In solidarity with students: so what more might academics do?

A while back Andrew McGettigan ended a piece on Financialising the University with a call for action.

It goes without saying that this process [negotiated independence for the elite or shedding charitable status the better to access private finance] and that of the financialisation associated with a generalised loan scheme will feed off each other. Although the policy terrain is settled temporarily, the ball is very much in the court of individual institutions: there are few safeguards against the ambition of overweening vice-chancellors fuelled by new financial options.

I am frequently asked, ‘what then should be done?’ My answer is that unless academics rouse themselves and contest the general democratic deficit from within their own institutions and unless we have more journalists taking up these themes locally and nationally, then very little can be done. We are on the cusp of something more profound than is indicated by debates around the headline fee level; institutions and sector could make moves that will be difficult, if not impossible, to undo.

Yesterday McGettigan wrote that the UK Government confirms preference for retrospective price hike on undergraduate study. He noted that:

in order to put English undergraduate financing on ‘a sustainable footing’ [the Government] proposes as its ‘preferred option’ to go back to all those who have started since 2012 (and taken out loans) and demand that they repay more.

The proposed mechanism is that the repayment threshold of £21000 be frozen at that rate for 5 years after 2016. Borrowers were promised from 2010/11 onwards that the threshold would rise in line with average earnings after 2016.

That change – ‘Option 1′ – will affect around 2million borrowers. A freeze for five years may not sound dramatic but if you expect a graduate starting salary of £30,000 or less the government provides examples to show that you will be £6,000 worse off in net present value terms (using a discount rate of RPI plus 2.2%).

The government estimates that this retrospective price hike will raise £3.2billion from the four cohorts who have experienced the £9000 fee (those who started between 2012/13 and 2015/16 inclusive). And their examples show it will be middle and lower earners who take the hit. This is consistent with the recent analysis published by Institute for Fiscal Studies.

The consultation closes on 14 October 2015. I urge you to respond as an individual if you are affected.

It’s fundamentally unfair to impose such changes after individuals have signed up for loans. The silence of the universities on this matter is worse than their craven behaviour in 2010. They don’t have any excuse now that the government’s own figures show the likely impact of what is proposed.

Today in the Times Higher ran a piece entitled Proposal to force current students to pay more for loans ‘cynical and immoral’.

But Bahram Bekhradnia [president of the Higher Education Policy Institute] said it was “a disgrace and not worthy of any government” that the changes would be imposed on those who have already taken out loans, adding that it set a “shocking precedent” for government financial offerings, including public sector pensions.

The piece also noted that:

Universities UK is still yet to offer a public comment on the government’s plans. That is despite the student funding panel set up by UUK, and chaired by its president, Sir Christopher Snowden, recommending in its report last month that there should be a repayment threshold freeze if changes were needed to the student loans system.

This led McGettigan to highlight that “The silence of the universities on this matter is worse than their craven behaviour in 2010.”

So maybe it is time for academics to do a bit more because this is yet another example of social injustice in the name of austerity. And because it reframes the relationships between students, now locked-in as consumers, and institutions, and therefore potentially between students and staff. And because it reframes the curriculum as a pivot for value and efficiency. And because it recalibrates the very nature of academic labour as excellence.

This sets another front in the austerity-inspired assault on previously socialised value, co-opting the whole of the public space for private gain. It connects to wider injustices around the financialisation and marketisation of healthcare, the assault on public sector pensions, the pejorative language around welfare and the impact of policy on child poverty, and the reductionist logic of “aspiration”, and on, and on.

So what more might academics do?

  1. Send the consultation to your students and advise them of what it means. Consider sending the links to McGettigan’s analysis, and that of the IFS on the Government’s student finance proposals, which will raise debt for poorer students and repayments for most graduates (plus McGettigan’s take on that).
  2. Press your Vice Chancellor to do the same for your institution. You might consider doing this via your trade union, because solidarity is a weapon. You might also consider ways to enable UCU, Unison etc. to demonstrate on-campus and cross-campus solidarity on this issue. This includes solidarity with local branches of the Students Union.
  3. Press UniversitiesUK to reject the Government’s preferred option (1) in the consultation.
  4. Consider local/regional/national mechansisms and strategies for widening this campaign to other moments and places for opposition to the assault on the public. This might take the form of work with trades councils or social centres or trades unions in other sectors. Or work with other protest groups. Or work with students and alumni, because work with current and former students, their families, and communities is critical.


notes on a teaching-anxiety [excellence] framework

slower and more calculated/no chance of escape/now self-employed/concerned (but powerless)/an empowered and informed member of society (pragmatism not idealism)/

calm/fitter, healthier and more productive/a pig/in a cage/on antibiotics

Radiohead. 1997. Fitter. Happier.

