notes on leaving: vulnerability; directional demands; possibility

On vulnerability

The HE systems of developing countries become more vulnerable to dominance from abroad, while the hybrid nature of the HE systems in most developed countries means that the protection offered by the GATS exemption of ‘services supplied in the exercise of government authority’ has little value in practice…

Finally, it is clear that the outcomes of the TTIP and TiSA negotiations will be heavily influenced, on the European side, by the complexions of the new Parliament, the new Commission, by the identity of the new presidents of Council and Commission and of the new head of external relations. These factors introduce further unpredictability into an already complex situation.

European Universities Association. Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). EUA, Background Paper, January 2014.

Best case scenario? There’s continuity of the ministerial responsibilities in BIS and the Bill receives parliamentary scrutiny which shapes it into a better piece of legislation. Worst case? The whole thing is shelved and the sector is faced with with the omnishambles of the short-term Brexit fall-out in addition to the disappearing prospect of overdue legislation for the the advancement of the sector.

Ant Bagshaw, Is the Higher Education and Research Bill dead?

It is not one ideology about the world and Britain’s place in it against another, it has become the old versus the young, the rich versus the poor, the university graduate against the labourer. Dangerous stuff.

David Kernohan, FOTA BREXIT nonsense update 2

This isn’t just a debate where the university sector has a partial opinion from the outside, making contributions about why Brexit would be bad for the finer details of research policy and universities’ business plans. Higher education, or lack of it, is at the heart of what this debate means for our country. Higher education is the core constituency of one of the sides of this divide, and lack of higher education is a central characteristic of the opposing side. Both sides reflect completely different Britains, and the referendum campaign has shown how little they understand each other…

The most overwhelming Leave constituencies are a social milieu that is remote, both literally and figuratively, from higher education: Clacton, Merthyr Tydfil, Boston and Skegness, Easington (County Durham), Barnsley East, Great Yarmouth, Great Grimsby, Walsall North, Stoke-on-Trent North, Rhondda, Blaenau Gwent, Kingston-Upon-Hull East, and Bolsover. Class, education and geography dominate above all else, far more so than the policy debates about the economy and immigration.

David Morris, Experts ignored – time for reflection


On directional demands

This is clearly not the result that many young people wanted or voted for, but most important now is to ensure that students and young people are involved in the decisions that have to be made that will shape their future. We have urgent questions about how the vote to leave will affect students, particularly EU students in the UK and UK students studying in the EU, and call on the government to offer clear assurances to them about their situation.

Megan Dunn, NUS President writes letter to PM

I can feel a sense of shock and dismay among many colleagues today. The ultimate antidote is to be found in the young people you work with. We face a different future: how will you help them prepare for it? How will you help them do better than we did?

Russell Hobby, Brexit will lead to delay in policy – but frustrations should be channeled into positive action

Only a rupture with the institutions of austerity will create the space necessary for the development of a People’s Europe. We need a new union that gives people’s rights primacy over and above the interests of transnational capital, and that defends the free movement of migrants not just within Europe but also from outside it.

John Hillary, War on Want.

Those who want to avoid conservative outcomes must fight for an alternative. That means formulating policy platforms with wide appeal that reconnect with disaffected citizens. It means arguing for ideas and mobilising people to achieve one’s ends, rather than relying on undemocratic institutions to work against the people’s stated preferences. These are the basic functions of a political party. If the Labour Party cannot do these things, it deserves to lose. If it cannot reverse its decline from a popular force into an electoral machine for elite politics, it deserves to crumble into irrelevance so that something better can be born.

Lee Jones, The EU Referendum: Brexit, the Politics of Scale and State Transformation


On possibility

In effect, Podemos’ electoral programs in the various elections – European, municipal, regional and now general elections – set out to give political expression to their myriad demands present in the documents of the hundreds of ‘platforms’ that formed the backbone of Marea Verde. Significantly, within the parameters of the broad consensus provided by the ‘platforms’, education emerged as a fundamental right, rather than simply training, emphasizing its social role in reducing inequalities and as a key instrument for the construction of a more just and cohesive society.

This vision for education that forms the basis of the educational model that Podemos proposes today is openly opposed to the ruinous policies of privatization in education that began in Europe in the 1980s.

It strongly opposes these practices with a keen awareness that the future fabric of our society fundamentally rests on today’s model of education. Faced with the rise of selfish individualism, the depletion of social resources and rights, and the social polarization of a mercantilist and competitive model of schooling, Podemos proposes a model promoting inclusion, diversity, collaboration and openness to the community as fundamental to its success

Cecilia Salazar-Alonso, Podemos on education: the education ‘we can’ have

nationalist resentment is not the only story. Many working class people reject racism – especially in London. The people of Spain and Greece show that a politics of hope is possible in their struggles against austerity, despite the awful conditions they face. Like it or not, the struggle ahead will be over the meaning of Brexit. This is a huge challenge for people who believe in solidarity, open borders, love the diversity immigration brings and reject the delusion that stopping immigration will mean more jobs for “British workers”. At its height in the early 2000s, the anti-globalisation movement rallied around the slogan “another world is possible”. Our common challenge is to find a way of making it happen.

Jonathan Davies, The Coming Fight Over Brexit

The Other Education began in the hearts and thoughts of our communities, where we spoke out to demand education. We decided to create this new, autonomous education so that we can teach and learn in our own language, with our own culture and traditions

Zapatista Education Promotor, Mayan Schools of Dignity

You’ve had a few hours to mourn. Are you going to let the right wing take this as their own or create your own grass roots movements.

Lisa Mckenzie

Our response has begun. The launch of the Alternative White Paper in Parliament on 13 June must mark the beginning of a big movement to restate the argument for Public Higher Education and to build the kind of opposition that will be necessary to defeat the HE Bill. The Parliamentary launch saw the Labour and Liberal Democrat spokespeople for Higher Education speak against the Bill and for the vision espoused in the Alternative White Paper: for Higher Education worthy of the name, understood as a public good, and accessible to all who can benefit.

HE Convention Steering Committee


notes on social media for researchers

With Julia Reeve, I have just returned from leading session for 10 PGR students from across all four of DMU’s faculties on social media for researchers. Our notes are given below. Here are the slides.


The session focused on linking our individual uses of social media to researcher development, through the Vitae RDF, and especially in terms of developing the following capabilities:

A1: Knowledge Base

B3: Professional and career development

C1: Professional conduct

D2: Communication and dissemination

The session also demonstrated the potential of social media for academic practice/scholarship in public, and for co-operative, scholarly work. It closed with some considerations for future practice for PGR students.


The connections between the Vitae Researcher Development Framework and specific technologies are important.

For Knowledge Base (A1), which focuses on subject knowledge, research methods, academic literacy and so on, we focused on the following.

For Professional and Career Development (B3), which focuses on career management, CPD, responsiveness, reputation and networking, we focused on the following.

For Professional Conduct (C1), which focuses on Ethics, legal requirements, IPR and copyright, co-authorship, we focused on the following.

For Communication and Dissemination (D2), we focused on the following.


We also looked at some specific cases of how researchers have used social media and our interpretation of that use (or what we think is interesting/possible). These include the following

  1. Tressie McMillan Cottom’s site that acts as a pivot for other engagements. The structure of the site enables ready access to a wealth of public scholarship, with pointes to “most read” work. There are also links to speaking/engagement events, as well as external content/multimedia. The site enables an understanding of the relationship between the public, social media and personal academic formation.
  2. Lucy Atkins adventures in EdTech, is a representation of a journey through a PhD. Lucy uses PhD notes grounded in verbs to articulate the process of the PhD, using a standard open technology. It then links to her Twitter feed to enable a public face at low cost.
  3. The transition through a PhD can be analysed through on-line engagements like #phdchat, and also the updates to networks like the Guardian HE Network. However there are also therapeutic networks for PGR students, and other support networks that relate not just to PhD study, but also to the precarious nature of labour in academia.
  4. There is a wealth of useful material on academic writing using social media, including seven reasons why academic blogging is valuable. The DMU Commons is a space for open writing at DMU.
  5. Social media can be used effectively for collective work/co-operation. Joss Winn’s site acts as a blog and a site for notes, as well as pointing to his academic writing, and presentations, but it also highlights the scholars that he follows, and his networks. This has reputational consequences.
  6. The use of social media enables alignment with research nodes/centres/projects, as witnessed by the DMU Centre for Pedagogic Research and the Digital Building Heritage project, both on the DMU Commons.
  7. The use of social media enables participation with user communities, for instance: the DMU Square Mile project on the Academic Commons; the Galaxy Zoo; and the RunCoCo project.
  8. These tools enable public Scholarship. See, for example: Melonie A. Fullick interviews Raul Pacheco-Vega; Doug Belshaw’s Never Ending Thesis; and The Social Science Centre.

There are some follow-on resources for attendees about work at DMU.

DMU Commons: http://our.dmu.ac.uk/

DMU/CELT Guidelines when using Social Media Technologies for Teaching http://bit.ly/1iDiIc2

See also DMU Email, Internet and Social Media Policy: briefing; policy

DMU Library Copyright pages: http://library.dmu.ac.uk/Support/Copyright/


There are also some matters arising for PGR students to consider.

