on learning gain, academic subsumption and performance anxiety

Businessmen drink my blood
Like the kids in art school said they would

Arcade Fire. 2011. Ready to Start.


ONE. We are losing that University life, which bell hooks wrote about as a space and a time for self-actualisation: a capacity to live more fully and deeply. We are losing the potential to liberate the curriculum for solidarity and humanity. Our curriculum design and delivery are now kettled by new public management and an ethos of deliverology, which pivots around exchange.

Deliverology is based on the notion that traditional public-sector organizations are not geared towards delivering results—such as student learning outcomes or quality clinical care—for several reasons. The organization’s goals are too many and too diffuse. Frequently, the goals cannot be quantified. For those that can be, there is very little real-time data to monitor progress towards the goals. As a result, staff and management within the organization do not work towards these goals. Rather, they may try to maximize the size of their unit or the budget under their control.

To overcome these constraints, Deliverology proposes that a small, high-quality delivery unit be established, reporting directly to the head of the organization, that is charged with championing the delivery of a few, well-specified results. The unit will gather and report real-time data on progress towards the results; work with the line managers in the system to make mid-course corrections; and set up routines where the leader and the stakeholders can review performance and make decisions.

Suba Devarajan. 2013. Deliverology and all that.

This is our curriculum co-opted for the production of measurable outcomes. This is our curriculum subsumed under the demands of producing and circulating measurable outcomes, in the form of data, and in the form of analysis, and in the form of learning gain. Here, notions of subjectivity and of living more humanely are driven by a commodity-valuation rooted in the measurement of teacher/student performance inside-and-against that curriculum. Any hope that subjectivity might emerge from the messy realities of the curriculum are lost. They are lost in the processes of abstraction that subvert the concrete work that teachers and students do inside and outside the classroom. This abstraction reduces our relationships to measurable processes. And these processes must be measured because education must be subsumed under the compulsion to create and accumulate value. As the Gates Foundation argue, education is about

ensuring that all students graduate from high school prepared for college and have an opportunity to earn a postsecondary degree with labor-market value. Our approach is to play a catalytic role—to support the development of innovative solutions in education that are unlikely to be generated by institutions working alone and that can trigger change on a broader scale.

TWO. Where then is the space to educate as the practice of freedom, when the only freedom available is that of the labour-market? Where is the space to educate as the practice of freedom when the market dominates the spaces and the times available for autonomy?

To educate as the practice of freedom is a way of teaching that anyone can learn. That learning process comes easiest to those of us who also believe that our work is not merely to share information but to share in the intellectual and spiritual growth of our students. To teach in a manner that respects and cares for the souls of our students is essential if we are to provide the necessary conditions where learning can most deeply and intimately begin.

bell hooks. 1994. Teaching to Transgress, p. 13.

And through this loss of subjectivity in the face of the abstraction of our educational relationships, we are readied for the market and for the financialisation of our concrete work. And this readying takes the form of our subsumption as academics, teachers and students, under the dictates of a system that is rooted in the practice of freedom for Capital. Rooted in the freedom to produce and accumulate value. And in the process our humanity is scrubbed clean.

THREE. This idea of the subsumption of University life under the dictates of the market is critical. It contains within it an unfolding of the relationship between academic labour, the market and the production of academic commodities. Through this unfolding, academic labour is monitored and reconfigured so that it is productive of value, rather than productive of the practice of freedom.

In tracing the development of production in capitalism, Marx distinguishes what he calls the formal and real subsumption of labor under capital. In formal subsumption, although production is geared toward the production of surplus value, that goal has not yet informed the process of production itself. As capital develops, however, the process of production becomes molded materially by capital, by the goal of producing surplus value. At that point, the real subsumption of labor, the process of production, has become intrinsically capitalist.

…Marx attempts to explain several basic characteristics of capitalism. The first is that, unlike other forms of life, capitalism is marked by pressures for ongoing increases in productivity, which constantly revolutionizes production and distribution and, more generally, social life. Marx seeks to elucidate this characteristic of capitalism with his theory of value as a function of time rather than the amount of goods produced. At the same time, this theory helps explain an apparent paradox—that the invention of generations of “labor-saving devices” has not lightened the burden of labor nearly as much as might have been expected.

Many people work longer and harder than before, while others are chronically under- or unemployed. This is a complex problem, but it does indicate that, as capitalism develops, there is less and less direct correlation between the level of productivity— the amount of goods being produced—and labor time. One could imagine an inverse relationship, at least potentially, between the level of productivity and the amount people have to work. But that is not the case here. Instead, we have an incredibly productive apparatus that retains the necessity of labor. This latter necessity, which is a function of labor, comes under increasing pressure as capital develops.

Moishe Postone. 2012. Exigency of Time: A Conversation with Harry Harootunian and Moishe Postone, pp.18-20.

Across the globalised terrain of higher education, University life is restructured through technological and financial innovations, which are themselves geared around creating a competitive market as the primary mechanism for the production of value and profit. Innovation is central to the generation of competitive edge, and the ability for life at the University of Oxford or Imperial College or wherever to compete with the University life at Stanford or MIT or wherever.

Competition, innovation, production, expansion and growth forcibly destroy those individual and institutional practices that are unproductive or less efficient or slower or unfit-for-exchange. This is the self-actualisation of capital. This is never the self-actualisation of the student, unless s/he is an entrepreneur; unless s/he is recombined as a force of production. And of course, we are forced to destroy any stable sense of ourselves as self-actualised because we must be remade constantly as productive and entrepreneurial and employable. This remaking entails the subordination of our University life and of the work that goes into producing it to the self-actualisation of Capital. And as a result that University life is transformed.

The distinction between formal and real subsumption identifies the implicit distinction between two moments that we have here: capital must subordinate the labour process to its valorisation process — it must formally subsume it — if it is to reshape that process in its own image, or really subsume it.

Endnotes. The History of Subsumption.

FOUR. What is being made concrete inside higher education is not merely the formal subsumption of teaching, learning and scholarship inside a market, but the transformation of those activities. This transformation is rooted in the productivity of academic labour, so that its teaching, learning and scholarship require more than the absolute extension of the social working day. This transformation demands that teaching, learning and scholarship are grounded in competition and innovation. This drives the annihilation of any possibility that the curriculum might enable individuals or communities to become self-actualised. Instead competition and innovation drive the annihilation of the humane content of teaching, learning and scholarship, so that all which is left is proletarianised. Or so that what we are left with is anxiety as we attempt to refuse this disciplinary process.

And this anxiety is amplified as our subsumption is encouraged as a form of creative destruction by Governments that agree the disaggregation of the functions of HE courses (like content production, learning analytics, assessment and accreditation) and encourage competition at the level of those components. We are forced to creatively destroy that which we have made: our selves, always to be upskilled; our curricula, always to be labour-market ready; our scholarship, always impactful; our teaching, always innovatory; our learning, always on; our souls, always bleeding.. Our curricula relationships are creatively destroyed and remade as tradable, exchangeable components.

As costs rise and competition intensifies, there will be additional pressure for achieving administrative efficiencies. The curriculum of a university, once a prized possession developed by the faculty members for the students, is increasingly becoming a commodity. MOOCs have opened up access to tried and tested curricula for anyone in the world to use.

Rizvi, S., Donnelly, K., and M. Barber. 2013. An avalanche is coming: Higher education and the revolution ahead, p. 41.

There appear to be specific opportunities to create significant value for UK schools, teachers and learners. These opportunities include provision for gifted & talented students, for supporting low take-up subjects, and for exam preparation. There may be benefit in further research into one or more of these areas, to develop and test the pedagogical grounding of the proposition, to establish commercial feasibility, and to assess the real benefits by piloting with schools. We strongly urge that some of this research be focused on the commercial requirements and opportunity, to help stimulate development and investment from the private sector.

Carnegie Associates. 2014. MOOCs: Opportunities for their use in compulsory-age education, pp. 75-6.

Another set of changes is technological: incredible advances in information and communications technology (ICT) and other technologies are changing job profiles and skills demanded by labor markets, while also offering possibilities for accelerated learning and improved management of education systems.

World Bank. 2011. Education Strategy 2020. Learning for All: Investing in People’s Knowledge and Skills to Promote Development.