ONE. Endings

Endings are important.

Fucked-up endings remain. Corroding. With the loss and the grief.

Fucked-up endings and the bewilderment that coerces us to internalise the loss, and to incorporate the reasons for it. As if we caused it. As if we didn’t try hard enough.

Fucked-up endings that coerce us into complicity with the original act. That leads us to hope that we might be able to persuade. That this time it might be different. To hope that we might return to where we once were.

Fucked-up endings that leave us with no way out but lamentation.

Fucked-up endings that leave us bitter.

And what are we to do when the means to manage those endings are taken from us?


TWO. Walking to the end

And this matters because there are those of us who walked through London, and who spoke at teach-ins and occupations, and who wrote in defence of some idea of equality in education, and who were kettled for it. And there are those of us who protested the Browne Review and the increase in fees. There are those of us who knew what was coming.

And many of us did this because we had some formation of education as social justice or radical democracy or critical pedagogy at the heart of our work. And in these formations there are those of us who struggle to enrich the very relationships upon which our institutions are build. Who struggle for relationships that others have co-opted as excellence. Who struggle for relationships that others have co-opted in order to punish those who are “coasting”. Who struggle for relationships that others have co-opted as progression and retention and satisfaction.

Relationships co-opted as data and debt. Relationships abstracted as indentured study.

And what is worse, is that the co-option of our work for self-actualisation or care or relationships has been laid bare. It has been laid out in-front of us, not just in the teaching excellence framework but also in the Treasury view of higher education. What is worse is that we fought for relationships that were not rooted in the rule of money, and so we fought for ideas of students-as-producers or partners or co-creators, and for education as courage and faith and justice. And our struggle was rooted in a refusal of the logic of Browne and nine thousand pounds. A corrosive logic implanted in the very heart of our pedagogical souls.

On fees, Mr Osborne announced the lifting of the £9,000 fee cap when he said that “we’ll link the student fee cap to inflation for those institutions that can show they offer high-quality teaching”. That appears to be a reference to the government’s recently announced plans for a teaching excellence framework, aimed at driving up teaching quality, which has been widely seen as offering a possible mechanism for the government to allow fees to rise.

John Morgan. 2015. Budget 2015: fees can rise for universities with ‘high-quality teaching’. Times Higher Education.

The other major measure affecting higher education was the announcement that universities in England will be allowed to upgrade their tuition fees above £9,000 in line with inflation from 2017-18, so long as they can demonstrate high-quality teaching. Universities UK has recently pointed out the inflationary pressures affecting universities and their ability to provide the highest quality education, so the fact that the Chancellor has listened to this is welcome. The government’s focus on ensuring a high quality of teaching alongside any increases is understandable.

I think it’s safe to say that the government  is at least looking into whether the  Teaching Excellence Framework announced last week by Jo Johnson should be used as the metric as to whether institutions should be able to increase tuition fees, and Universities UK will certainly be taking part in the consultation process for this.

Alex Leonhardt. 2015. Big announcements for universities in the Budget. UniversitiesUK Blog.

Above all, to meet students’ high expectations of their university years and to deliver the skills our economy needs, we need a renewed focus on teaching.

This is vital unfinished business from the reforms of the last Parliament.

As David Willetts himself acknowledged in a recent interview with the Times Higher Education; “teaching has been by far the weakest aspect of English higher education”.

This must change.

There must be recognition of excellent teaching – and clear incentives to make ‘good’ teaching even better.

Some rebalancing of the pull between teaching and research is undoubtedly required.

Jo Johnson. 2015. Teaching at the heart of the system. Gov.UK

Performance measurement and management dominate our lives in-and-against higher education, and bring the relationships that emerge in the classroom and within families into stark, asymmetrical relation to the market. As a result, life inside-and-outside the classroom is collapsed around the need to generate value and exchange and enterprise. What happens inside the classroom becomes a primary, societal concern beyond the governance and regulation of individual universities or the higher education sector.