  • What is the balance between the intensity of reading/research needed for a PhD, versus the intensity of networking that you are willing to commit?
  • How risk averse do you *need* to be when working with social media?
  • How open do you *need* to be when working with social media, and with other researchers, students, research stakeholders, participants, supervisors and so on?
  • What is the balance between soft and hard publishing?
  • How do you use your networks to challenge your own orthodoxy/previously held views and conceptions?
  • What permissions do you need to use public or published stuff?
  • What permissions do you want to give your public or published stuff?
  • Think about your identity across disparate platforms. How coherent do you need it to be?
  • Think about being true, necessary and kind on-line.
  • Think about your e-safety, especially in terms of your personal relationships with those you know or don’t know, the institution/your funder, the State.

Slides 8-12 in the presentation are amended from “Social Media for Researchers” by Tanya Williamson and Louise Tripp at Lancaster University Library.

The presentation is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


the Alternative HE White Paper

Via a listserv email, and specifically in my role as a National Teaching Fellow, I was asked earlier today to consider applying to be a member of a Teaching Excellence Framework panel. As an act of solidarity with precariously employed or casualised staff, alongside staff who are under threat of increased performance management, or those who are concerned about our collective pay and conditions, and with those staff who see the Government’s HE agenda as threatening the idea of public higher education, I lay out my refusal below. It is also referenced in posts here and here and here and here.

/SNIP/

It feels important for me as an NTF neither to consider nor to do this work.

In part this is because I refuse to have my work as an NTF, and my professional practice, co-opted by a Government that is seeking to damage further the idea of public higher education. The TEF is a means to further the twin agendas of marketisation and privatisation in the sector, which emerging through the White Paper fundamentally damage social mobility and social justice. I simply cannot lend my intellectual and social capital to it. Some of this rationale is set out in the Alternative White paper: https://heconvention2.wordpress.com/2016/05/31/awp-introduction/

My second reason issue is that UCU is currently in dispute over pay, including working to contract. This dispute is focusing our attention on issues of overwork and anxiety/mental health problems amongst staff, increasing casualisation and precarious employment, and gender disparities in remuneration. Many of us resigned as external examiners in support of this campaign (http://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/may/26/why-we-are-resigning-as-external-examiners). Out of solidarity with colleagues on the HE single pay spine fighting for better pay and conditions I cannot justify doing this work.

The TEF is likely: to increase casualisation; differentiate between teaching and research staff; generate further performance management; damage academic autonomy and freedom; enhance the risks of market exit, reinforce the link between employment/future earnings and league table metrics for subjects; and so on. Each of these issues damages not only the quality of teaching and learning, but also the relationships between teachers and students.

/SNIP/

One space for action/refusal is the Alternative White Paper, In Defence of Public Higher Education: Knowledge for a Successful Society, which will be launched at the Houses of Parliament on Monday 13th June, 4.30-6.00. This Alternative White Paper has been produced though the Second Convention for Higher Education.

It argues that the Government’s White Paper presents a major challenge to the idea of a university and its essential role in the public sphere in the creation and dissemination of knowledge and debate about common objectives. It narrowly views higher education as an investment in human capital and as a contributor to economic growth. It acknowledges that UK universities are world-leading in teaching and research, while destroying the framework of regulation and support that produced that success.

The Government’s plans propose to open the sector to private for-profit teaching providers, notwithstanding the history of for-profit higher education littered with poor student outcomes, and with spending concentrated on marketing and profit-sharing. It calls this the creation of a level playing field, while private providers will be relieved (by impending legislation on degree-awarding powers and the title of university) of the wider functions of a university. These moves will undermine the role that universities play in their local communities by opening them to competition for revenue from providers that have no such role.

The government’s proposed “Office for Students” is not about supporting students. It is structured to ensure market competition, to give private providers access to high tuition fees. Its board members will have “the experience of fostering choice and competition, and of robust financial control”. Supposedly “at the heart of the system”, students will instead be short-changed. The Teaching Excellence Framework includes no direct measures of teaching quality. It is designed to facilitate fee increases, with the possibility of abolishing the fee cap in the future.

In contrast, the Alternative White Paper makes the case for higher education as a public good and explains in detail why the present proposals are so damaging and dangerous. You might usefully lobby your MP, to ask her/him to engage with this debate and to challenge the proposals as they begin their legislative journey.


notes on desire, anxiety and academic luddism

Stay in the shadows/Cheer at the gallows/This is a round up/This is a low flying panic attack

Radiohead. 2016. Burn the Witch.

ONE: showing-up as the limit of our educational hopes

Years ago I wrote the following about our relationship to the University.

I wonder if the University’s functions now are being redesigned so that they reproduce a sense of anxiety as a permanent state of exception inside teams and individuals. 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.

Are defence or refusal possibilities inside the University as an anxiety machine? What is the psychic impact of: alienated labour; the disciplining of academic labour; the cognitive dissonance inherent in the contradictions of abstract/concrete labour; the rule of money? How do we learn to self-care as opposed to self-harm inside the University? One of the ways in which self-care might emerge is in looking at who is pushing back against financialisation and alienation, be that in casualised labour, or trades union anti-casualisation strategies, or through a precariat charter, or in actions like 3cosas, or in post-graduates for fair pay. These are not organisations of those with tenure, but they force us to consider both the university as anxiety/performativity machine and the idea of making opposition public, as an association of the dispossessed or impacted. They reignite the concrete/abstract relationship between higher education and the public.

Did we hope that these things would pass, and that we would not end-up being recast over-and-over inside the university as an ever-expanding site for the consumption of our educational souls and the re-production of their domination over our pedagogical possibilities? I wonder if we simply hoped that the global crises of social reproduction that we face on a daily basis would somehow not infect the university. That somehow the distilled class hatred of the HE White Paper, with its relentless focus on the rule of money, on elites, on a degree as a token of bourgeois, elitist consumption and position, on the deconstruction of higher learning as services to be commodified and purchased, would not come to pass. That somehow we would find the collective will to stitch the university back into the context and form and content of those crises, so that we could find meaningful responses to the brutality of austerity, to the brutal circulation of refugees, to the ideological brutality of Prevent and Islamophobia, and our on-going inability to care enough about environmental degradation.

And we have failed to find the collective will. We somehow felt that it was enough to be spared the rod. Or that even if we were not to be spared taking our place in the brutal execution of austerity, then we could at least find spaces for self-care as opposed to self-harm. That we could still show-up for our students or for each other, or maybe even, at a push, for ourselves.

TWO: the university as machinic whole

And all the time are revealed global narratives that bear witness to the machine-like qualities of the university as it morphs and re-morphs into something that is beyond our control. Something that is beyond our imagination. Our working lives reimagined as exchangeable or tradable services. Our working lives broken down through workload plans and performance management, so that our everyday activities can be monitored and measured, and then flung back into the machine, in order that the machine can be repurposed. Our turnaround times for assessments; our loading for preparation; our scholarly outputs; our annual teaching loads; our key performance targets; our national student survey data; our teaching excellence; our casualised contracts; our adjunct status; our educational everything; and more.

So that the university becomes a site for the ever more efficient consumption, or purchase and distribution, of societal hopes and desires. The rule of money ensures that that the university can only expand based upon the control of flows of energy that underpin these hopes and desires. So that the productive futures of our students and their families depend upon the efficient and maximised production of value, recomposed as future earnings or employability. Where the production of value is a fusion of, first, humanity made productive and efficient, and second, renewed capital infrastructure, so that the space and time of the university can be made to operate as a self-regulating and machine-like, capital-sink.

And we are reminded that in The Grundrisse, Marx wrote:

Real wealth manifests itself, rather – and large industry reveals this – in the monstrous disproportion between the labour time applied, and its product, as well as in the qualitative imbalance between labour, reduced to a pure abstraction, and the power of the production process it superintends. Labour no longer appears so much to be included within the production process; rather, the human being comes to relate more as watchman and regulator to the production process itself. (What holds for machinery holds likewise for the combination of human activities and the development of human intercourse.)

The creation of a system of higher education intensifies the context and reality of teaching and learning, in order to drive efficiency and productivity. More technology; more efficient processes; more metrics; more performance management; less trust in the unprogrammable human; more trust in the programmable and knowable data; more. And the generation of a market through competition will ensure the domination of constant capital and infrastructure, and the power of organisational development and technology. These will ensure that the constant innovation in the motive parts of the machine determine the on-going extraction and circulation of surpluses. The machine will demand the on-going alienation of the general intellect from us, and we willingly offer this up, in the hope that we can be spared the worst.

We innovate. We manage our own performance. We offer up new efficiencies. We over-produce research and knowledge exchange or transfer. We are impactful. We do not protest the loans, or the new providers, or the reduction of educational faith and hope to commodities, or the reduction of our assessment to the machine or the learning analytics. We do not go into occupation of the terms of the struggle or the site of the struggle. We sit and hope that they do it to Julia.