As academics and students labour under commodity capitalism, they have to vie for a place on the market, and this makes them vulnerable to crises related to futures-trading, or access to means of production, or to overproduction, or to market-saturation, or to an inability to access credit markets, or to more general, societal access to debt. Hence the very real impact of finance capital in creating a higher education market based on catalysing new systems of production or organisational development or technological innovation leaves universities at risk. It leaves academics at risk. It leaves students at risk. The University’s much-vaunted institutional autonomy abstracts it from a notion of public good and distances it from any socialised purpose or meaning. Autonomy prefigures marketisation and competitive restructuring. It is thus impossible to separate out Governmental policy based on funding, or Governmental support for open education, or venture capital investment in educational technology start-ups or MOOCs, or University restructuring and reorganisation, from this need to create a market. One outcome is the need to commodify and marketise y/our curriculum, and to commodify and marketise y/our relationships.

FIVE. And bell hooks’ words invite us to push-back against this, and to be engaged.

[To be engaged] invites us always to be in the present, to remember that the classroom is never the same. Traditional ways of thinking about the classroom stress the opposite paradigm—that the classroom is always the same even when students are different. To me, the engaged classroom is always changing. Yet this notion of engagement threatens the institutionalized practices of domination. When the classroom is truly engaged, it’s dynamic. It’s fluid. It’s always changing.

bell hooks. 1994. Teaching to Transgress, p. 158

Yet they want to marketise our interactions with students and staff. They want to create a market by quantifying y/our interactions with students and re-defining y/our work as data inputs and learning outcomes and impact and quality. They want to create a market because enclosing education (as a public good) for private gain depends upon the circulation of educational services as commodities. Without a market there can be no circulation. They need to create commodities and they need to create a market. Because without them money (M) cannot circulate, and without them money and its increment (M’) cannot be had. And as a by-product they will discipline the circuit of educational production, including y/our pedagogy.

And what is worse, they believe that this creative destruction/disruption, and the concomitant production of entrepreneurial, educational outcomes, are rooted in specific, systematic, measurable inputs. Because as the Conservative Party will tell us:

We know what works in education: great teachers; brilliant leadership; rigour in the curriculum; discipline in the classroom; proper exams.

The Conservative Party Manifesto, 2015.

And because they know what works they can enforce behaviour change on their terms.

Without radical changes to how universities were financed however it was going to be difficult to change their behaviour. Now there is an opportunity to use our funding changes to push a real cultural change back towards teaching.

David Willetts. 2013. Robbins Revisited: Bigger and Better Higher Education.

And as McKinsey Consulting will tell you, we can only unlock innovation and performance with liquid information and open data: “we see a clear potential to unlock significant economic value by applying advanced analytics to both open and proprietary knowledge.” And where is the space/time for engaged teaching where y/our curriculum and its relationships have to be converted to liquid information?

A real cultural change.

The new normal.

Deliverology.

SIX. And we have been warned about this, in our reading about the implementation of the Early Years Foundation Stage profile. For here we see the kinds of monitoring and data-driven continuous improvement that underpin educational innovation in settings that support the labour of 4 year olds. And we are forced to consider what this will mean in terms of learning gain in higher education. The monitoring of the lives of young children is a joint venture between policy makers, educators, software suppliers and academic evaluators, so that we can identify the inputs that enable an outcome specified as ‘a good level of development’.

This specification describes the early years foundation stage profile collection 2015. It will enable local authorities, and software suppliers working on their behalf, to prepare the necessary data and processes for compliance so that data on all children aged 4 in funded education at maintained schools and private, voluntary and independent early years settings can be returned.

Department for Education. 2015. Early years foundation stage profile 2015 Technical specification, version 1.1

The revised EYFSP eradicated the 69 early learning goals and replaced them with just 17 focusing on 3 prime areas of learning: communication and language, physical development and personal, social and emotional development. Within these scales a child can gain a score of 1-3 with 1 being ‘emerging’, 2 being ‘expected’ and 3 being ‘exceeding’. These scales are also classified into prime and specific areas of learning.

Department for Education. 2014. Early years foundation stage profile 2014 return, Guide for the 2014 assessments – version 1.0

The Good Level of Development (GLD) measure is the most widely used single measure of child development in the early years. We have made significant changes to the way children are assessed at the end of the EYFS through the EYFS Profile. As a result, we have had to redefine the GLD measure

In the new EYFSP, children will be defined as having reached a GLD at the end of the EYFS if they achieve at least the expected level in the early learning goals in the prime areas of learning (personal, social and emotional development; physical development; and communication and language) and in the specific areas of mathematics and literacy.

Cotzias, E, and Whitehorn, T. 2013. Topic Note: Results of the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP) Pilot Research report March 2013.

And this measuring of a good level of development enables a richer set of data to be collated, and new, tradable, enhancement and improvement services to be commodified and exchanged, and for judgements to be made based upon gender, or the socio-economics of access to free-school meals, or rooted in ethnicity, or based around local authority. And in our measuring of inputs and our obsession with learning outcomes our self-actualisation is lost once more. Our ability to deal with social justice or poverty is lost because someone with power and voice claims that “We know what works in education”.

SEVEN. And who is this “we” who measures learning gain or a good level of development? Who is this “we” who knows what works? And who is excluded from this knowing? Because what is lost in this process of measuring is the voice of those who are excluded. And the inability to voice is related to a lack of power. So we might reflect on the construction of our educational settings and who has power to voice in those spaces, and to co-author something else, and to be engaged. And we might reflect on the relationship between measuring and voice, as they are revealed in the definition of the curriculum, so that we wonder whether we can ever “co-author engaged spaces that are always changing” if we have no power to self-actualise. And in this I am forced to reflect on the struggle to overcome the alienating realities of “why is my curriculum white?”

A curriculum racialised as white was fundamental to the development of capitalism.

Capitalist expansion, as it emerged from Europe and engulfed much of the globe, was not simply an economic endeavour – it was an ideological project. By positioning the economic models which emerged from Europe at this time as the most morally and intellectually superior, capitalism defined progress, rationality and development in ways non-European economic systems could not.

It is the white curriculum which trains the bureaucrats of the Global South that the economic models they learn in Europe and its settler colonies are superior to the knowledges indigenous to their own societies. This facilitates the exploitation of labour and resources in their own countries, channelling the materials that western markets rely on for consumption. Both pre-colonial economic systems and anti-colonial critiques of capitalism (some, but not all, influenced by European criticisms of capitalism) are essential if a truly international movement against the power of global capital is to emerge.

The white curriculum thinks for us; so we don’t have to.

The curriculum is white because it reflects the underlying logic of colonialism, which believes the colonised do not own anything – not even their own experiences. The role of the colonised in knowledge production mirrored their role in economic production, where their resources were to provide raw materials that could then be consumed in the west.

Similarly, colonial societies were to serve as raw data that could be theorised, articulated, and properly understood only by Europeans, in western European languages – principally English. This is why, even if you are studying development studies or the prison industrial complex today, the curriculum will remain largely white, for only people racialised as white are able fully to explain Black suffering. Implicit in the white curriculum is irrefutable evidence of white superiority as a matter of truth and objectivity, while crafting a world-view that judges anything that it could define as ‘non-white’ or ‘other’ as inferior

‘Why is my Curriculum White?’ collective, UCL. 2015. 8 Reasons the Curriculum is White.

And I remember that this is not the commonly held view of those who have voice and power over the curriculum. Those who include educational publishers like Pearson for whom:

Africa’s educational challenges are not fundamentally different from those of the rest of the world, although they are more basic and urgent – and they can, at times, feel more overwhelming.

A recent study by the Brookings Institution revealed that more than half of the world’s out-of-school primary-aged children live in Sub-Saharan Africa and only a third of African children ever reach secondary school, let alone university. One in every two of those who make it to the classroom still reach adolescence unable to read, write, or perform basic numeracy tasks.

The universal power of education to transform lives for the better feels more urgent in Africa, too. Better education, of which literacy and numeracy are the bedrock, will be fundamental to sustaining growth and prosperity across the continent over the next decade, just as it surely will be throughout the rest of the world. For example, despite high unemployment rates on the continent, employers often struggle to fill vacancies. In a PWC survey of 1,330 global CEOs, over half report concerns about finding the right talent to reach business targets. Vast skills gaps are holding back job creation and growth in many African economies; there is a disconnect between what is being taught in schools and the knowledge and skills young people need to become engaged and productive citizens.

John Fallon. 2013. African outcomes.

Data, outcomes, efficacy, growth, learning gain, Pearson, PWC, global CEOs, the curriculum, talent, growth.

And I remember that the struggle over “why is my curriculum white?” is situated asymmetrically against those who have voice and power in the development of the global economy.