The Coalition government has quietly put in place a series of measures designed to support a new performance metric: repayment of loans by course and institution. It could become the one metric to dominate all others and will be theorised under the rubric of ‘human capital investment’.

The Small Business, Enterprise and Employability Act received Royal Assent at the end of March 2015. Section Six of the bill is titled ‘Education Evaluation’… I quote [the Act]

[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.

Andrew McGettigan. 2015. The Treasury View of HE: Variable Human Capital Investment. PERC Paper 6.

And now this logic is really subsuming our academic labour. Because we know that our work in care and self-actualisation and relationships will now underpin new metrics. A new teaching excellence framework. A set of metrics to dominate our pedagogical souls. And what is worse, for those of us who protested the iniquity of this, our work will now be co-opted and repurposed so that our excellence enables our providers of higher education to raise fees. The very spaces that we sought to defend now alienated from us, and turned against us. The very spaces we sought to defend used to amplify and accelerate the very thing we were protesting against.

So that the very acts we sought to protect are reproduced for value.

And what does this do to our souls?

THREE. We are all anxious entrepreneurs now

And we remember that the financialisation and marketization of the sector has enabled the social relations of production, which are rooted in the production and accumulation of surplus labour and surplus value, to enter the academic labour process. This entry alone is not enough for the real subsumption of the sector inside the law of value. But this process has been accelerating. With outsourcing and technologizing and performance management and zero hours contracts and open data and debt and knowledge transfer and whatever. The sector and the academic labour that shapes it being compelled to reproduce capitalist social relations. Being compelled to open up for the reproduction and circulation and accumulation of value.

For others.

And the landscape of higher education is restructured perceptibly so that its labour processes are transformed. Subsumed. Really. We have seen the creation of an infrastructure and a technocracy that monitors and measures higher education’s current means of production, in readiness for its recalibration. An infrastructure that hints at markets and surpluses and enterprise and data. An infrastructure that is predicated upon opening-up the sector and its labour processes and its data. An infrastructure that internalises in each of us performativity.

And this is a site of anxiety, because we can remember what went before. And we can feel its loss. And we are powerless. Because we see that capital cannot tolerate a space inside which the social forces of production are developed in a limited way. And we feel the acceleration of performativity and the loss of autonomy and agency. And we feel the recalibration of higher education through a real capitalist labour process. And so it goes: this recalibration changes the social relations of production and the modes of academic labour, so that they produce and reproduce the nature of capital.

And this incorporation corrodes. And it generates anxiety. So that as we internalise the University’s entrepreneurial turn, we in-turn become our own seats of anxiety. Our own generators and circulators and accumulators of anxiety.

As a result academic labour is really subsumed. Subsumed for value, not for humane values. It is performance managed or measured and made efficient, or it is disciplined by outsourcing or technology or zero-hours contracts. It is governed by codes of conduct and workload management. The governance, regulation and funding of higher education, together with the organising principles for the public University and its curricula, are transformed through financialisation and marketisation. Academics work under the structural domination of finance capital, disciplined by the idea of student-as-consumer, partner or entrepreneur, their labour enclosed by institutions driven by competitive positioning in increasingly volatile markets for educational services.

So that effective teaching practice can be reproduced as teaching excellence. So that teaching excellence can be converted into data. So that data can drive excellence-as-a-service. So that excellence-as-a-service can be sold back to us. Our souls commodified and repackaged and sold back to us. Because if only we internalised excellence-as-a-service we would be better teachers, professors, whatever.

And this process is anxiety-inducing. And the refusal of this process is anxiety-inducing.

So that the real subsumption of academic labour under the law of value has forced an emotional recomposition of the practices of the University itself, and thus of the experience of labouring inside it. The accelerated transition towards real subsumption has both restructured institutions and reduced the points of potential solidarity for academic labour. Just as points of solidarity have weakened, the competitive dynamics of commodity capitalism have catalysed new systems of production, organisational development and technological innovation, which are in turn further constraining academic autonomy and agency. As the compulsion is always towards productivity measured by the law of value, academics are forced to perform in ways that can be considered to be culturally-acceptable self-harming activities and which amplify trauma, anxiety and alienation.