And again we are reminded that in The Grundrisse, Marx wrote:

No longer does the worker insert a modified natural thing [Naturgegenstand] as middle link between the object [Objekt] and himself; rather, he inserts the process of nature, transformed into an industrial process, as a means between himself and inorganic nature, mastering it. He steps to the side of the production process instead of being its chief actor. In this transformation, it is neither the direct human labour he himself performs, nor the time during which he works, but rather the appropriation of his own general productive power, his understanding of nature and his mastery over it by virtue of his presence as a social body – it is, in a word, the development of the social individual which appears as the great foundation-stone of production and of wealth.

This is the systematic conversion of our work into the definite functions of the machine. So that our work as students, or professors, or professional services staff, or adjuncts, and our work as researchers or teachers or students, and our work as managers or admissions staff or on open days, and on and on, are sites for the generation of new pieces of apparatus; new parts of the machinic whole. A machinic whole designed to be productive and to generate surplus, and inside which the generation of educational hope and faith and possibility are desires that can be reduced to means of production.

THREE: higher education and the machining of desires through anxiety

And the persistent re-production of the machine enables those desires to be machined. And the machining of those desires, the re-working of those desires, is made possible through anxiety. The anxiety that is both ours and of our students. And the terrain for this is widened because the machine is infrastructure and constant capital but it is also our culture and our language and our pedagogy and our curriculum and our very, educational breath. As Virno states:

the so-called ‘second-generation autonomous labour’ and the procedural operations of radically innovated factories such as Fiat in Melfi show how the relation between knowledge and production is articulated in the linguistic cooperation of men and women and their concrete acting in concert, rather than being exhausted in the system of machinery.

It is our concrete acting in concert that is needed, wanted, desired by the machine. So we remember that in Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze and Guattari wrote how

There are no desiring-machines that exist outside the social machines that they form on a large scale; and no social machines without the desiring machines that inhabit them on a small scale.

That the desires we internalise from the machine are the machine’s own desires for efficiency and mindfulness and resilience. The machine’s projected desires for production and productivity and intensity, internalised by us, so that our desires are alienated and disfigured. So that we have impact or excellence. That the social desires projected into our students, for elite consumption and competition and educational positionality or comparability, for future earnings and employability, recalibrate our own desires as well as our students’ own.

Our desires situated within a field of desire recalibrated by the market. So that our higher education is disfigured through competition. So that our place in it becomes unknowable beyond the measurement of the market. And our recognition of this disfiguring is the site of our anxiety, just as we hoped that by becoming complicit with it we might save ourselves from the worst of it. Yet all along we are subordinated to the machine’s desire for our anxiety. For The Institute for Precarious Consciousness:

Today’s public secret is that everyone is anxious. Anxiety has spread from its previous localised locations (such as sexuality) to the whole of the social field. All forms of intensity, self-expression, emotional connection, immediacy, and enjoyment are now laced with anxiety. It has become the linchpin of subordination.

The lynchpin of our subordination: my availability for my students; my teaching preparation; my relationship to my precariously-employed peers; my turnaround times; my willingness to sit on committees; my NSS scores; my TEF scores; my REF scores; my on-line presence; my impact; my scholarly outputs; my innovation; my everything. My desperate everything, including the subordination of life to work, as a means for the internalised production of anxiety that will help me to re-produce the desires of the machine for productivity and intensity.

Anxiety, alienation, desire, competition, subordination. A machinic whole.

FOUR: on academic luddism

And we recognise the damage that this does to us, as we are stripped of our educational connection to our students or our precariously-employed peers, or to our partners in other, soon-to-be-competitor institutions. The Institute for Precarious Consciousness recognise “the breakdown of all the coordinates of connectedness in a setting of constant danger, in order to produce a collapse of personality.” To struggle against this stripping-away is anxiety-inducing as we resist where we think we have limited agency. Or else it leads us towards dissociation, as we deny we have any power so we may as well exist elsewhere (behind our metrics). Or else it leads towards micro-management of our everyday experiences, so that we feel we can exert some control: at least I can negotiate the limits of my own [impact/excellence/data-driven] exploitation.

And in Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze and Guattari wrote of the conflicted nature of desire. That our own, concrete educational desires, for emancipation, are subsumed and disfigured by the abstracted desires of the machine. That recognising that the true liberation of our concrete desires, against their bastardisation as data about future earnings, employability and enterprise, requires that we rethink our re-production of the machine, and its anxious control.

If desire is repressed, it is because every position of desire, no matter how small, is capable of calling into question the established order of a society: not that desire is asocial, on the contrary. But it is explosive; there is no desiring-machine capable of being assembled without demolishing entire social sectors. Despite what some revolutionaries think about this, desire is revolutionary in its essence — desire, not left-wing holidays! — and no society can tolerate a position of real desire without its structures of exploitation, servitude, and hierarchy being compromised.

Through Virno, we stretch this focus on desire by relating it to what has been taken from our public education and sequestered as private-property. This is re-imagination as a form of desiring activity that is against the State and against the market, that is against the enslaving of lives through competition, that is against the idea of what the university has become, and that is against intensity, impact, resilience, mindfulness, excellence, whatever.

the question is whether the peculiar public character of the intellect, which is today the technical requirement of the production process, can be the actual basis for a radically new form of democracy and public sphere that is the antithesis of the one pivoting on the state and on its ‘monopoly on political decision’. There are two distinct but interdependent sides to this question: on the one hand, the general intellect can affirm itself as an autonomous public sphere only if its bond to the production of commodities and wage labour is dissolved. On the other hand, the subversion of capitalist relations of production can only manifest itself through the institution of a public sphere outside the state and of a political community that hinges on the general intellect.

For The Institute for Precarious Consciousness this subversion is situated against anxiety:

what we now need is a machine for fighting anxiety – and this is something we do not yet have. If we see from within anxiety, we haven’t yet performed the “reversal of perspective” as the Situationists called it – seeing from the standpoint of desire instead of power. Today’s main forms of resistance still arise from the struggle against boredom, and, since boredom’s replacement by anxiety, have ceased to be effective.

Instead they argue that we need to:

  • Produce new grounded theory relating to experience, to make our own perceptions of our situation explicit, recounted, pooled and public;
  • Recognise the reality, and the systemic nature, of our experiences;
  • Transform emotions through a sense of injustice as a type of anger which is less resentful and more focused, and as a move towards self-expression and resistance;
  • Create or express voice, so that existing assumptions can be denaturalised and challenged, and thereby move the reference of truth and reality from the system to the speaker, to reclaim voice;
  • Construct a disalienated space as a space for reconstructing a radical perspective; and
  • Analyse and theorise structural sources based on similarities in experience, to transform and restructure those sources through their theorisation, leading to a new perspective, a vocabulary of motives.

The goal is to produce the click — the moment at which the structural source of problems suddenly makes sense in relation to experiences. This click is which focuses and transforms anger. Greater understanding may in turn relieve psychological pressures, and make it easier to respond with anger instead of depression or anxiety. It might even be possible to encourage people into such groups by promoting them as a form of self-help — even though they reject the adjustment orientation of therapeutic and self-esteem building processes.

Above all, the process should establish new propositions about the sources of anxiety. These propositions can form a basis for new forms of struggle, new tactics, and the revival of active force from its current repression: a machine for fighting anxiety.

New propositions as a basis for new forms of struggle. And we remember that we might need to become academic luddites as a basis for a new form of struggle. That in order to overcome the loss of time and agency, and the stripping away of our curriculum-power and our educational intellect and our pedagogical capacities into the machine, we need to insert ourselves differently into the anxiety-machine. That we need to consider how we resist the subsumption of the university and of higher education further into the re-production of a system of alienation, precisely because it is a system of alienation, and not because our is privileged, skilled, crafted, abstracted work. This is a resistance of social rather than occupational displacement, precisely because the terrain of higher education has become a means for the re-production of specific, alienating desires across society.

We owe our publics and our society that much at least.

Thus, it is against what education is becoming, solely as a means to re-imagine what society might be, that we might strike. That we might strike to reclaim the parts of the machine that are socially-useful: the knowledge, the curriculum, the relationships, the technology, the language, the culture, and more. This is the reclamation of educational exchange-value as social use-value. Reclaiming and repurposing the parts of the machine that enable us to share our solidarity with other public workers who are being brutalised. That we might reclaim and repurpose the parts of the machine that enable us to provide solutions to global crises, rather than waiting for the market to act. That as a by-product or as a lever, we might refuse our abstracted labour where we can, as external examiners, or as reviewers for for-profit journals, or in working to rule, or wherever.

However, whilst these spaces inside the machine are a terrain for struggle, this also emerges from attempts to reclaim and to repurpose time. Slowing production and circulation and consumption time across a sector or across a society is a reminder of our humanity. It reminds us that our labour-power (and labour-time) is the source of all value. That exploited and dehumanised labour is the source of all value. As Marx argued, Capital’s desire to reduce labour-time is twinned with its desire to endless extract surplus value from that very labour as its source of power. It wishes to annihilate labour-time at exactly the moment that it desires to expand its potential for exploiting that labour-time. How then is this tension to be amplified inside the university and in solidarity actions across higher education and within society, without generating further levels of anxiety and performance and precarity? How do our struggles reclaim time from inside-and-across the terrain of higher education as a form of machine-breaking that repurposes the machine? For Marx, such struggles are rooted in the free development of individualities through associations that demonstrate the limited and limiting rule of value over our lives. They are rooted in pedagogies and curricula for association; in solidarity actions and solidarity economies; in co-operation and co-operative education.