In today’s capital-abundant times, the ability to identify owners of good ideas and help them achieve their full potential will be the hallmarks of investing success. Companies and investors that will thrive in this environment will be those that are best able to identify opportunities that play to their core competencies. They also will take care to develop a repeatable model that enables them to apply their organization’s unique strengths to new contexts again and again. Those that can react with speed and adaptability will be best able to identify the winners, steer clear of the bubbles and generate superior returns.

Reflecting the strengthening of ties between the domestic and international economies, our analysis suggests that increasing gross exports will expand opportunities for the service sector to become more portable, which in turn will expand the economy’s export capacity. At a company level, the trend opens new avenues to profit from investments in services that are open to international trade.

The gains from converting nontradable services into tradable ones can be huge. The rate of return on services that are confined only to the local market is in the range of just 1% to 2%—in line with services’ productivity growth rate. Tradable services, by contrast, can yield returns that are many times higher. What makes these investments so compelling today is that they are channeled into activities the company knows best, thereby dodging the bubble risk that will plague investors that chase illusory returns in areas where they lack expertise.

The exportable services revolution will be a boon not just for companies in the developed markets, but for emerging market enterprises and economies as well. Portable services can help break through one of the biggest bottlenecks impeding development in the emerging markets—the shortage of management talent to enable them to sustain their rapid economic growth. By using distance-learning technologies to “export” higher education, leading universities in the advanced economies can accelerate the training of the home-grown specialists the emerging-market economies will need. And by “importing” the talent of engineers, managers, physicians and other highly skilled professionals from companies in developed markets, businesses in the emerging markets will not need to wait a generation before their own education systems can produce the skilled workforce they require.

Karen Harris, Andrew Schwedel and Austin Kim. 2012. A world awash in money.

EIGHT. And this self-actualisation of Capital demands that y/our curriculum and y/our teaching, learning and scholarship are exchangeable, tradable, financialised and marketised, on a global scale. Because the subsumption of the University has to mirror the transformation of a labour process, which in turn mirrors “the underlying logic of colonialism, which believes the colonised do not own anything – not even their own experiences. The role of the colonised in knowledge production mirrored their role in economic production, where their resources were to provide raw materials that could then be consumed in the west.” And we might consider how our curriculum spaces reproduce that colonisation by Capital, so that the University reflects a power structure rooted in further colonisation for value production, circulation and accumulation.

And we witness an opening-up and connecting of datasets around academic performance, retention and progression, the repayment of student fees, and future earnings profiles. So that new financial mechanisms can be created, and so that markets can be created that enable exportable services that mitigate poor performance, and that enable that performance to become a tradable commodity. And think of the opportunities for value creation if we can compare performance and earnings across programmes of study and institutions and cohorts. And think of the opportunities for value creation if we can re-engineer curriculum inputs so that we can reduce the risk of futures trading in educational outcomes and earnings. And we understand why deliverology is so important.

In Higher Education we already have the Key Information Statistics, however, the passing of the Small Business Enterprise and Employment Bill, being discussed in the Houses of Parliament ahead of March 2015, will allow student records to be linked with HMRC tax records to provide a potentially richer pool of information. There will be added benefits for the Further Education sector such as improved access to self-employment data.

The linking up of datasets and preparation of relevant and reliable data will take many years, but the passing of the bill will be a positive leap forward. Only in time, as this information is worked through, will we understand the full extent of what can be achieved as a result of the bill and see the full potential of the FEER.

Enterprise for All. 2014. Recommendation one: The Future Earnings and Employment Record (FEER).

NINE. And this is the new normal of growth and competition and the market, and new financial instruments that are rooted in exchange. Here there can be no reinvestment in an engaged curriculum. No divestment from technologies and processes that subsume teaching, learning and scholarship and which transform those into educational commodities. And where the market normalises inputs and sponsors creative destruction, and where the outcome is academic anxiety.

And one outcome of this subsumption is a rebranding of our work as learning gain. And we might wonder if this is an example of the University’s functions being redesigned so that they reproduce a sense of anxiety as a permanent state of exception. I wonder whether the focus on productive labour, on the socially necessary labour time of abstract academic work, and the entrepreneurial turn across higher education, each create an atmosphere of anxiety. I wonder whether the reproduction of an ambiance of anxiety is a co-operative endeavour that emerges from inside the University as a means of production that is governed by metrics, data and debt, and out of which value is scraped through the alienation of time. This reminds me of persistent inferiority and internalised responsibility, and of the shock doctrine that recalibrates what is possible.

And we might consider this issue of divestment, and of how we are invested in the anxiety immanent to this obsession with learning gain, and this deliverology, and this knowing what works. And we might consider that in the struggle over fossil fuel divestment Harvard University have stated:

I also find a troubling inconsistency in the notion that, as an investor, we should boycott a whole class of companies at the same time that, as individuals and as a community, we are extensively relying on those companies’ products and services for so much of what we do every day. Given our pervasive dependence on these companies for the energy to heat and light our buildings, to fuel our transportation, and to run our computers and appliances, it is hard for me to reconcile that reliance with a refusal to countenance any relationship with these companies through our investments.

Drew Faust. 2013. Harvard University Fossil Fuel Divestment Statement

And that in the struggle for divestment one researcher writes:

I worry that the very funding I received from Harvard for this [ethnographic inquiry] to collect stories about water and climate change could be supported by Harvard’s investments in the oil and gas industry. I worry that Harvard is both invested in the future of its students, and in a reckless industry intent on destroying that same future.

The fossil fuel divestment movement has now been active at universities across the United States for more than four years. Stanford partially divestedSyracuse divested just last week. But Harvard still holds onto millions and millions in direct holdings of the fossil fuel industry, spread across the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies. Frankly, I find this alarming.

I care deeply where my university invests its money.

Devi K. Lockwood ’14. 2015. A Cognitive Dissonance: On Harvard & Divestment.

And we might refer to the feeling of anxiety and the dissonance of worry. And we might wonder whether the struggle over fossil fuel divestment and the activities of teaching, learning and scholarship might enable us to consider how we question our investment in the system of production that got us here in the first place. A system of educational production that is using learning gain and deliverology and data and performance anxiety to force us into new forms of cognitive dissonance rooted in narratives of labour-market readiness. Might we build something that is engaged and full of care, and where we no longer simply learn to internalise, monitor and manage our own alienation?


Wall street jumps in the Hudson

With gold in their bathing suits

Then we send in the miracle ferries

That’s all we do

The National. 2010. Sin-Eaters.


on [rage against] learning gain

> Data-driven educational consumption…<

Efficacy is a deceptively simple but incredibly powerful idea – that every product we sell should be measured and judged by the learning outcomes it helps to achieve. Every decision, every process, every investment we now make within Pearson is driven by an ‘efficacy framework’ that requires us to be able to answer four key questions:

  • What learning outcome do you aim to achieve?
  • What evidence – what data – will you collect to measure progress?
  • Do you have a clear plan that gives us confidence you can implement?
  • Data-driven, joint ventures rooted in leverage …

And, as we’ll always be working in partnership with other stakeholders, do we, collectively, have the capacity to deliver the desired outcome? If we can’t clearly see how a new product or service will drive up learning outcomes, we won’t invest in it.

> The data-driven rule of money…<

This is what is driving us to remake Pearson as a company set up to tackle one of the most important global socioeconomic issues of our time – how to make better education more accessible and affordable for far more people around the world. Or, to put it another way, how to get a far better return on the five trillion dollars, and more, the world spends each year on education? And it is this shift from inputs to outcomes that will, I think, more than anything else, drive change in global education over the next ten years.

John Fallon. 2014. Pearson’s Five Trillion Dollar Question.


> Open data as disciplinary tool…<

This is a very useful pointer for us as we review how we might extend the Key Information Set data in the future. Asking institutions to provide a breakdown of the average number of discussion classes for each course – broken down as Robbins suggests into tutorials, small seminars and large seminars – would allow students and parents to judge courses by the sort of teaching they value… One option would be for the Key Information Set data to mirror what was available to Robbins fifty years ago, with a requirement for institutions to specify how many essays or how much work students can expect to have marked on each course – and whether feedback will be written or discussed… Without radical changes to how universities were financed however it was going to be difficult to change their behaviour. Now there is an opportunity to use our funding changes to push a real cultural change back towards teaching.

David Willetts. 2013. Robbins Revisited.