Alienating. Corroding. Toxic.

FOUR. The University, corroded by excellence

And so a generalised state of anxiety has emerged in the governance and experience of work in global higher education systems, showing up as both perverse incentive and outcome. To understand anxiety in higher education and the idea that the university is a machine that feeds off the production, circulation and accumulation of anxiety, we need to accept that it is no longer a sign that higher education is not functioning as it should, but that anxiety has become the proper functioning state of all sectors within the global, neoliberal economy.

And this anxiety is rooted in academic performativity, uncovered through the mechanics of managerialism, systemic signalisation, marketisation, and the commodification of academic life, so that the ways in which we strive for care or self-actualisation or relationships can be co-opted as excellence and turned against us. So that in order for the University to maintain itself as a node in a transnational network nominally interested in the production of value, it has to become grounded in the production, consumption and distribution of anxiety itself. In part this anxiety is incorporated from an external environment that is responding to the systemic crisis and the politics of austerity; in part it is a projection of anxiety from inside the University across both its internal structures and external associations.

Because anxiety about inputs and outputs, about metrics and learning gain, about excellence and entrepreneurship, are the normalised and reproduced pedagogical moments of the university now. The University that collapses the future into the present, so that current productivity is not enough. We must internalise the management of risk so that the risks that exist in our pedagogical futures can be shorted or hedged. We are made to internalise anxiety about the future risks of failure of our curriculum or our students’ success or our own performance, in our ability to recruit or to progress or to repay our debts. To internalise that anxiety and to reproduce it, as a permanent state of exception.

Anxiety as a permanent, pedagogical state of exception.

FIVE. Points of [most excellent] solidarity

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

Pace John Holloway. 2002. How to Change the World Without Taking Power. London: Pluto Press.

Is it possible for academics and students to refuse both the valorisation of competitive success and the therapeutic recuperations currently servicing the sustainability of profit? Given that we are witnessing the annihilation of pedagogical space by work time. Given that we are witnessing ways in which our teaching as care and relationships and self-actualisation led us to fight fees, only to find that those principles upon which we fought have now been really subsumed so that fees can be raised further on the basis of our excellence.

As Marx notes:

The social productive powers of labour, or the productive powers of directly social, socialised (common) labour, are developed through cooperation, through the division of labour within the workshop, the employment of machinery, and in general through the transformation of the production process into a conscious application of the natural sciences, mechanics, chemistry, etc., for particular purposes, technology, etc., as well as by working on a large scale, which corresponds to all these advances, etc.

And we witness academic labour subsumed as a social force of production that is lost to us.

This development of the productive power of socialised labour, as opposed to the more or less isolated labour of the individual, etc., and, alongside it, the application of science, that general product of social development, to the direct production process, has the appearance of a productive power of capital, not of labour, or it only appears as a productive power of labour in so far as the latter is identical with capital, and in any case it does not appear as the productive power either of the individual worker or of the workers combined together in the production process.

And we witness the social productive powers of labour recalibrated for the production of relative surplus value, and as a precursor to competition rooted in finance capital, data and new markets.

The mystification which lies in the capital-relation in general is now much more developed than it was, or could be, in the case of the merely formal subsumption of labour under capital. On the other hand, the historical significance of capitalist production first emerges here in striking fashion (and specifically), precisely through the transformation of the direct production process itself, and the development of the social productive powers of labour.

And we have descriptions of the impact of this on our humanity. As our humanity is subsumed and our souls are corroded, in this annihilation of pedagogical space by work time.

Within all of this as an academic subject I am made uncomfortable again, out of place once more; my home in the ivory tower is being flattened by neoliberal bulldozers to make way for a fast-fact higher education franchise in which all knowledge has is price and which, as Ansgar Allen puts it, ‘is distinguished not by its greyness and economic subjugation, but by a gaudy proliferation of colour. It has become the rampant breeding ground of jobbing academics in search of the next “big” idea’. I began with both memories of and a critique of welfare education and end with a critique of neoliberal education, and have inhabited and struggled with the discomforts of both. I am left with a sense of process rather than destination, unease and refusal rather than affirmation, in a space in which I am (im)possible and in which sociology as a vocation, as something I do, is being re-inscribed as a resource for the management of the population, which is how it started.