The free development of individualities, and hence not the reduction of necessary labour time so as to posit surplus labour, but rather the general reduction of the necessary labour of society to a minimum, which then corresponds to the artistic, scientific etc. development of the individuals in the time set free, and with the means created, for all of them.

Forces of production and social relations – two different sides of the development of the social individual – appear to capital as mere means, and are merely means for it to produce on its limited foundation. In fact, however, they are the material conditions to blow this foundation sky-high.

There is something here about our collective liberating of the forces of production; our revealing and recomposing our social relations; our recognition and reclamation of time as a pedagogical project. With our students and our peers, and beyond them into society. Of finding collective spaces and times, in order to generate forms of academic luddism. As a form of academic machine-breaking that reconnects and recombines the machinic whole with its social whole for a different purpose that is calibrated by a different time.

The question is then how? And maybe when?


on resistance to the HE White Paper

Since I posted on the HE White Paper and academic practice, I have been thinking about obstacles or resistances that could be placed in the way. In the post, I contended the following.

Revealing the ways in which the White Paper is part of a process of on-going expropriation and pauperisation, of everyday life, of academic autonomy, of care and love inside the classroom, of academic development, is a starting point.

What follows must describe and play-out the conditional development of the social productivity of academic labour, for an alternative set of values beyond the market and instrumental financialisation.

Here we might ask, what can we do in association to resist and refuse the disciplinary instrumentalism of the White Paper and the TEF?

What can we do in association with those struggling for labour rights like trades unions, or with cross-sector groups like the HE Convention/Campaign for the Public University?

What can we do in association to refuse the competitive urges of some university “leaders”?

What can we do in association to frame a counter-position that frames an alternative vision for higher education?

What can we do in association with other public-facing workers, in education, in health, in social care, and so on, to define an alternative vision for our collective work? Can we use this as a moment to define alternatives to the law of value as the organising principle for social life?

Part of this work needs to be situated against the fact that the UK context is one of low resistance to the logics of neoliberalism. Here there has been an acceptance that austerity is necessary or ethically-sound. In fact, the primary discussion has been whether policy can or should support economic expansion or whether (in its anti-Keynesianism) it catalyses contraction and therefore threatens job security. One of the issues in revisiting this discussion, as a precursor to opposition, is then the balance between: imperceptible opposition (mutterings); non-disruptive resistance (marches and demos); disruptive resistance (as a function of trade union actions); and militancy (occupations, withdrawal of labour, worker-co-option of workplaces).

The work of David Bailey and Saori Shibata on moving from defeat to obstruction, highlights that in low resistance States, for substantial impact on any proposed neoliberal policy, the sufficient conditions for a substantial impact (a roll-back) are that they need disruption and militancy. The recent Junior Doctors’ action is a case in-point, grounded in labour rights and the idea of the public, although it has not catalysed broader, NHS reinstatement action. However, in HE there has been high-levels of policy disengagement by much of the workforce (staff and students), in spite of the principled opposition by individuals and associations. For instance, UCU and Unison have focused energies on immediate issues of labour rights, rather than on developing alternatives.

Bailey and Shibata’s analysis focuses upon resistance: by engaging with a critique of the likely, negative outcomes of any policy (including sharing concrete examples of those outcomes in order to build solidarity); through developing the ‘weapons of the weak’; by highlighting and making central the entrenched interests of those affected by reform; through outright refusal; and by influencing the role of decision-makers and decision-takers. As such, refusals can take the form of non-compliance, enacting governance problems, or the direct prevention of the reform and its implementation.

As Danny Yee argues in his review of Peter Scott’s The Weapons of the Weak:

conformity is calculated, not unthinking, and beneath the surface of symbolic and ritual compliance there is an undercurrent of ideological resistance, just as beneath the surface peace there is continuous material resistance. Scott considers the consequences of all this for definitions of resistance. Four criteria have commonly been required for ‘genuine’ resistance: it must be collective and organised rather than private and unorganised; it must be principled and selfless rather than opportunistic and selfish; it must have revolutionary consequences; and it must negate rather than accept the basis of domination.

In terms of the HE White Paper, there is a need to think through the potential for waves of struggle, which demonstrate the solidarity between various groups of affected workers and others across society whom the reforms will impact. The points of solidarity include: the embodied toll that neoliberal restructuring and austerity takes on mental and physical health, including in families; the control of performance and activity; the reduction of life to work; and, the inability of the curriculum to manage issues of crisis concerning poverty, climate change, on-going colonialism and so on. The points of solidarity connect:

  • Academic staff who are subject to increased workload and performance management;
  • Academic staff whose workload requirements are marginalising the rest of their lives, as parents, carers, partners, friends, so that never-ending, entrepreneurial work dominates;
  • Students whose work is defined by debt as a commodity or purchased as a service, rather than being regarded as work that should be reimbursed through a wage;
  • Students whose education is solely predicated on productivity and employability, with contributions to social or care work being marginalised;
  • Student of colour, who are protesting and refusing the on-going colonisation of the curriculum;
  • Precariously-employed graduate teaching assistants, or those for whom tenure is becoming an impossibility;
  • Professional services staff for whom the restructuring of back-office functions entails outsourcing or an attrition on labour rights, and amplifies forms of social dumping;
  • Graduates saddled with increasing amounts of debt and weak job prospects, in the face of automation, on-going recession, and so on;
  • Teachers in Primary and Secondary Education, whose work is covered by the Educational Excellence Everywhere White paper, which promises the privatisation and data-driven commodification of pre-HE education;
  • Teachers in Primary and Secondary Education, whose work is also affected by the Small Businesses, Enterprise and Employment Act (2015), which enables metrics and longitudinal data to be collated about individuals to drive the production of economic value;
  • Community groups fighting for social justice, for instance in refugee, housing or gender rights; and
  • Workers in notionally public-facing industries, where ideas of public service or the public good (contested as those terms are) are being lost, and for whom the realities of austerity are disciplinary (such as the campaign for an NHS Reinstatement Bill).

Here there is a need to redefine the terms of resistance as cross-sectoral, acting communally or socially, precisely because those communal or social aspects of our identities are being marginalised or reduced, as work and productivity becomes our everything. I have written about this, in terms of HE and the oppositional possibility of social strikes, as a moment of refusal of increased teaching intensity. This is situated through the definition of directional demands. As I argue against teaching intensity:

common struggle is critical in refusing the precepts of the [White] Paper. Such common struggled would join with those who are calling for refusal of TTIP, beyond education and in terms of other social goods like healthcare. It would connect intergenerational refusals of debt and indenture, which are shackling families with debt so that they become competitive rather than co-operative. It would connect with others who are precariously employed, in order to work-up moments of refusal and negation, and to demonstrate alternatives.

In this approach there is a need to disrupt the circuits of educational production that are wreaking further violence on higher education, and thereby wreaking violence on our home and social lives. Without such disruption, the ways in which we reproduce ourselves will become increasingly precarious.

Forms of resistance then take the form of moments of solidarity that contest and disrupt the bases of material power. Part of this might be managed through local and national solidarity campaigns between student, academic and professional services trades unions, as long as those unions do not subjugate collective bargaining to economic recovery that is predicated on austerity. Mechanisms must be found to block the circuits of capital accumulation, and the imposition of the rule of money inside education. Part of this is to find moments of radical solidarity, for instance in a focus on debt-free education, and in support of debt jubilees, or the strike debt movement. Part of this is to discuss the importance of time, and in particular of working time and the intensity of the working day. Finding ways to resist overwork are critical, especially between academics, students and precariously-employed staff. Part of this is to find ways to refuse the generation of mental and physical ill-health inside the University and across communities, by refusing to accept the impact and implementation of policy.

Finding spaces for dissent, and for remembering that we each have identities beyond work that are being ruptured, which need recording and sharing as forms of solidarity, are crucial moments in generating energy for alternatives. Finding the time and space to slow or to stop the University are also important. In part this is to support the activities that are being marginalised, like caring and loving and living. In part it is to support capacity-building for alternatives. In part it is to support forms of communal or educational governmentality that are rooted in an alternative imagining of HE, like that to be proposed by the Second Convention for HE. Here the autonomous imagination of staff, students, parents, community groups and graduates might enable us to shape what Dinerstein envisages as a concrete utopia.

The role of time is central in this. Time shapes productivity, intensity, and the creation of value. Disrupting and reclaiming time is a revolutionary act because it is about claiming that time for ourselves and our humanity. Reclaiming time in the face of the HE White Paper is a deeply pedagogic act. Perhaps the most radical pedagogic act we can imagine, because it is an intervention in the ways that we have been taught to experience or reproduce the world. Reclaiming time with others is potentially a way of enacting a slow-motion exodus from austerity and subsequently the domination of capitalist social relations. At issue is whether some form of horizontal organising through general assemblies, radical and collective research, and work done in public, can converge with vertical organising through trade unions and political parties, in order to reframe our collective and individual desires away from being willing slaves of capital. Or is it all we can do to drag our feet?