> Open data will not save your educational future…<

we see a clear potential to unlock significant economic value by applying advanced analytics to both open and proprietary knowledge.

James Manyika et al.. 2013. Open data: Unlocking innovation and performance with liquid information.


>Open data and learning gain will unlock your value for their accumulation…<

As part of our commitment to supporting excellence and innovation in teaching and learning, as outlined in the HEFCE Business Plan, we are working with the sector to develop better ways of capturing excellent educational outcomes, including new approaches to measuring students’ learning. Developing our understanding of student learning is integral to ongoing debates about the quality and impact of higher education, and how we evidence the value of investment in it.

Learning gain has been defined and conceptualised in a number of ways. For our purposes, we define learning gain as the ‘distance travelled’: the improvement in knowledge, skills, work-readiness and personal development demonstrated by students at two points in time. There has been increasing interest, both nationally and internationally, in this concept in higher education, influenced by a number of key publications and programmes of work.

Our work on learning gain is part of a broader programme of work that is intended to improve students’ educational outcomes, and to provide insight to improve teaching practice and enhance capability (at an institutional strategic, department and individual academic level) across the sector. The development of a better range of indicators of the outcomes of higher education also has the potential to enhance student decision-making and to demonstrate more clearly, to Government and to students, the value of their investments in higher education.

HEFCE. 2015. Invitation to submit expressions of interest in piloting and evaluating measures of learning gain.


Increased fees and pressures on public funding mean we have to:

demonstrate the quality of higher education provision

evidence the positive impact of HE

evidence the value for money of investment in HE.

Madeleine Atkins. 2015. Measuring what matters: Learning gain in higher education.


> Who benefits from learning gain?<

For a five-year contract, Pearson was paid $32 million to produce standardized tests for New York. Its contract in Texas was worth $500 million. Pearson also owns Connections Academy, a company that runs for-profit, virtual charter schools. It also owns the GED program, although competitors have been creating alternatives in order to combat Pearson’s expensive tests. By and large, the massive corporation has far-reaching control over the education industry.

One of the best ways a standardized testing corporation can make more money is by coming up with new standards, which is why it’s not surprising that Pearson has played a role in crafting the new Common Core State Standards, a new set of standards set to be implemented in most states this coming school year. Advocates argue these new standards will increase but not improve testing —which will now be done on computers many schools don’t even have.

Peter Cohen, CEO of Pearson’s K-12 division, said: “It’s a really big deal. The Common Core standards are affecting literally every part of the business we’re involved in.”

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank, estimates implementing the new standards will cost the nation between $1 billion and $8 billion. Nearly all the profits will go to book publishers and test creators like Pearson and CTB/McGraw-Hill.

As corporations have found they can profit from turning students into unimaginative machines, they are newly discovering they can profit from standardizing teachers as well. Pearson’s new edTPA standardized assessments will determine teacher certification. Seven states have already adopted edTPA, with New York set to implement the program in May 2014.

Alyssa Figueroa. 2013. 8 Things You Should Know About Corporations Like Pearson that Make Huge Profits from Standardized Tests.


I’ve been following policy developments in English HE aimed at modifying academic behaviour over the past few weeks : specifically (though not exclusively) a HEFCE seminar on “Learning Gain” and the ongoing deliberation around the REF and HEFCE’s (shortly to be released) allocation of QR funding that will be linked to it.

The latent conspiracy theorist in me insists that I mention that both “Learning Gain” and the “Impact” component of the REF are being designed and delivered by Rand Europe. And Rand, in a triumph of private sector management excellence, are basically doing the same job twice. Though in disparate fields, both initiatives are an attempt to do the following:

  • to measure an attribute of education or research that was previously thought immeasurable.
  • to use this scheme of measurement nationally, across multiple institutions in multiple contexts
  • to make an assessment of the activity that allows significant gain to be made against these measurement schemes.
  • To reward and fund these areas of “excellence”, to encourage others

This faux-scientific nonsense has replaced the kind of small targeted investment in the community that has been proven to actually work. The kind of thing that other HE sectors around the world have learned from the UK and are currently implementing whilst we import failed approaches from elsewhere.

David Kernohan. 2015. Shame, pain, disdain and learning gain.


> Who is co-opted into the disciplining of student labour through learning gain and learning analytics?<

Capturing and analyzing data has changed how decisions are made and resources are allocated in businesses, journalism, government, and military and intelligence fields. Through better use of data, leaders are able to plan and enact strategies with greater clarity and confidence. Data drives increased organizational efficiency and a competitive advantage. Simply, analytics provide new insight and actionable intelligence.

In education, the use of data and analytics to improve learning is referred to as learning analytics. Analytics have not yet made the impact on education that they have made in other fields. That’s starting to change. Software companies, researchers, educators, and university leaders recognize the value of data in improving not only teaching and learning, but the entire education sector. In particular, learning analytics enables universities, schools, and corporate training departments to improve the quality of learning and overall competitiveness. Research communities such as the International Educational Data Mining Society (IEDMS) and the Society for Learning Analytics Research (SoLAR) are developing promising models for improving learner success through predictive analytics, machine learning, recommender systems (content and social), network analysis, tracking the development of concepts through social systems, discourse analysis, and intervention and support strategies. The era of data and analytics in learning is just beginning.

edX. 2014. Data, Analytics and Learning.


> Whose futures are subsumed in this rush to measure?<

Occupy LSE, in its founding statement, made clear that the ethos of the neoliberal university is where the institution ‘sells-itself’ to potential clients (i.e. students) seeking ‘value-adding’ work processes (i.e. education) administered by profit-making service providers (i.e. universities) and employed workers (i.e. lecturers) to work on individual ‘human capital’ so as to improve ‘earning potential’ in the world of work. It was clear in the occupation’s outreach that the marketisation of higher education and the imposition of fees has changed the culture of students and institutions, creating entrenched interests and cultural perceptions which have become ‘sticky’. Many students that Occupy LSE canvassed were very critical or unamused at the occupation – some complaining that we were ‘ruining the image’ of the institution they had paid so much to attend and whose logo added so much value to their CV. When universities charge so much for one to attend, it produces, by the very nature of the monetary investment and debt involved, a cultural mentality where education acts as a service which must have a clear dividend to be profitable (usually a well-paying job)….

Yet at the same time as treating the university as a business, students as consumers, lecturers as providers of ‘value-adding’ services, and degrees serving as instruments for increasing ‘earning potential’, the class of managers also acknowledges the deep spiritual gap left by this process of commodification. The university truly becomes a factory, where the institution, and the individual subjects it produces, measures the price of everything, but the value of nothing.

Matt Myers. 2015. Report from the LSE occupation.


>What are the labour relations implications of this new front in the rule of money?<

government and universities are actively supporting HR and professional development projects that anticipate long-term casualisation of university teaching, and focus on better handling of this risk. This reflects the adjustment of TEQSA’s calculations away from hinting that casualisation could be “excessive”, towards an expectation that majority casualisation of university teaching can be properly managed and performed with robust procedures and a positive attitude.

Kate Bowles. 2015. The New Normal.


In return for accepting an attack on their working conditions, Warwick’s precariat are being offered the chance to invest in their human capital. They can access resources to help their Continuing Personal Development (CPD), and expand their CV in the process.

In short, the hope of one day possible escaping precarity is being leveraged as a way of binding staff to the very structures which make them precarious.

The University of Warwick is evidence of a growing trend amongst UK universities. The social democratic university ideal of institutions where everyone shares common goals, common commitment and participated in collective processes of education as guided by democratic structures is very, very dead.

Instead, democracy has been systematically killed off, and there is an increasingly confrontational and repressive approach to dissent. The kettling of students in 2010 and Birmingham University’s vindictive campaign of repression against dissenting students was only the first indication of this sea change. The mediation and negotiation of different interests has been abandoned, and any attempt to force concessions from managerial overlords has led to prolonged antagonism.

We cannot just imagine our way out of this situation. Any progress will rely on making collective interventions in the relations and forces which structure the university.

We are increasingly seeing a polarisation in university life: it’s the yobs versus the managers.

John Murray. 2015. 6 Things Warwick University’s New Temp Agency Tells Us About Academic Precarity.


In a service-dominated economy that cares very little about values, facts, relationships, joy, satisfaction, wellbeing we are nevertheless supposed to be or perform happiness, relationships and values (of the company at least). When transferable skills come to dominate education and employment above all others, we can be sure that what is really being taught is the ability to be transferable. An education that focused instead on values, deep knowledge and intransigence would be an education for a different world.