Stephen J. Ball (2015): Accounting for a sociological life: influences and experiences on the road from welfarism to neoliberalism, British Journal of Sociology of Education, DOI: 10.1080/01425692.2015.1050087

The title of ‘professor’ contains within itself a statement that what they do is more than a job: they profess a set of beliefs or values which transcend their formal terms of employment… All this goes out of the window once the professor is left wondering whether the next phone call is to had her the price of a good holiday or summon her to an exit interview. Who will challenge (constructively or not) anything that happens when their are [sic.] such serious consequences? You’d have to be hard as nails to resist the tide in this way or – like me – resigned to finding fulfilment in my small but steady academic niche rather than in the warm glow of management’s regard. It’s not good enough… This morning I sat next to a dignified and professional man as he begged for his job, his livelihood and his personal and professional pride, watched across the table by a man in a suit who kept saying that he didn’t have time for this. For all the abstract points I’ve outlined above, this is what it comes down too: sleek bonus-seeking sharks forcing honest people to justify their existence in the most reductive terms.

Plashing Vole. 2015. You’re fired. Enjoy your summer.

In one university, as well as undergoing six-monthly performance reviews (as frequently as newly appointed probationers), professors must now meet exacting criteria for ‘quality’ of publications. Progression to the next professorial level must be achieved within five years, and this depends on meeting certain ‘drivers’, which include securing a research grant as PI every two years, producing REF 3* and 4* ‘outputs’, supervising graduate students, producing a significant impact case study, leading high-prestige international collaborations, and of course, continuing to teach. Failure to meet these expectations will result in the public humiliation of the Improving Performance Procedure, and possible demotion. No accrual of reputation can be permitted; the criteria must be met every year, not just over the course of a distinguished career. In this way, any prestige associated with the rank of professor must be considered temporary, as is its tenure. Professors, then, have been made to join the expanding precariat of the academy. Ben Knights (2013) cites Sennett (1998), who recognizes that “a regime which instills insecurity, in which you are… ‘always starting over’ is inimical to the longer term processes of memory and imagination.

It is common in the performance management documents I have collected, for reference to be made to ‘stretching objectives’ which are purported to sit in between an individual’s ‘comfort zone’ and the  ‘panic zone’. ‘Stretching objectives’ are presented as desirable, but objectives which place individuals in their comfort or panic zones are not. There is a disturbing presupposition in this discourse of comfort zones. To be asked to go beyond it makes the patronizing assumption that one’s life is normally comfortable.

Liz morrish. 2015. The paradox of the ‘under-performing professor’

Some of the most precious qualities of academic culture resist simple quantification, and individual indicators can struggle to do justice to the richness and plurality of our research. Too often, poorly designed evaluation criteria are “dominating minds, distorting behaviour and determining careers.” 1 At their worst, metrics can contribute to what Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, calls a “new barbarity” in our universities.2 The tragic case of Stefan Grimm, whose suicide in September 2014 led Imperial College to launch a review of its use of performance metrics, is a jolting reminder that what’s at stake in these debates is more than just the design of effective management systems. 3 Metrics hold real power: they are constitutive of values, identities and livelihoods.

James Wilsden et al. 2015. The Metric Tide: Report of the Independent Review of the Role of Metrics in Research Assessment and Management.

Endings are important.

#educationalrepair: what is to be done?

I was asked two questions at Bishop Grosseteste University after I spoke on crisis and educational repair earlier today, which made me reflect on “what is to be done?” I interpreted these questions as follows.

  1. Given the crises of sociability that I described, what decisions do I make on a daily basis to do/be/create something different?
  2. Given the crises of sociability that I described, what decisions might educators make to do/be/create something different?

In processing these questions, I realised two things.

If I had my time today again, I would have tried to situate my argument (reprised here) against the room’s position on the pressures that are defining and redefining higher education. Uncovering those pressures and our interpretation of them, might then have more usefully formed the centre-point of how I might address the two questions given above.

I would then have centred my talking against those themes, but with a focus on “what is to be done?” from my own perspective. Increasingly my thinking is about voice, including mine, and in listening/finding voice, my practice is about moving from a critique of the dominant and alienating system, to a sense of how it might be resisted/refused/pushed back against.