Here the logics of action must be more than our identities solely defined as teachers or students. They are rooted in class, identity, community, and social rights. They situate specific issues like indentured study or performance management or workload monitoring, against wider policies of austerity. Rather than waiting of an alternative political economy to emerge, the logics of action require an on-going rupture that is constantly reshaped by struggle and which is formative in that it emerges from below. In this way it is more likely to be representative of our humanity, rather than our increasingly cybernetically-controlled existence where our lives are routinely managed.

A key issue is where does our limited energy go in all this? Resisting on all fronts is an exhausting impossibility. Resisting whilst we try to live is also potentially exhausting. Can we resist where we have a lack of agency or control? How do we push back against the normalisation of metrics that feeds into the violence of aspiration, or the internalised desire to optimise our personal and familial outcomes, as they are set by the market?

  1. How do we work collectively inside and across institutions, and between teachers and students, to refuse the TEF? Or must we simply attempt to occupy and recompose the TEF?
  2. How do tenured academics connect to the concerns of precariously-employed staff, alongside indentured students and their families?
  3. How do we build and disseminate stories of the impact of the policies of austerity, in order to build the movement and the alternative?
  4. How do workers’ unions inside and across institutions, including students, academics and professional services staff, disrupt capital accumulation, and divert space and time to the idea of the public?
  5. How do we build a movement against standardised testing and metrics-driven education? How do we recover our humanity through connection to other campaigns?
  6. How do we connect our work inside institutions to other, concrete and local, social campaigns against austerity?

on the HE White Paper and academic practice

I

As I read the White Paper and the technical consultation on the TEF, I realise that I have spent so much time protesting the UK Government’s assault upon the collective, academic labour of the staff and students who work in higher education. I remember that I think of this as collective, associated labour, and yet the Government’s assault is driven by the human capital that can be accumulated and circulated by individuals and their families, or by universities as competing capitals. There is a different shape or form to the view of social relationships inside the university or inside the classroom that is articulated by those of us who see education as an act of love, as opposed to those who can only articulate it through the market and modes of incentivisation. And much of the White paper scopes a regressive space that wishes to marketise love and care if it must, or to marginalise them so that teaching intensity and student outcomes and data on future earnings can be optimised.

I remember that I wrote against learning gain and the ways in which data is used to kettle academic labour.

I remember that I wrote against the HE Green paper, situated through the Treasury’s Productivity Plan, in its obsession with teaching intensity.

I remember that I wrote some notes on saying no to the TEF, and then about the noose of student choice contained in the HE Green Paper.

And for a while I have been considering this in terms of the on-going proletarianisation of the University, in particular as it then relates to academic overwork.

And it is exhausting being against this wide-ranging assault on academic labour, academic practice, academic development, and academic identity. It is exhausting realising that their assault on the fabric of what we might refer to as public or social, and then later as a good, is the dismantling of the spaces that we once regarded as autonomous. Equally, it is exhausting bearing the brunt of their anger about our social, cultural, intellectual or oppositional capital. Knowing that their anger kettles our academic practice as staff and students. Knowing that their anger reshapes the funding, regulation and governance of the space, so that what we do has to be restructured so that it performs. Knowing that the marketisation of the space and the on-going demand for competition will force managers inside universities to recalibrate these as places for the expansion of value, and the production of surpluses, and the production of educational commodities.

And as a result, any attempt to push-back, so that education becomes an act of care, or a form of wider moral, pedagogic responsibility beyond the market, and beyond human capital theory, becomes increasingly difficult. In this moment the White Paper reveals a dominant position that stipulates improvement and enhancement as a functional imperative, shaped by employment and future earnings data.

II

And we remember that there have been evaluations of teaching and learning enhancement that view academic practice as a developmental and pedagogical activity.

there is evidence of strong institutional engagement with the national Enhancement Themes as a driver for development in learning and teaching and associated staff development. While there remains a need to encourage wider and more consistent staff engagement in this area, staff who are involved affirm the positive impact of such engagement. The combined impact of revised promotion criteria, clearer career paths and more strategic approaches to staff development is positive, and is contributing to improved staff development provision to encourage greater engagement with pedagogical and enhancement-led initiatives.

QAA. 2011. Learning from ELIR 2008-11 Staff development: Developing, sharing and recognising good practice, p. 1.

However, as a note on the WonkHE coverage of the White paper, Where is the ‘teaching excellence’ in TEF? argued, developing national enhancement themes or reflective practice is silenced. Or treated with silence, and silenced in the process.

This morning’s White Paper, though ostensibly focused on “teaching excellence”, will not attempt to support academics in developing their own teaching practice – there will be no research projects into HE teaching at a local or national level, and no attempt to understand or collate what makes for excellent teaching, either generally or subject by subject. The TEF is a stick to draw teaching into compliance with institutional and sector norms, not a carrot to encourage the sector to examine in an evidence based manner whether these norms are the right ones.

Today’s White Paper talks at length about teaching excellence, but it won’t support excellent teachers. Neither will it develop excellence in teaching.

This is a central point made by the Second HE Convention in their open letter (NOTE: which is still open for signatures):

Students are supposedly ‘at the heart of the system’, yet the quality regime proposed – the Teaching Excellence Framework – includes no direct measures of teaching quality. Rather it is designed to facilitate increases in fees,

As Andrew McGettigan argues, the White Paper distils the Government’s animus to the established higher education order, in order to focus on student/family choice and the role of challenger institutions, in disrupting complacent or ‘coasting’ institutions. This is its sole relationship to teaching quality, the learning environment and student outcomes.

‘The primary goal is to raise quality’ and the idea is that this is best achieved by having weaker institutions end provision, and stronger institutions replace them (this also applies to individual academics. Hence there is no mention of methods to help individuals improve).

The only issue apparently is to ensure that current students are protected: previously solutions to this conundrum included ideas about ABTA-style bonds, and the Green Paper cycled through a series of options: “an insurance policy, a bond, reserve funds, or Escrow accounts.”

There is no focus on academic practice or enhancement. There is only the signal that academics need to maintain their own career-ready capital, by becoming more entrepreneurial in retrofitting their work to the labour market outcomes of their students. As I note elsewhere this deterritorialises and then creatively destroys both the classroom and the relationships that exist within it.

It is impossible to reconcile the central conditions of the [White] Paper and the [HM Treasury] Productivity Plan to non-marketised/financialised pedagogic relationships. This is the prescribed direction of travel that frames the classroom economically though relations of production that subjugate people, as human capital that can be made productive through discipline.

As McGettigan notes of the context for the White Paper:

it’s hard to give any credence to these market reform measures if they are meant to advance quality: there is no explanation as to what they will be and what evidence supports them. We seem to be asked to ‘feel the radical commitment’, but it all seems rather to express an astonishing level of resentment against the history and autonomy of the established sector. BIS and the Treasury seem to have lost any perspective on what problems there might be in the sector and how they might be solved constructively.

III

So what is left for institutions, in navigating their way through this morass? The TEF assessment criteria on pp. 13-16 of the technical consultation, are outcomes-driven and functional, and leave limited space for reflective practice by individuals or teams. In fact, they will tend to catalyse a range of additional educational services that will affect academic workloads, related to mentoring, personal tutoring, employability, technological innovation, alongside the outsourcing or insourcing of others, such as study skills. These will become increasingly critical because they help delineate graduate work-readiness beyond the content of their degree, thus helping employers overcome issues of ability-bias and signalling (people who exhibit characteristics that the labour market values like a strong work ethic or sense of conformity tend to get more education. They will therefore underpin future metrics.

Further, as UCU have noted, the precarious and insecure nature of academic employment is a painful issue, in terms of developing careers and reward/recognition, and engagement with teaching quality and professional development. Increasingly, institutional context will matter here, because as the White Paper notes throughout, competition is the pivot for reform. Yet inside the system, this will be defined through competition and appeals to the choices made by students and their families.

By introducing more competition and informed choice into higher education, we will deliver better outcomes and value for students, employers and the taxpayers who underwrite the system (p. 8)

So academics and subject teams need to get their story straight for students/families, institutional managers, and for risk-based quality assurers

There are strong arguments to encourage greater competition between high quality new and existing providers in the HE sector (p. 8)

They need to do this as self-exploiting entrepreneurs because the White Paper notes

We must establish a robust framework for gathering the information to measure teaching in its broadest sense (p. 10)

TEF judgements will be made against agreed criteria by an expert peer review panel including employers and students, and based on a combination of core metrics and short institutional submissions (p.19)

Here the section on metrics in Chapter 3a and Annex C from p. 45 in the TEF Technical Consultation are key to the ways in which academics and institutions who wish/need to play along, can then respond.

The emphasis in the provider submission should be on demonstrating the impact and effectiveness of teaching and its outcome (p. 28).

This response is likely to shape any institutional/provider narrative (the short institutional TEF submissions) that enables competitive edge to emerge. And this is the critical moment in this White Paper – that the Government wishes to catalyse a higher education terrain solely defined by work/human capital and the production of value. Thus, the institutional context that will form part of the regulatory landscape will be shaped by this. How will academic teams or institutions describe to students/families and the sector how they “meet expectations”, are “excellent” or “outstanding”?