Nina Power. 2015. The ‘transferable skills’ paradigm is cover for the creation of transferable people


the newest wave of automation is leaving some jobs to humans. Work involving creativity, problem-solving, and social intelligence are all off-limits to automation for the time being. But these are mostly high-skilled, high-waged jobs, and they are often jobs that are difficult not only for machines, but also for humans.

In the earliest waves of automation (for example the mechanisation of craft work), the biggest section of the labour market under threat was relatively high-skilled workers who posed a threat to capitalists and management. Low-skilled jobs were both cheap and relatively easy to discipline, and offered numerous outlets for displaced workers. Yet today, it is largely low-skilled, low-waged jobs (both manual and cognitive) which are under threat – a situation which makes this wave of automation significantly different from previous ones.

Nick Srnicek. 2015. 4 Reasons Why Technological Unemployment Might Really Be Different This Time.


> Rage against the rule of learning gain: the leverage, co-opted rule of money.<

And so we rage against the rule of money. Not against money itself, necessarily, because in the present society we need money to live. We rage rather against the rule of money, against a society in which money dominates. Money is a great bulldozer tearing up the world. It is an insidious force penetrating ever more aspects of our lives. Money holds society together, but it does so in a way that tears it apart.

At one stage it seemed we had pushed the rule of money back, at least in areas like health and education. It was never really so, and for a long time we have seen the progressive re-imposition of the rule of money as the prime criterion for every decision. Now money has emerged in all its arrogance. That is what makes us so angry – the government has proclaimed openly “Money is king, bow low to the king!”

Rage, then, rage against the rule of money! As long as money rules, injustice and violence prevail – money is the breach between the starving and the food, the gap between the homeless and the houses. As long as money rules we are trapped in a dynamic that nobody controls and that is visibly destroying the possibility of human existence.

Money seems all powerful, yet it is not. It is merely a form of social cohesion, and depends on our compliance. Say no, then. Do something else, do things in a different way. Refuse and create.

John Holloway. 2011. Today’s march is a challenge to the rule of money.


notes on the discipline and governance of academic/student labour

Two members of staff have been sacked by the University of Bolton for allegedly leaking information to the press about the vice-chancellor, George Holmes… UCU said many staff are angry, confused and frightened after the extraordinary dismissal of two of their colleagues and the shock resignation of the pro-vice-chancellor.

Universities and Colleges Union, 26 March 2015


“This shows you what we’re dealing with – these [students] are just yobs.” [A] spokesperson from Warwick for Free Education… said: “His comment distills the patronising and dismissive attitude sustained by management throughout the entire summit and demonstrates the total contempt they feel for their students. “It seems that objecting to being CS gassed and threatened with tasers makes us ‘yobs’. “If that is the case, we’d rather be yobs than authoritarian managers who run universities like businesses and treat angry students like an irrelevant inconvenience.”

Lauren Clarke, Warwick University Vice-Chancellor overheard calling student protesters ‘yobs’, 17 March 2015


In my book Tenir Tête I quoted philosophy professor Christian Nadeau, who speaks of the emergence, in the spring of 2012, of a phenomenon of media brutality directed towards students. Incendiary columns and statements progressively ostracized, cursed, ridiculed and scorned the young demonstrators, stripping them of their rights as citizens and political actors. That phenomenon is being reproduced in front of our eyes today, with renewed speed and redoubled venom. Now, faced with an enemy who has been symbolically criminalized, only one approach is possible: total war. When a social group is isolated and ostracized in this way it is no surprise that the police feel more empowered to deal with them violently. Police officers don’t live in a bubble: they are exposed to the same media messages as the rest of the population. The officers of the SPVQ are no exception. They heard, along with many others, the calls to violence from the hosts of talk radio. What state of mind do you imagine that puts them in, when it comes time to don their armour?

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, Quebec police don’t live in a bubble, 30 March 2015


The argument against this is that the constitutional view isolates the [University] from its social environment: it attributes to the [University] an autonomy of action that it just does not have. In reality, what the [University] does is limited and shaped by the fact that it exists as just one node in a web of social relations. Crucially, this web of social relations centres on the way in which work is organised. The fact that work is organised on a capitalist basis means that what the [University] does and can do is limited and shaped by the need to maintain the system of capitalist organisation of which it is a part. Concretely, this means that any [University] that takes significant action directed against the interests of capital will find that an economic crisis will result and that capital will flee from the [University] territory.

Pace John Holloway, How to Change the World Without Taking Power


Nearly £3 million was invested by the universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Strathclyde and Aberdeen-based Robert Gordon in companies linked to the arms trade. The largest sum was the £1.3m invested by Glasgow University in a number of firms including BAE Systems, Europe’s largest arms firm. [A] spokeswoman for Universities Scotland, which represents university principals, said the oil and gas, alcohol and defence industries all had a significant presence in Scotland with a large export contribution to the country’s economy.

Andrew Denholm, Scottish universities investing millions in arms companies, 6 April 2015


For Universities, trust is a necessary and, in my opinion, critical formula. The right environment for academics whether primarily focused on research or on learning requires “permissive” cultures. That does not mean anarchic but it does mean oxygenated without the dead hand which can so easily be played out with a regulatory “club”. So the best governing bodies use governance as a foundation stone but then help University leadership build from there to create a vibrant, innovative, stimulating and successful physical and cultural edifice. As peripatetics of the University, we must listen to the noises inside and outside. Those inputs to our “sonar” system reinforce or refute what we hear through the formal channels. When the two are broadly in harmony, it reinforces the organisational tone which Council expects to be set to create and deliver University purpose. When there is more than a little dissonance (there is always some), it is very likely that Council will see the University come up short in delivering that purpose.

Ed Smith, Governance in the HE sector – ingredients for success.


Harriet Bergman, a first-year research master graduate student in philosophy at UvA also studying economics at the undergraduate level, told Truthout attempts to put a price on everything, maximize output and run the university like a company have had disastrous results. She said the rule of rendementsdenken devalues important areas of inquiry – like language studies – not easily translatable into profit, while education at the university now tends to be treated in a merely instrumental way. “It’s becoming a degree factory,” she said about UvA. Natalie Scholz, professor of history at the university, wrote that struggling “to keep up with the output expectations in everything we do,” as demanded by the existing university structure, “we are quickly paralyzed by the thought, ‘You are not good enough.’ “ She said this culture of fear and shame is tied to the university’s obsession with reputation and public image.

James Anderson, Occupation at University of Amsterdam Challenges the Logic of Market-Driven Education, 9 April 2015


Demand #4: Free education The building in which we are occupying epitomises the notion that our university now feels and behaves more like a business than an art school. We are sitting in a fish-bowl room, with floor-to-ceiling windows, round glass conference table and chrome swivel chairs. UAL rents this building from Argent, a property developer who ‘make places for people’. Argent’s owner is one of the major donors to the Conservative Party. Their security, wearing the infamous red beanie hats branded with ‘King’s Cross’ have already notified the police, and are circling the site with sniffer dogs.

So, Demand #5: We have the right to protest This university should first and foremost be an establishment for education, not for money-making. Students should have the right not only to move in and out of this occupation as they wish, but should always have free access to the university buildings.

UAL students: Why We’re Occupying Our Art School, 21 March 2015


We organize against the marketization of our education, which subjects us to extortionate accommodation and tuition fees, our lecturers to continual real wage cuts and precarious, casualized contracts whilst VC pay continually rises, which circumscribes bursaries and diminishes access to education for minorities and structurally disadvantaged groups, which proposes cuts to Disabled Student’s Allowance and NHS fees for international students, which conceptualizes us as ‘stakeholders’ and our education as an ‘investment’, which deems us resources from which to extract profit in soaring Warwick retail prices and sports fees, as graduate employment statistics and data points to vaunt on league tables and student satisfaction surveys, which functionalises our education not as a social and public good, not as an inspiring, empowering and transformative experience through which to pursue our passions and nourish our artistic, creative and critical capacities, but rather as a conduit into industrial placements and unpaid internships with GSK, Shell and BAE systems, as a commodity with specified utility in the labour market.

Warwick for Free Education


the new regime has been all about putting students and the value of the experience they receive at the heart of the system, where it ought to be. It’s been about increasing information to inform choice; driving up the quality of higher education; freeing you from the restrictive student number controls and helping students to get their first choice of university. you will want to ensure the story is one of a sector delivering the highest value for students and in research – and as Professor Diamond has said, “scaling the twin peaks of excellence and efficiency”.

