Dismantling the Curriculum in Higher Education

I’m presenting at the Bishop Grosseteste University learning and teaching conference on Monday 22 June.

There is a fuller blog-post on my topic of dismantling the curriculum in higher education here.


As a response to on-going economic crisis and the politics of austerity, the higher education curriculum in the global North is increasingly co-opted for the production of measurable outcomes. Such co-option emerges through financialisation and marketisation (McGettigan, 2014), and encourages an obsession both with data that can be commodified as learning gain or teaching excellence (Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), 2015), and with the production of tradable services (Fallon, 2014; Harris et al., 2012). As a result, the relationships between teachers and students, and any hope for living more humanely, are driven by a commodity-valuation rooted in the measurement of teacher/student performance. As a result the messy realities of the curriculum are lost and the concrete work that teachers and students do inside and outside the classroom is subsumed under the compulsion to create and accumulate value (Gates Foundation, 2014).

This idea of the subsumption of University life under the dictates of value is critical. It contains within it an unfolding of the relationships between teachers and students, institutions, the State and the market. One result of this unfolding is the production of academic commodities, including the curriculum and the ways in which performance against it is assessed. As a result, we witness the emergence of new tropes rooted in entrepreneurialism and future earnings (Davies 2014; Enterprise for All, 2014), and which restructures the work of teachers and students (Hall, 2014; Winn, 2015).

One way of rethinking this subsumption is to critique it from the perspective of those who are excluded. Educators might then ask, where are the curricula spaces inside formal higher education that enable education as the practice of freedom, when the only freedom available is increasingly that of the labour-market? (bell hooks, 1994) Here the co-operative practices of groups like the Dismantling the Masters House community (DTMH, 2015), the Social Science Centre (2015), and the global fossil fuel divestment movement (Fossil Free, 2015) are relevant in exploring alternatives. Such an exploration, rooted in the organising principles of the curriculum, asks educators to consider how their curriculum reproduces an on-going colonisation by Capital.

This keynote will describe the ways in which the design and delivery of the curriculum in the global North is used to open-up academic practices, so that new financial mechanisms can be created and markets created rooted in new, exportable services. Here the argument is that through performance management, the relationships between teachers and students have become tradable commodities that do not enable us to address global socio-economic and socio-environmental crises. The argument then connects these processes to the possibilities hinted at through alternative approaches to curriculum production and circulation that are rooted in collective work (Zibechi, 2012) and the idea of mass intellectuality. It will be argued that such work, rooted in a co-operative curriculum might enable educators to build an engaged curriculum, through which students and academics no longer simply learn to internalise, monitor and manage their own alienation.


bell hooks. 1994. Teaching to Transgress. London: Routledge.

Davies, W. 2014. The Limits of Neoliberalism: Authority, Sovereignty and the Logic of Competition. London: SAGE.

DTMH. 2015. http://www.dtmh.ucl.ac.uk/

Enterprise for All. 2014. Recommendation one: The Future Earnings and Employment Record (FEER). http://enterpriseforalluk.com/report/recommendation1

Fallon, J. 2013. African outcomes. http://www.hefce.ac.uk/lt/lg/

Fossil Free. 2015. http://gofossilfree.org/commitments/

Gates Foundation, The. 2014. College-Ready Education, Strategy Overview. http://www.gatesfoundation.org/What-We-Do/US-Program/College-Ready-Education.

Hall, R. 2014. On the abolition of academic labour: the relationship between intellectual workers and mass intellectuality. tripleC: Communication, Capitalism & Critique 12(2): 822-37. http://triple-c.at/index.php/tripleC/article/view/597

Harris, K., Schwedel, A. and Kim, A. 2012. A world awash in money. http://www.bain.com/publications/articles/a-world-awash-in-money.aspx

HEFCE. 2015. Learning and teaching excellence: Learning gain. http://www.hefce.ac.uk/lt/lg/

McGettigan, A. 2014. Financialising the University. Arena Magazine. http://arena.org.au/financialising-the-university/.

The Social Science Centre. 2015. http://socialsciencecentre.org.uk/

Winn, J. 2015. The co-operative university: Labour, property and pedagogy. Power and Education 7(1).

Zibechi, R. 2012. Territories in Resistance: A Cartography of Latin American Social Movements.  Oakland, CA: AK Press.

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