How they answer this will relate to the place of pedagogical or enhancement-related innovations inside institutional culture: as imposed and functional (training), or as developmental and reflective. This will then inform the renewal or restructuring of academic careers rooted in teaching, such that outcomes- and risk-based refocusing recalibrates progression through Post-Graduate Certificates, internal teaching excellence awards (including applications for readership/professorship by pedagogic practice), and then potentially national awards (if they still exist), alongside an institution’s relationship to the UK Professional Standards Framework. How will this outcomes- and risk-based refocusing, rooted in competition, connect to teaching innovation funding and projects? How will the professional identity or professionalism of academics be supported, rather than eroded as the University is proletarianised?

IV

The White Paper notes the complexity in trying to measure the effectiveness of teaching.

Other important aspects include weighted contact hours and teaching intensity. There is strong evidence that such factors make a difference to students: the HEPI/ HEA 2015 Survey showed that contact hours correlated with both student satisfaction and perceptions of value for money. However, we recognise that these are difficult to measure, if we are to capture the complexities of digital delivery, peer assisted learning and the difference made by both varying class sizes and the status of those carrying out teaching (p. 48)

Yet, in order to drive productivity academics and their managers are coerced into conformity, in order to reinforce hegemony. What we see is that the raft of proposals is an attempt to subsume academic life, so that it becomes more productive, competitive, entrepreneurial and atomised.

The real barrier of capitalist production is capital itself. It is that capital and its self-expansion appear as the starting and the closing point, the motive and the purpose of production; that production is only production for capital and not vice versa, the means of production are not mere means for a constant expansion of the living process of the society of producers. The limits within which the preservation and self-expansion of the value of capital resting on the expropriation and pauperisation of the great mass of producers can alone move — these limits come continually into conflict with the methods of production employed by capital for its purposes, which drive towards unlimited extension of production, towards production as an end in itself, towards unconditional development of the social productivity of labour. The means — unconditional development of the productive forces of society — comes continually into conflict with the limited purpose, the self-expansion of the existing capital. The capitalist mode of production is, for this reason, a historical means of developing the material forces of production and creating an appropriate world-market and is, at the same time, a continual conflict between this its historical task and its own corresponding relations of social production.

Marx. Conflict Between Expansion Of Production And Production Of Surplus-Value. Capital, Vol. 3.

Revealing the ways in which the White Paper is part of a process of on-going expropriation and pauperisation, of everyday life, of academic autonomy, of care and love inside the classroom, of academic development, is a starting point.

What follows must describe and play-out the conditional development of the social productivity of academic labour, for an alternative set of values beyond the market and instrumental financialisation.

Here we might ask, what can we do in association to resist and refuse the disciplinary instrumentalism of the White Paper and the TEF?

What can we do in association with those struggling for labour rights like trades unions, or with cross-sector groups like the HE Convention/Campaign for the Public University?

What can we do in association to refuse the competitive urges of some university “leaders”?

What can we do in association to frame a counter-position that frames an alternative vision for higher education?

What can we do in association with other public-facing workers, in education, in health, in social care, and so on, to define an alternative vision for our collective work? Can we use this as a moment to define alternatives to the law of value as the organising principle for social life?


Re-engineering higher education: the subsumption of academic labour and the exploitation of anxiety

With Kate Bowles, I have an article coming out in volume 28 of Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor, entitled:

Re-engineering higher education: the subsumption of academic labour and the exploitation of anxiety

The article looks at the psychological impacts on academics and students of the re-engineering of HE, and of concomitant academic overwork. It undertakes this from a transnational perspective, with a focus both on anxiety amongst academic workers including students, and on the idea of the University as an anxiety machine. The article is in a special issue that employs Marx and Engels’ critical categories of labor, value, the commodity, capital, etc. in reflexive ways which illuminate the role and character of academic labor today and how its existing form might be, according to Marx, abolished, transcended and overcome (aufheben). Our focus is on the concept of subsumption.

The abstract is appended herewith.

This article analyses the political economy of higher education, in terms of Marx and Engels’ conception of subsumption. It addresses the twin processes of formal and real subsumption, in terms of the re-engineering of the governance of higher education and there-production of academic labour in the name of value. It argues that through the imposition of architectures of subsumption, academic labour becomes a source of both overwork and anxiety. The article employs Marx and Engels’ categorizations of formal and real subsumption, in order to work towards a fuller understanding of abstract academic labour, alongside its psychological impacts. The article closes by examining whether narratives of solidarity, in particular from marginalised voices, might help academics and students to analyse and then move beyond their alienated labour.


Dismantling the Curriculum in Higher Education

With Keith Smyth I have a new article out in a special edition of the Open Library of Humanities journal on The Abolition of the University. Our article is titled: Dismantling the Curriculum in Higher Education.

Abstract

The higher education curriculum in the global North is increasingly co-opted for the production of measurable outcomes, framed by determinist narratives of employability and enterprise. Such co-option is immanent to processes of financialisation and marketisation, which encourage the production of quantifiable curriculum activities and tradable academic services. Yet the university is also affected by global socio-economic and socio-environmental crises, which can be expressed as a function of a broader crisis of social reproduction or sociability. As the labour of academics and students is increasingly driven by a commodity-valuation rooted in the measurement of performance, the ability for academics and students to respond to crises from inside the university is constrained by the market. This article argues that in understanding the relationship between the university and society, and in responding to a crisis of sociability, revealing the bounded nature of the curriculum is central. One possible way to address this crisis is by re-imagining the university through the co-operative practices of groups like the Dismantling the Masters House community and the Social Science Centre. 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. It is argued that such work enables a re-imagination of higher education that is rooted in a co-operative curriculum, and which might enable activist-educators to build an engaged curriculum, through which students and academics no longer simply learn to internalise, monitor and manage their own alienation.

Keywords: community; curriculum; praxis; sociability; university


notes on social mobility and hierarchy in HE

This is a long post. It was written whilst listening to Springsteen’s Nebraska, which somehow became Springsteen’s The Rising, before I noticed.

ONE. Open intensity.

Elsewhere I have argued against teaching intensity that

The [Treasury Productivity Plan] places universities squarely in the frontline of [] restructuring around service redesign, workforce [efficiencies], and technology/data. Here the key is productivity that emerges from a freeing up of the market, so that capital and labour can flow between sectors or across sectors, and so that new associations of capitals or businesses emerge. Here service redesign is a function of HE providers working in partnership with hedge funds, publishers, technology corporations, and so on, so that capital can be reallocated. Productivity also emerges from efficiencies that emerge inside and across existing providers, whereby human capital might be reallocated. Critically, for the health of the economy as a whole, the Plan supports

disruptive innovators and ensures competitive pressure on the tail of low productivity firms. This requires an open economy with flexible and competitive markets, where expanding firms can access the labour, land and finance they need (p. 81).

Open intensity. A productive life. Life as work. The new normal.

What then followed was the proposed structural adjustment of HE to meet the needs of the Treasury’s Productivity Plan, as articulated through the HE Green Paper and the proposed TEF. This was rooted in the need to drive productive labour and entrepreneurial activity by institutions and individuals/families, in the generation of their own social and cultural capital. However, it was also grounded in the need to overcome ability bias that affects the decision made by employers (of the work-readiness of graduates), and the ways in which market/marketable signals are transmitted between individuals, HE providers and employers. Here the State’s ability to sponsor privatisation by opening up access to, and flows of, its aggregated data (in loan-books, tax data), is crucial.

Information about the quality of teaching is also vital to UK productivity. In an increasingly globalised world, the highest returns go to the individuals and economies with the highest skills. However, the absence of information about the quality of courses, subjects covered and skills gained makes it difficult for employers to identify and recruit graduates with the right level of skills and harder for providers to know how to develop and improve their courses. (p. 19)

TEF should also prove a good deal for employers and the taxpayer. The aim is to improve the teaching that students receive, which in turn should increase their productivity and help them secure better jobs and careers. It should enable employers to make more informed choices about the graduates they recruit… (p. 21)

This deterritorialises and then creatively destroys both the classroom and the relationships that exist within it.

It is impossible to reconcile the central conditions of the Green Paper and the [HM Treasury] Productivity Plan to non-marketised/financialised pedagogic relationships. This is the prescribed direction of travel that frames the classroom economically though relations of production that subjugate people, as human capital that can be made productive through discipline.

And Warwick for Free Education also called this out.

Student choice’ is rendered little more than a token appeal and performative platitude within this context: which in truth reflects not an autonomy to manoeuvre within Higher Education as one wills, in pursuit of passions, creativity and personal flourishing, not a democratic control over the content of one’s education, but an ability to differentiate a selection of University options from a range of sophisticated branding and varying fees, functionalized by a value-for-money, career prospects oriented calculation.

Warwick for Free Education. 2016. On the Politics of Consultation.

TWO. Variable human capital and the rule of money.