Greg Clark, Higher education: strength in diversity, Speech given at the annual gathering of university leaders at the Universities UK ‘Strength in Diversity’ conference, 10 September 2014.


If we are serious about academic freedom for academics, then institutional governance needs overhauling. But it has to be done by academics. No HE legislation in 2015/16 is going to undo chronic managerialism with its bullying and incompetence.

Andrew McGettigan, Academic Freedom: for Institutions or Academics? 4 April 2015


fragments of a gift

There is a Spotify playlist for all these fragments. It’s here.


There are shattered fragments. Projections of what I choose to remember. What I choose to remember framed by what I want to remember. What I want to remember better framed by love.

And I’m thinking about the fragments of our life in those last months together. A set of moments in those months when we drove to the hospital and conversed with consultants. And retreated to the Black Country Arms to distil what was happening. To try to make sense of the despair.

I remember the daily texts from my Dad full of hope and courage, and the faith that it would be okay. That we just had to keep on.

That he would just keep on with dignity was his gift to us all.

I remember the Thursday. Discussing caring and how to help my Dad, in The Crossing at St Paul’s, because we didn’t know how long this would continue. And I remember the conversation with the GP about a separate diagnosis for anxiety and depression, away from the dementia, sparked my my friend Jon’s care and attention.

And I remember that when we arrived at my Dad’s the urgency of that discussion evaporated to be replaced with another.

And I remember the hours sitting under Mom’s gurney and waiting for admittance to a ward. And thinking how tiring it is to keep explaining illness over-and-over-and-over again.

And I remember our exhaustion as we drove home at midnight. And trying not to think what this meant. As the hourglass turned for the final time.

And I remember travelling back there on the train with Andrew on the Saturday to watch the Saddlers draw with the Blades. And how important it was that we could chew the fat about nothing and everything for a few hours. About belief.

And I remember walking the back-streets of Walsall one last time to the Manor Hospital. Walking as a penance or as a pilgrimage, set against the sands running out.

And I remember that it was just she and me there that evening. And for an hour and a half I just told her “I love you”, as I held her hand.

And I remember how relieved I was that Jo was just in network range in the North and could make it back to anchor us all.

Jo’s gift: diligently anchoring us.

And I remember that my friends Joss and Sue came over three weeks later for the funeral. And only now do I realise that they were pointing me towards life.

And I could just remember the catastrophe of it all, but to what end? Because the only thing that counts is the last thing she heard from any of us: “I love you”. And that the last thing she saw of any of us was my eyes, full of love.

And perhaps she did everything she could, in spite of everything. And in spite of everything the truth is that I loved her more than heaven and earth.

And this is triggered by the anniversary that looms, and by a friend telling me unprompted that she loved me. An echo of that final moment with my Mom.

So that the thing I choose to remember is the last beautiful, untroubled smile she gave me. A fragment. A gift. Unconditional.


The evil it spread like a fever ahead
It was night when you died, my firefly
What could I have said to raise you from the dead?
Oh could I be the sky on the Fourth of July?

Well you do enough talk
My little hawk, why do you cry?
Tell me what did you learn from the Tillamook burn?
Or the Fourth of July?
We’re all gonna die

Sitting at the bed with the halo at your head
Was it all a disguise, like Junior High
Where everything was fiction, future, and prediction
Now, where am I? My fading supply

Did you get enough love, my little dove
Why do you cry?
And I’m sorry I left, but it was for the best
Though it never felt right
My little Versailles

The hospital asked should the body be cast
Before I say goodbye, my star in the sky
Such a funny thought to wrap you up in cloth
Do you find it all right, my dragonfly?

Shall we look at the moon, my little loon
Why do you cry?
Make the most of your life, while it is rife
While it is light

Well you do enough talk
My little hawk, why do you cry?
Tell me what did you learn from the Tillamook burn?
Or the Fourth of July?
We’re all gonna die

Sufjan Stevens. 2015. Fourth of July.

 


on educational technology and divestment

I spoke yesterday about the relationships between higher education institutions, the policy makers who frame the space inside which the University is being financialised and marketised, the technology companies which are attempting to leverage value from the education sector, and the finance/venture capitalists that are underwriting educational technologies. There is a slideshow on my slideshare, and a podcast of the session here.

I have written elsewhere about the implications of this transnational network, or association, of capitals both for higher education practice and for students and academics. I have also written elsewhere about the power of such a dominant network of merchants in higher education. I have also written elsewhere about how these networks amplify the militarisation of higher education. However, there is one specific point that I made yesterday, which I wish to reiterate here, which is connected to divestment. The recent occupation by students at the London School of Economics included in its list of demands divestment, stating:

We demand that the school cuts its ties to exploitative and destructive organisations, such as those involved in wars, military occupations and the destruction of the planet. This includes but is not limited to immediate divestment from the fossil fuel industry and from all companies which make a profit from the Israeli state’s occupation of Palestine.

This idea of questioning which firms, companies, products, whatever, universities invest in recomposes any discussion of educational technology. There are some fundamental questions here about the networks of hegemonic power that universities are folded into, which link technology and data mining firms, venture and finance capitalists, academics, and the military. So we might ask, for example:

Who supplies our virtual learning environment?

Is there a parent company?

What are the relationships of the parent company to finance or venture capital?

What other companies does this parent company own? What activities are they involved in? Securitisation? Training the military? Biotechnology?

What networks of power is the company that supplies our virtual learning environment mapped onto?

What networks of power is the University mapped onto through its connections rooted in educational technology?

Through its deployment of educational technologies, how is the University complicit in activities that reinforce and reproduce hegemonic power? How does it reinforce and reproduce unsustainable narratives of growth? Given the energy and carbon embedded in high technologies, how does such deployment map onto concerns voiced by the keep it in the ground campaign?

This final question is rooted in our academic engagement with high technology firms that are seeking to use education in order to expand the orbit for value accumulation and extraction, in particular where fundamental questions are being raised about the impact on the global climate of unrestricted models of economic growth. All of a sudden we are forced to ask fundamental questions of political economy about the educational technologies that we deploy.

Clearly inside a policy space that is being opened-up for-profit through competition, divesting from such webs is problematic, and demands a larger conversation about the idea of the University as a public good. In the UK, former Universities Minister, David Willetts argued “conventional universities no longer hold all the cards on how the higher education market develops.” Around the same time, the Institute for Public Policy Research noted in its report, Securing the future of higher education that there was a need to open the market-up through: first, access to open data (which would increase accountability and consumerism); second, the rule of money in underpinning efficiency and improving the student experience; and third, by encouraging competition from new providers who would bring innovation, entrepreneurialism and cost-efficiency.

As Will Davies notes in the limits of neoliberalism such entrepreneurial activity is enacted through new combinations of technologies and practices to inject novelty into the circuits of capitalism. These associations of capitals, or venture capitals, which are able to leverage value transnationally are rooted in competition and an idea of entrepreneurial activity that is rooted in a new productive environment that accommodates power: first in expanding the time-scale for returns; second in expanding the arena for competition.

Investment in educational technology is also a space which, as Audrey Watters notes in Men Still Explain, is dominated by men from the global North.

Culturally. Ideologically. There’s a problem with the Internet. Largely designed by men from the developed world, it is built for men of the developed world. Men of science. Men of industry. Military men. Venture capitalists. Despite all the hype and hope about revolution and access and opportunity that these new technologies will provide us, they do not negate hierarchy, history, privilege, power. They reflect those. They channel it. They concentrate it, in new ways and in old.

There are serious questions about whether academics and students are content with these hegemonic positions and whether we are able collectively to understand the role of educational technology inside our universities and colleges without developing a critique of its relationships to a transnational capitalist class. We might wish to use such a critique to question where academic labour is invested and from where is might be divested. Such a critique needs to be aligned with the realities of divestment from fossil fuels. This is a political issue that is in tension with the realities of the security state and the regimes of power that are maintained through transnational flows of capital, and which educational technology reveals. We should be seeking to discuss on campus whether we are content with our educational connections to educational technology products that are rooted in financialised and marketised responses to the secular crisis of capitalism. We should be seeking to discuss on campus how educational technology reinforces our implicit, academic links to venture capital, private equity, the military and security firms.

My presentation closed with two questions.

Inside the University, can educational technology be (ref)used politically to recompose the realities of global struggles, rather than for value?

What does divestment imply for the use of educational technology?

