpretation, the control lays finally with the assessor.

The performance criteria are sets of statements which use the passive voice, eg Element II 8.1, performance criterion a):

"Time is taken with subordinates to establish and maintain honest and constructive relationships."

and, same element, performance criterion e):

"Subordinates are consulted about proposed activities within an appropriate timescale and encourages to seek clarification of areas of which they are unsure."

Here again we can see how the surface form masks the transformation that has been undertaken in producing the text, so that the underlying actional statements ("A takes time...", "A consults subordinates ...") are turned into relationals. The statements are in the passive voice, which provides a key linguistic device (removal of reference to the agent) for masking the fact that assessment is an act undertaken within a social context with unequal power relationships. The assessment is presented as depersonalised, objective, fair. Acceptance of the process by the assessee confirms its fairness and objectivity; rejection of the process sets the assessee outside the social group, and effectively barred from its rights and privileges. Assessment through MCI's 'Management Standards' thus act as a mechanism for re-affirming the dominance of hierarchical forms of management, and for controlling entry to the elite group, publicly accredited as having the 'right to manage'.

Subordination of knowledge

The MCI approach thus reduces the significance of managerial knowledge to 'supplementary', 'underpinning' evidence for inferring competence, and is subordinate to observation of performance. Its meaning is wholly contained within its supporting role within the specification of competence through a disaggregated, analytic model, based on a functionalist perspective on organisation. The relationship of knowledge to performance is one-way, 'underpinning' or enabling performance which is categorical and absolute. There is no dynamic or dialectical relationship by which ideas, concepts, models etc may enable performance to be problematised and subject to critical reflection (Schön, 1983).

Moreover, managerial knowledge is now externalised, acquired by the manager and 'elicited' through question-and-answer by the assessor. As an external 'object', it can be commodified, that is, produced within an already well-established form of labour process, and subject to packaging for exchange within the marketplace. There is now a burgeoning industry of 'competence-based learning materials' in the form of 'open learning' packages.

"There is a new concept both of knowledge and of its relation to those who create it... Knowledge should flow like money to wherever it can create advantage and profit. Knowledge is divorced from persons, their commitments, their personal dedication, for these become impediments, restrictions on flow, and introduce deformations in the working of the market. [...]

This orientation represents a fundamental break in the relationship between the knower and what is known. [...] Now we have a dislocation, which permits the creation of two independent markets, one of knowledge and another of knowers." (Bernstein, 1990)

Jones and Moore take up Bernstein's analysis of pedagogic discourse in their critique of competence in terms of the control of expertise. They adopt Bernstein's concept of the 'pedagogic device', which

"provides the intrinsic grammar of pedagogic discourse, through distributive rules, recontextualising rules, and rules of evaluation." (op cit),

to argue that

"The competency model of occupational skills training recontextualises discourses produced initially within the primary context of academic research, selectively modifies and transforms them according to certain institutional, administrative and policy imperatives and then appropriates (recontextualises/ disembeds) social relations within 'the world of work' according to the principles of the discourse so constructed." (Jones and Moore, forthcoming)

Such processes crucially determine the nature of subjectivity and social identity. As Bernstein starkly states

"The pedagogic device generates a symbolic ruler of consciousness. The question becomes: whose ruler, what consciousness?" (Bernstein, loc cit)


We can therefore discern in the rise of the competence approach in the UK, predominantly instigated through state intervention but linked to the interests and concerns of employers and education, a redefinition of the discourse of management. Addressed to managers, this reinforces a particular managerial social identity which is based in a taken-for-granted consensual, functionalist perspective on organisation, excluding other perspectives. It thus limits the possibilities for critical reflection (Nord and Jermier, 1992), ensuring that individuals qua managers act as if the dominant organisational model were valid. Alternative, oppositional activity would constitute, by definition, incompetent performance. Knowledge is relevant and meaningful only to the extent that it 'underpins' performance to the standards specified, and cannot be the source of alternative action. Managers are thus effectively domesticated, acting not according to their own interests but those of the organisation within the existing social and economic order.

Moreover, addressed to management educators, the discourse of management competence renders them as agents of dissemination of the dominant perspective. Theory is subordinate to the specified performance requirements, and so cannot act as facilitators of critical reflection, nor generate alternative agendas for action. Since the desired outcomes of the management education process are specified, the important criteria for assessing the performance of management educators are the extent to which managers do achieve such measurable outcomes, and the efficiency with which this is done. So, by parallel development, the standards for management educators may be specified, and their competence assessed. The Training and Development Lead Body has produced a generic set of occupational standards for those involved in training. A subset of these is the group of standards for 'assessors' and 'verifiers', and BTEC now require that those who undertake these role for the BTEC management awards have been accredited against these standards. The process of assessment is the same, as the framework is NCVQ accredited.

Moreover, the efficiency of acquisition of specified underpinning knowledge may itself be tested, through the measurement of inputs and outputs. Economies of scale suggest that 'open learning' packages are likely to be more efficient that tutor-facilitated interactive events. Management educators may thus become mainly distributors of such packages, intermediaries within the marketplace of commodified knowledge.


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