The market-driven possibilities have been crystallising since the Browne Review. The desire for comparisons between academic abilities, and to evidence how participation in higher education contributes to human capital development, is almost overwhelming. However, comparisons between individuals, courses, institutions on a national and global scale reduce our pedagogy to their financialised data. For some time now, we have been informed that the market will decide, once the market has the data, grounded in student outcomes (learning gain), learning environment and teaching quality (excellence/intensity).

Learning gain measures… can also be used to support accountability, promote transparency and enable comparability of the outcomes of higher education (pp. xii-xiii)

Changes in financing of higher education have also served both to underline the importance of quality in higher education, and position student choice as a key concern for the sector. Students’ expectations in terms of their course and experience are increasingly becoming a concern of universities and policy makers, and institutions have sought to provide more information to prospective students on the value of degrees… (p. 2)

McGrath, C..H., Guerin, B., Harte, E., Frearson, M. and Manville, C. 2015. Learning Gain in Higher Education. Cambridge: Rand Corporation.

As McGettigan argues this is translated into policy that seeks to parasitise the idea of higher education by hyper-financialisation:

the transformation of higher education into the private good of training and the positional good of opportunity, where the returns on both are higher earnings. Initiation into the production and dissemination of public knowledge? It does not appear to be a concern of current policy. Such an anti-vision of higher education – let the market determine what should be offered – unfortunately meshes with a stratified higher education sector which mirrors an increasingly unequal society. (p. 2)

Potential applicants to colleges and universities will in future benefit from information on the ‘employability and earnings’ of each institution’s alumni and alumnae. I quote:

[The measures] will also help to create an incentive and reward structure at universities by distinguishing the universities that are delivering the strongest enterprise ethos and labour market outcomes for their students. (pp. 2-3)

If different degrees from different institutions result in very different levels of earnings for students with similar pre-university qualifications and from similar socio-economic backgrounds, then this might affect both student choice and policies designed to increase participation and improve social mobility. (p. 3)

McGettigan, A. 2015. The Treasury View of HE: variable human capital investment. Goldsmiths: PERC.

THREE. Towards the quantified curriculum

This offers some context for this week’s Institute for Fiscal Studies report (Britton et al.) on How English domiciled graduate earnings vary with gender, institution attended, subject and socio-economic background. The report highlights its own methodological constraints, and these are noted by Louisa Darian: the researchers only explore institutional differences across Russell Group universities that agreed, [and] had sufficient sample, to analyse (19 out of the 24 total); the researchers did not ask universities outside of the Russell Group if they would participate; the research covers a sample of just 10 per cent of all borrowers since 1998 and cannot control for the location that the graduate is now located (important given local labour market variations); it doesn’t take account of those who drop-out of university, and excludes the 15 percent of students who don’t take out a student loan; it is unable to capture which graduates in the study undertook further education or training after graduation; it is unclear how less selective institutions, that pride themselves on the support they provide students to succeed in employment, compare against more selective ones; and there is limited exploration of the lower earnings of Creative Arts students.

However, the IFS’s research demonstrates a critical moment in developing a methodology to explore, and potentially further monetise, the connections between Government-owned student loan book data and income tax records, through an emerging connection to subject of study and institution, as well as demographic data about students. In this way it develops the work proposed by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (DBIS) in its Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act: Education Evaluation fact sheet. Thus, Britton et al. argue that:

For the first time we use these administrative data to characterise the properties of earnings for sub-populations of borrowers (graduates) and shows how they vary by gender, degree subject and higher education institution.

This second approach can be used to provide a conditional estimate of the earnings of graduates from different institutions or taking different degree subjects, after controlling for differences in some key characteristics of the individual or the institution and is our approximation of a value-added measure of the university by subject. We are mindful however, that selection into degree courses will mean that our estimates are not going to tell us about the causal impact of a particular degree on earnings. Further we do not have detailed information about the education achievement or other characteristics beyond gender and age of non-graduates and hence, whilst we can compare graduate earnings to non-graduate earnings, we cannot calculate a formal rate of return on a particular degree. Instead we focus on measures of variation in graduates’ earnings that are themselves of considerable value.

Britton, J., Dearden, L., Shephard, N., and Vignoles, A. 2016. How English domiciled graduate earnings vary with gender, institution attended, subject and socio-economic background. Institute for Fiscal Studies, pp. 3-4.

As Liz Morrish notes elsewhere about the DBIS Education Evaluation Fact Sheet this approach enables policy-makers to display

a discursive masterstroke, with a chaining of ‘learning outcomes’, ‘performance data’, ‘accountability’, ‘interventions’, and then serving the whole salad up as a solution to ‘social mobility’. And [this] re-designates universities as mere factories for the production of labour inputs…

Morrish, L. 2015. It’s Metricide: Don’t Do It.

However, as Britton et al. highlight, the next step is to differentiate between such factories, and their value-added contribution. A critical issue is one of unintended consequences in that policy-making that is allegedly about the interrelationship between human capital and social mobility may tend to reinforce establish hierarchies and dominant positions.

researchers have not thus far been able to assess adequately how graduate earnings vary according to the university attended. Theoretically we would expect that different institutions may add different amounts of human capital value and hence influence students’ success in the labour market.

the current information available to students strongly under reports the diversity of graduate earnings across subject and institutional choices. This is likely to be more damaging for students who come from families and communities who are less informed about potential HE choices.

Britton, J., Dearden, L., Shephard, N., and Vignoles, A. 2016. How English domiciled graduate earnings vary with gender, institution attended, subject and socio-economic background. Institute for Fiscal Studies, pp. 6, 5.

A second issue is one of ability bias and signalling (people who exhibit characteristics that the labour market values like a strong work ethic or sense of conformity tend to get more education). Havergal highlighted the importance of getting better data on the relationship between education, earnings and ability bias, in order to enable employers to make more informed judgements about who exactly had work-ready skills, rather than those who merely signal the possibility.

The generic, non-subject-specific exams will be trialled by the Higher Education Funding Council for England to evaluate whether they could be used to measure undergraduates’ “learning gain” – the improvement in skills and competencies made by students during their time at university.

The results of any nationwide standardised test could also be used to compare institutional performance, and may form a key metric in the planned teaching excellence framework.

Havergal, C. 2015. HEFCE to pilot standardised student tests. Times Higher Education.

As Britton et al. note, this matters because:

Estimating the causal impact of education on earnings is challenging, due problems with ability bias driving degree choice and the difficulty in separating the productivity value of education from its signalling value.

Britton, J., Dearden, L., Shephard, N., and Vignoles, A. 2016. How English domiciled graduate earnings vary with gender, institution attended, subject and socio-economic background. Institute for Fiscal Studies, p. 5.

What is required in order to modernise higher education is more than the quantification of the student, in her relationship with their institution and course, but the quantification of her whole social and educational life history, so that her productivity/learning gain, and work readiness can be made available to prospective employers. A knock-on is the quantification of the curriculum, including the labour that flows through it and from which derives the surplus value (and profitability or productivity) of the institution.

One step that would be particularly helpful would be to link HMRC data to the National Pupil Database and data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency to enable us to compare students with identical school achievement who come from higher/lower income households and reduce ability bias. With this additional data will we be able to estimate models that better control for the individual’s own level of pre higher education achievement.

Britton, J., Dearden, L., Shephard, N., and Vignoles, A. 2016. How English domiciled graduate earnings vary with gender, institution attended, subject and socio-economic background. Institute for Fiscal Studies, p. 56.

FOUR. Social mobility as self-exploiting entrepreneurial activity

The social capital of the family, as the purchaser of educational services commodified as a positional good, is central to the development of policy that asserts the importance of social mobility. This means more transparency over the flows of data about individuals and their own performance, and access to those data by service innovators and entrepreneurs. These latter include the individual student and her family, which needs to build its own social and intellectual capital, in order to succeed in an increasingly competitive market. This is not just the cognitive skills that HE provides, but is also the work-ready skills that are not measured by HE.

Over and above differential access to different types of HE, individuals’ socioeconomic background may also continue to have an effect on their labour market outcomes after graduation. This might be because students from more advantaged backgrounds have higher levels of (non-cognitive) skills (see for example Blanden et al. (2007)) skills that are not measured by their highest education level, or by their degree subject or institution. Alternatively, advantaged graduates may earn more because they have greater levels of social capital and are able to use their networks to secure higher paid employment. The literature on this is quite limited in the UK but does suggest that graduates from more advantaged backgrounds, particularly privately educated students, achieve higher status occupations and earn a higher return to their degree.

Britton, J., Dearden, L., Shephard, N., and Vignoles, A. 2016. How English domiciled graduate earnings vary with gender, institution attended, subject and socio-economic background. Institute for Fiscal Studies, p. 7.

In order to succeed, the student and her family must become ever-productive, self-exploiting entrepreneurs.

This appears to be especially the case for women. In comparing Cambridge, Warwick and Southampton, it was noted that:

graduates from the University of Cambridge have the highest earnings for the upper part of the earnings distribution, with more bunching across institutions at the 50 percentile level. There is much more variation at the higher quantiles. The gaps between the universities seem more pronounced for men than for women…, an effect which we will see holds up for a wider set of [Russell Group] HEPs.

Britton, J., Dearden, L., Shephard, N., and Vignoles, A. 2016. How English domiciled graduate earnings vary with gender, institution attended, subject and socio-economic background. Institute for Fiscal Studies, p. 27.