We should be seeking to discuss on campus what our activities and our relationships help to legitimate, and whether a diversity of alternative positions is possible beyond the market and those who maintain the power of the market over everyday, public life.


against educational technology in the neoliberal University

On Wednesday I’m presenting at the University of Westminster’s Communication and Media Research Institute (CAMRI). The talk discussion is titled: against educational technology in the neoliberal University. There are details/an abstract here.

My slides are available from my slideshare.


There is no shade in the shadow of the cross

It was Mother’s Day the other day. The most painful day. That is until the anniversary of her death. And every day in-between, I wake up and my heart breaks again.

In an interview Sufjan Stevens says:

Her death was so devastating to me because of the vacancy within me. I was trying to gather as much as I could of her, in my mind, my memory, my recollections, but I have nothing. It felt unsolvable. There is definitely a deep regret and grief and anger. I went through all the stages of bereavement. But I say make amends while you can: Take every opportunity to reconcile with those you love or those who’ve hurt you.

They always talk about the science of bereavement, and how there is a measurable pattern and cycle of grief, but my experience was lacking in any kind of natural trajectory. It felt really sporadic and convoluted. I would have a period of rigorous, emotionless work, and then I would be struck by deep sadness triggered by something really mundane[.]

And he is right. There is no shade in the shadow of the cross.


The University and the Secular Crisis

I am delighted to have a paper accepted by the Open Library of the Humanities on the University and the Secular Crisis. The paper builds on my inaugural, the slides for which are here. It also extends the arguments that I made on this site here and here and here and here, in an article about the abolition of academic labour.

The article will be out in September(-ish), but the abstract is appended below.

Abstract

The economic crisis of 2008 was followed by a persistent recession, with low levels of growth, weak aggregate demand and high levels of underemployment or unemployment. For several recent authors this forced an engagement with the idea that the global economy is witnessing a secular stagnation or crisis. This article is situated against the changing landscape of English HE and seeks to understand the implications of the secular crisis on that sector and on the idea of the University. It examines how responses to the secular crisis have amplified the twin forces of marketization and financialisation that are reconstituting the higher education sector for the production, circulation and accumulation of value. It then places this analysis inside the political economic realities of there is no alternative to the logic of choice and competition. The argument is then made that as this cultural turn affects the idea of what the University is for, both historically and materially, academics and students need to consider the potential for developing post-capitalist alternatives. The central point is that by developing a critique of the restructuring of higher education and of the idea of the University through political economy, alternative forms of knowing and developing socially-useful practices can emerge.

Keywords: higher education; political economy; secular crisis; university


For a political economy of Massive Open Online Courses

I have a new article out in Learning, Media and Technology, titled “For a political economy of Massive Open Online Courses”. The abstract and keywords are below.

There are 50 eprints available.

Abstract

In understanding the changes that are impacting the global higher education sector, developing a critique of the relationships between technology and technological innovation, new managerialism and financialisation, and the impact of the secular crisis of global capitalism, is critical. Moreover, it is important to critique these changes historically and geographically, in order to understand how political economics shapes the space in which higher education policy and practice is recalibrated for capital accumulation and profitability.

This article will argue that educational innovations like MOOCs might usefully be examined in light of the relationships between: technological and organisational innovation; the historical tendency of the rate of profit to fall that is affecting competing educational providers; the disciplinary role of the State in shaping an educational space for further capital accumulation; and the subsumption of open networks to the neoliberal project of accumulation and profitability. Such an analysis then enables a critique of the claims that are made for open networks in delivering new forms of sociability that transcend structures of power and domination.

As a result of this political economic critique, the article will situate the emergence of MOOCs inside-and-against Capital’s drive to subsume labour practices inside technologically-mediated forms of coercion, command and control. It will argue that the ways in which MOOCs and the services that are derived from them are then valorised might offer a glimpse of how the neoliberal educational project is disciplining academic labour and how it might be resisted.

Keywords: academic labour; MOOC; rate of profit; sociability; technological innovation


notes on the [inevitable] proletarianisation of the University

Some follow-on notes on the proletarianisation of the University.


Going to school, being a student is work. This work is called schoolwork although it is not usually considered to really be work since we don’t receive any wages for doing it. This does not mean that schoolwork is not work, but rather that they have taught us to believe that only if you are paid do you really work.

But the Left runs afoul of that old question posed to previous enlighteners of the working class: who shall educate the educators? Since the Left does not start from the obvious: schoolwork is unwaged work, all its efforts lead to more unwaged work for capital, to more exploitation. All its attempts to increase class consciousness remain oblivious to capital’s constrol on its own ground and so the left ends in consistently supporting capital’s efforts to intensify work, in rationalizing and disciplining the working class. So the “building of socialism” becomes just another device for getting more free work in the service of capital.

For those of us who do not receive such support, not getting a wage means having to work an additional job outside of school. And since the labor market is saturated with students looking for these jobs, capital imposes minimum wages and benefits on us. As a result, we work even more hours or even additional jobs. Since our schoolwork is unpaid, most of us work during the so-called summer vacation. Even if we take the time off we have no money with which to enjoy it. The absurdity of this is even further magnified by the very high productivity requirements which are constantly being imposed on us as students (exams, quizzes, papers, etc.) and by the way we are being programmed so that we impose further productivity requirements on ourselves (extra credit work, outside reading and thinking for our classes – not for ourselves, on-the-job training, student teaching, etc.) On the other hand, we are forced to work for nothing and on the other, we are forced to work for almost nothing.

We must force capital, which profits from our work, to pay for our schoolwork. Only then can we stop depending on financial aid, our parents, working second and third jobs or working during summer vacations for our existence. We already earn a wage; now we must be paid for it. Only in this way can we seize more power to use in our dealings with capital.

The Wages for Students Students. 1975. Wages for Students


York University said classes are still suspended on Tuesday, but said some may resume soon after contract faculty split with teaching assistants and agreed to accept a new contract offer.

[the Canadian Union of Public Employees] says about two-thirds of undergraduate courses at the universities are taught by non-tenured staff who are paid about $15,000 a year.

CBC News. 2015. York University offer rejected by 2 of 3 bargaining units of CUPE 3903


“I feel sick.” Reaction of one of my students when she found out how much I earn as an #adjunct in relation to her #tuition. #afterNAWD

@iamyanity, 6 March 2015


National Adjunct wrote that the goal of the protest is to raise awareness of the problems part-time profs face, including workplace isolation, lack of resources, an increasing workload, little job security, and no support from school administrators.

John Martin, a history professor and chairman of the California Part Time Faculty Association, said hard data about the number of working adjuncts is hard to come by, but evidence suggests it’s “easily” at least 50 percent of faculty at four-year institutions, and probably closer to 60 percent nationwide.

“The California state university system has officially announced that 51 percent of the student body is taught by part-time lecturers,” he said, adding that many of them need several teaching jobs to make ends meet. “It’s just continually rising and rising and rising.”

“The adjunct crisis is one piece of this puzzle,” National Adjunct wrote. “The short answer is that higher education [is] losing its mission. At the same time tuition, student fees, and student debt have increased at unprecedented rates, administrative positions and salaries have risen, while reliance on contingent faculty has jumped to 75 percent. That’s really a stunning number—75 percent of college courses in the U.S. are taught by contingent faculty, most of whom do not earn a living wage, and have no job security!”

Joseph Williams. 2015. Tuition Is Up, So Why Are College Profs on Welfare?


Current student protests are typically about tuition fees, the outsourcing of in-house services, staff redundancies and other issues related to the inexorable move towards a for-profit higher education system. They strive to resist the furtherance of a neoliberal agenda, and express values that are not money-driven.

They also represent a wake-up call especially for academics. Some of us are fortunate to work in institutions that continue to regard higher education as a public good, and to value social democracy, freedom of expression, transparency and consultative practices. Sadly, we can no longer assume that principles of good governance remain the norm across the sector. We must therefore vigilantly guard against the erosion of the principles of good governance in our home institutions at the same time as we support those who no longer work in environments conducive to the upholding of principles we thought went without saying.

Marie-Bénédicte Dembour . 2015. British universities and the prevalence of ‘bad governance’.


The University works because we do.

As it currently stands, TAs at the University of Toronto – Canada’s richest, and purportedly best public university – live at 35% under the poverty line. Once we’re finished our course work, domestic students continue to pay $8,500 for tuition and international students pay over $15,000 – for a library card and monthly meetings with our supervisors. All comparable institutions in the United States offer post-residency fees to reflect this reality.