With caveats, Britton et al. then uncover emergent findings related to the following.

The differences between institutions are expected when we account for the differences in the background variables that influence earnings. Mean differences in earnings across most institutions are not sizeable once we take account of the fact that different types of student sort into different institutions. (p. 35)

The quantity of variation in graduates’ earnings within an institution. (p. 35)

The figures also illustrate the large gender gap prevalent for many institutions, particularly at the top end of the earnings distribution. (p. 35)

The very low earnings of graduates from most institutions at the 20th percentile of the distribution, although this low earning share is lower than we see in the non-university population. (p. 36)

A major issue for those concerned with improving social mobility is the extent to which students from lower income families are disproportionately likely to be found in these groups of much lower earning graduates. (p. 36)

Some very locally focused institutions may struggle to produce graduates whose wages outpace England-wide earnings, which include those living in London etc. (p. 36)

There are subjects where institutions matter a great deal in immunises the student against low earnings through their subject choice. For some institutions, subject choice really does matter, while for others, less so. (p. 38)

Within institutions, subject group choice is important, especially for higher earners, with LEM (law, economics and management) graduates having higher earnings than graduates in STEM or in OTHER subjects. (p. 39)

Although institutional effects are large in these data, institution choice does not fully insure people against low earnings. (p. 39)

Subject choice matters a lot in some cases, but much less so in others. Medicine and Economics stand out in particular in terms of their higher earnings (both are subjects with relatively few graduates), while graduates of Creative Arts and – to a lesser extent – Mass Communication tend to go on to achieve lower earnings. (p. 41)

The differences in earnings across subjects get compressed once we take account of the fact that graduates with different characteristics take different degree subjects at different institutions. (p. 45)

We conclude that there is clearly less variation in graduate median earnings by institution group once one takes account of student characteristics and degree subject. (p. 47)

Darian highlights three implications for policy related to: funding (the market responsiveness of institutions in subjects offered with implications for RAB charges); student choice (the information available through the TEF and Key Information Sets as a proxy of teaching quality and value-added); and social mobility (the role of social and cultural capital, disadvantage, and admissions policies). It also appears that there are class-based implications that intersect with issues of gender, ethnicity (and racial discrimination), and regional labour market disparities (see, Britton et al., pp. 48-52).

NOTE: the class-based implications that intersect with issues of gender and racial discrimination, feed into issues like UCU’s work on gender pay gaps and the work of collectives like Rhodes Must Fall. It is here that issues of hierarchy and hegemony need to be challenged as hyper-financialisation exacerbates social injustice in the university and the curriculum.

Higher education does not therefore appear to have eliminated differences in earnings between students from lower and higher income backgrounds… while the impact of coming from a high income background is strong right through the distribution, in particular it helps protect against low earnings, and provides much greater opportunity for much higher earnings. We reiterate that our approach here does not allow us to necessarily assign causality to these relationships, due to unobservable characteristics we are unable to control for, such as intelligence or degree classification. However, on the other hand, we believe our crude measure of parental income almost certainly biases the impact down.

Britton, J., Dearden, L., Shephard, N., and Vignoles, A. 2016. How English domiciled graduate earnings vary with gender, institution attended, subject and socio-economic background. Institute for Fiscal Studies, p. 52.

This process of reinforcing hierarchy and hegemony and the individual, family, subject and institutional levels, is an echo of the warning of Wilsdon et al., in terms of research metrics. In particular, where institutions are competing for fine margins in income through selective student recruitment (a form of signalling), the indicators used to separate them may drive changes in academic supply and discipline academic labour with unforeseen circumstances.

[T]he use of such indicators is felt by many to risk reinforcing a hierarchical system of institutions that may lead to simplistic comparisons. Such comparisons are hard to justify when aggregate scores show statistically insignificant differences – indeed, an over-emphasis on a small set of indicators risks encouraging perverse behaviour within and across institutions. Comparisons between institutions may lead to an unhelpful focus on the ‘top’ universities worldwide and foster a narrow definition of excellence; such a focus is not likely to be relevant to the institutional goals of universities, where the balance of research and teaching, the geographical focus and disciplinary distinctiveness may vary considerably.

Wilsdon, J., et al. 2015. The Metric Tide: Report of the Independent Review of the Role of Metrics in Research Assessment and Management, pp. 75-6. DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.1.4929.1363

FIVE. The disciplining of academic labour

The labour rights of those who work in HE (students as well as staff) for whom earnings-related data further quantifies the curriculum through performance management, is becoming the defining issue inside the university. Britton et al. make a clear point in summary about supply-side issues and the flexibility of the academic labour market.

[I]nstitutions preferring to offer more places for lower cost courses since fees do not typically vary by subject. Staffing creative arts degrees is likely to be much cheaper than staffing degrees in Economics, Law and Maths and Computer Science. These findings have implications for our understanding of the nature of subsidy of higher education. Given the relatively low earnings of graduates with degrees in some subjects, the level of public subsidy for these graduates is likely to be greater than for other graduates in other subjects, such as economics, even given the lower costs of provision for some subjects as compared to others. Making this explicit when considering the shape of higher education and in particular where any further expansion might take place would seem important.

Britton, J., Dearden, L., Shephard, N., and Vignoles, A. 2016. How English domiciled graduate earnings vary with gender, institution attended, subject and socio-economic background. Institute for Fiscal Studies, p. 55.

This brings us back to the DBIS Education Evaluation Fact Sheet, which noted that the process of linking datasets would enable “a much richer understanding of the impact of education and family income on labour market outcomes and develop a better understanding of social mobility”, alongside broadening “the range of information available to parents and students”. Crucially:

The measures will enable information on earnings and employability to be evaluated more effectively which will inform student choice. This data, presented in context, will distinguish universities that are delivering durable labour market outcomes and a strong enterprise ethos for their students.

DBIS. 2015. Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act: Education Evaluation fact sheet

This signals the subsumption of academic labour under a barrage of new public management techniques for internalising control and producing value. This catalyses ongoing sets of research outcomes that are predicated on, and which further predicate, the financialisation of education, through the ongoing market-orientation of pedagogic practice. This foregrounds the generation of a bureaucracy for impact, learning gain, teaching excellence, underpinned by strategies for enterprise and employability, with new forms of quality assurance rooted in those same predicates.

The issue then is whether teachers accept the enforced internalisation of value-added related to employability and enterprise. A risk here is that academics are led towards learning gain, and fail to notice the noose of financialisation that is being prepared, and that our hopes for enriched learning outcomes form the market’s means of hedging against future performance. Equally, there is a risk that they are disabled in addressing the ongoing reproduction of hierarchies across society and within the HE sector. Here the ramifications that HE reinforces dominant positions that are gendered, racialized and class-driven needs to be confronted. Against this, existing and emerging corporate work on learning gain, productivity and value-added, enterprise and employability, and teaching excellence, underpin the process of hyper-financialising education. If they fail to address this fact, academics risk forgetting that this is about the labour rights of students as well as themselves.

This matters because, as McGettigan notes

the coming wave of ‘education evaluation’, threatens to supplant traditional understandings of universities as communities advancing public knowledge. Current regulations governing the awarding of degrees aver that standards are maintained and safeguarded only by the critical activity of the academic community within an institution. It will be harder and harder to recall that fact

McGettigan, A. 2015. The Treasury View of HE: variable human capital investment. Goldsmiths: PERC, p. 7.


openness and power

I have an article published on SpringerLink, as part of the Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory, edited by Michael Peters. The article is on openness and power. The full article is available here. I’ve appended the introduction below.

Openness as a set of practices has received less attention from practitioners and researchers than the specifics of producing and distributing open educational resources (OERs) or engaging in open education through innovations like massive online open courses (MOOCs). As a result, openness as a philosophical position and its relationships to power inside and outside formal educational contexts has also remained relatively undeveloped to date. However, it is possible to identify key arguments that enable the relationship between openness and power to be framed.

  1. Who defines openness, and what remains open or closed, inside and outside formal educational contexts? This includes the relations of power between transnational bodies, state agencies, education providers, corporations, and individuals.
  2. How does the political economics of openness reveal relations of production that are themselves rooted in power? This includes work on ideas like the commons, the public university, MOOCs, open data, information justice, and free culture.
  3. These associations also map onto discussions of openness, in terms of scholarship, authentication, publishing and access, data, and so on. How do these commodities of openness relate to social relations of power?
  4. The associations between openness and power map onto a number of terrains grounded in the self, including: the rich history of open education in community, cooperative, adult, and workers’ education; pedagogic research focused upon personalization, collaboration, and networks; critical or radical pedagogy around emancipation and self-actualization; Marxist critiques of education as it is restructured through processes of commodification and valorization. Can these terrains be brought into relation?
  5. Is it possible to scope a future for openness as it relates to power? In particular, how does current research and practice enable thinking about openness in terms of utopias or dystopias?

This entry will pick up on each of these areas in turn, in order to frame the social nature of openness in educational contexts. As a result, its relationship to concerns of democracy, social justice, and freedom, through processes for knowledge consumption, production, and distribution, will be developed.