Sessional professors have virtually no job security and mere $275 in health care despite having the same qualifications as full time faculty.

At the same time, tuition rates continue to climb and class sizes increase.

Where is your money going? Who, exactly, faces challenging fiscal realities? The students and education workers at U of T who live under the poverty line, or an institution that spends $2 billion annually, has billions of dollars in investments, and recently announced an income stream of $200 million for 2015?

CUPE3902 #WeAreUofT. 2015.


Free education is a clearly feminist demand. When you argue for the redistribution of wealth from highly paid university executives to low paid cleaners, you benefit migrant women. When you argue for a liberated curriculum, you benefit overlooked women theorists and academics. When you argue for true living grants for all who study, you benefit the 92% of carers who are women and state living costs as one of the major factors that put them off education. Free education is a demand for liberation, and too often this is forgotten – or worse, name-checked and not acted upon – in the mainstream student movement.

We are not in the University of London by accident. Senate House is the administrative heart of the University, and yet it is a University that does not actually teach anyone directly, it is a service provider to its constituent colleges. This service- and branding-based model is the epitome of the neoliberal model of marketised education. What good is a University that only provides a brand, not education?

You could ask further – what good is a university that not only provides no education directly, but also treats its lowest paid workers appallingly? We stand in solidarity with Nuvia, an outsourced cleaner sacked without warning when six months pregnant and call for fair working conditions for all staff here. The majority of all minimum waged work is undertaken by women, and women are more likely to work part time or on precarious zero hour contracts. The rights of women workers, and of migrant women workers in particular, cannot be ignored by the mainstream feminist student movement any longer.

You could ask even further – what good is a University which not only does not provide education, and treats its lowest paid workers appallingly but also calls the police on its own students?

NCAFC. 2015. Why We Are Occupying Senate House (UoL)


People working in education are the group most likely to be putting in unpaid overtime and clocking up the most free hours a week, according to figures released today.

UCU. 2015. Education workers are doing the most unpaid overtime.


Think about the drive of capitalists to expand their capital, the drive to increase the exploitation of workers. How can they do this? One way is by getting workers to work more for the capitalists, for example by extending the workday or intensifying the workday (speedup). Another is to drive down the wages of workers. And, still another is to prevent workers from being the beneficiaries of advances in social knowledge and social productivity. Capital is constantly on the search for ways to expand the workday in length and intensity—which, of course, is contrary to the needs of human beings to have time for themselves for rest and for their own self-development. Capital is also constantly searching for ways to keep down and drive down wages, which of course means to deny workers the ability to satisfy their existing needs and to share in the fruits of social labor. How does capital achieve this? In particular, it does so by separating workers, by turning them against each other.

The logic of capital has nothing to do with the needs of human beings. So practices such as the use of racism and patriarchy to divide workers, the use of the state to outlaw or crush trade unions, the destruction of people’s lives by shutting down operations and moving to parts of the world where people are poor, unions banned, and environmental regultions nonexistent—are not accidental but the product of a society in which human beings are simply means for capital.

Workers, it appears, have an interest in the health of capitalists, have an interest in expanding demand on the part of capitalists for their labor-power—by education, tradition, and habit, they come to look upon the needs of capital as self-evident natural laws, as common sense. The reproduction of workers as wage-laborers requires the reproduction of capital.

So, we return to our question—what keeps capitalism going? How is capitalism reproduced as a system? I think you can see the answer that I am offering: capital tends to produce the working class it needs. It produces workers who look upon it as necessary—a system that is unfair, one that requires you to struggle constantly to realize your needs, a system run by people out to get you, yet a system where the reproduction of capital is necessary for the reproduction of wage-laborers. What keeps capitalism going? Wage-laborers. The reproduction of workers as wage-laborers is necessary for the reproduction of capital.

Workers are not simply the products of capital. They are formed (and form themselves) through all the relationships in which they exist. And, they transform themselves through their struggles—not only those against capital but also against those other relations like patriarchy and racism. Even though these struggles may take place fully within the confines of capitalist relations, in the course of engaging in collective struggles people develop a new sense of themselves. They develop new capacities, new understandings of the importance of collective struggle. People who produce themselves as revolutionary subjects through their struggles enter into their relations with capital as different people; in contrast to those who are not in motion, they are open to developing an understanding of the nature of capital.

Michael A. Lebowitz. 2004. What Keeps Capitalism Going?


What we are really trying to say is that capitalism, through its process of production, produces an awesome schizophrenic accumulation of energy or charge, against which it brings all its vast powers of repression to bear, but which nonetheless continues to act as capitalism’s limit. For capitalism constantly counteracts, constantly inhibits this inherent tendency while at the same time allowing it free rein; it continually seeks to avoid reaching its limit while simultaneously tending toward that limit.Capitalism institutes or restores all sorts of residual and artificial, imaginary, or symbolic territorialities, thereby attempting, as best it can, to recode, to rechannel persons who have been defined in terms of abstract quantities. Everything returns or recurs: States, nations, families. That is what makes the ideology of capitalism “a motley painting of everything that has ever been believed.” The real is not impossible; it is simply more and more artificial. Marx termed the twofold movement of the tendency to a falling rate of profit, and the increase in the absolute quantity of surplus value, the law of the counteracted tendency. As a corollary of this law, there is the twofold movement of decoding or deterritorializing flows on the one hand, and their violent and artificial reterritorialization on the other.

Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. 1983. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, p. 34


The self-exploiting entrepreneur, beguiled by the promise of creative control and autonomy, more often than not ends up merely acting as a node for the flow of capitalist social relations.

Richmond, M. 2014. Unpaid Trials & Self-Exploiting Entrepreneurs.


The civilizing moments themselves are transformed into their opposites and become moments of a second barbarism. Freedom and equality, democracy and human rights begin to display the same features of dehumanization as the market system upon which they are based.

The reason for this lies in the peculiar and insidious quality of the secularized constitution of the fetish of the commodity-form. The commodity-form as universal form of consciousness, of the subject and of reproduction, on the one hand, actually extends the space of subjectivity beyond all pre-modern forms but, on the other hand, precisely on account of its unwavering character as unconscious fetish-form, stirs up a cultural liberation which now, with its spatial and social totalization throughout the planet, definitively unleashes the always-latent monstrous moment in this constitution which is violently manifested in its crisis of affirmation. This monstrosity resides in the contentless abstraction of the fetish of the commodity-form, manifested as reproduction’s total indifference to all perceptible content and as an equal, mutual indifference of abstractly individualized men. At the end of its development and of its history of affirmation, the total commodity-form produces dehumanized and abstract beings, who pose the threat of a regression to a pre-animalistic state

Robert Kurz. 1993. Domination without a subject.


While the nominal quantity of money in the world (including shares, property prices, credit, debt, financial derivatives) is constantly increasing, what money is supposed to represent, i.e. labour, is decreasing into ever-smaller amounts. Thus money has practically no ‘real’ value any more, and a gigantic devaluation of money (firstly in the form of inflation) will be inevitable. But after centuries during which money has constituted social mediation at an ever-higher level, its unorganised, yet sustained devaluation can only trigger a gigantic social regression and the abandonment of a large part of social activity that is no longer ‘profitable’. Thus the end of capitalism’s historical trajectory may well land us with a ‘perverse return’ of sacrifice and usher in a new and postmodern barbarism. Indeed, capitalism is even currently abolishing the meagre ‘progress’ that it once brought and incessantly demands ‘sacrifices’ from men in order to save the money-fetish. Cuts in public health budgets even remind Kurz of the human sacrifices of ancient history practised in order to calm furious gods, and he ends by asserting that ‘the bloodthirsty Aztec priests were a harmless and humane bunch compared to the sacrificer bureaucrats of the global capital fetish when it has reached its internal historical limit.’

For Kurz, we are not witnessing a ‘cyclical’ or ‘growth’ capitalist crisis but experiencing the end of a long historical era, without knowing if the future will be better, or if it will turn out to be a descent into a situation where the vast majority of human beings will not even be worth exploiting any more, but will just be ‘superfluous’ (to the valorisation of capital). Moreover, nobody can control such a runaway machine.

Anselm Jappe. 2014. Kurz, a Journey into Capitalism’s Heart of Darkness, Historical Materialism 22.3–4 (2014) 395–407.


echoes do not make revolutions

Esther Leslie. 2014. Satanic Mills: On Robert Kurz. Historical Materialism 22.3–4 (2014) 408-23.