Note to self: next time, before the session develop the slides as themes; then blog/publish the argument with the structure of what would have been said if this were a lecture; then in the session ask/listen to the room for their themes; then look for how those themes align/contract with the proposed argument; then develop the themes that matter to the room; then point to the other stuff that has been produced; then ask the room for comment; then go home to write some more reflections. After all, a keynote should be a dialogue between presenter and source material, then presenter and audience, then audience and source material, then presenter and her/his reflective self.

So in answering these two questions, I am reminded of one of the key connections I have been considering between the socio-environmental, adaptation work of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change, and the critical/political, social justice agenda of those students calling for #educationalrepair, #rhodesmustfall, #whyismycurriculumwhite, #dtmh. This connection is that the hegemonic thinking that catalysed these crises of sociability isn’t the kind of practice that will help us to alleviate them. Educators need to be able to theorise positions and social relationships, and to create possibilities for concrete action, and to recognise context, and to be attuned to a diversity of voices, and to be willing to work against re-producing structures of domination and power. Moreover they need to see this work as not simply rooted in the University and its curriculum, but located inside the social factory.

However, engaging with that is problematic, when there are mortgages to be paid and food to be put on the table, and when our labour-power is under threat and made precarious, and when we are asked to implement more and more tactics to militate against attrition rates. This is the moment when rage must be transformed into courage and faith in ourselves and our ability to work collectively to do/be/create something different. I think that this is why the work of those students working on Dismantling the Master’s House is so important. It extends this idea of courage and faith into the realm of justice, and in finding forms of justice that are pedagogically and epistemologically grounded in voice and negotiation and contribution and difference.

Therefore, if I collapse the two questions I was asked into a sense of what is to be done, then I need to consider this in terms of courage, faith and justice at a range of levels (individual, curriculum design, curriculum delivery team, school/department, institution, civil society). This is not prescriptive. It is not a prescription. It is an emergent set of things that I might do.

Association and solidarity: looking for spaces inside which I might associate, not for commercialisation or impact or excellence, but for solidarity is critical. This is not just between curriculum delivery team members, but is between staff and students, staff across institutions, staff in different sectors of education, and between educators and others who are organising for a different world. It also emerges, where labour-power and labour relations are concerned, inside an alliance of trade unions, which includes those unions that represent academics, professional services and students. It is in this way that the tenured can support those who are casualised, precarious and indentured, in order to push-back against the marketization and financialisation of our educational existences.

Theory and practice: enabling people who are attempting to come to terms with precarity or privatisation or commercialisation or social justice, demands that I work to help people to theorise those processes that are dismantling their existence through marketization and financialisation. Those processes might be an extension of individual and institutional debt, or the development of a future earning and employability record, or the framing of pedagogy as entrepreneurialism. In this view, liberation emerges is situated against the ability to move from critique to concrete action. How do we generate a flow of alternative ideas, which might be classed as the public good or commoning or citizen engagement or research-engaged practice? Here one of the issues is the way in which curricula can be constructed to support alternatives, and the ways in which teacher education scaffolds the ability to challenge dominant narratives/structures.

The curriculum: the curriculum is a critical commodity, through which we can develop collective (staff, students, civil society, the market) ideas about how the world is constructed and interpreted, and who is marginalised/heard. It serves as a pivot for rethinking how we address the world, and the issues of crisis that currently plague us. Finding ways to liberate the production, circulation and consumption of the curriculum from the market are key.

Crisis and sociability: I need to find ways in which I might use interpretations of the crises of sociability which I outlined (catastrophic climate change, liquid fuel availability, the politics of austerity) in my scholarship, administration and teaching. In part this is framing discussions about educational technology or employability or learning and teaching or internationalisation, in terms of these crises and who has power in defining new narratives and solutions. In part this is re-focusing those conversations on issues of voice. Who is heard? Who is ignored? What do indigenous or marginalised or racialized or gendered or othered voices offer us in education or social repair? It strikes me that in those narratives lies a focus on social justice, which helps us to break hegemonic positions that have brought societies to the verge of socio-environmental catastrophe, chronically indentured study and life, and in which solutions are increasingly outsourced to corporations or transnational groups vested in the political economy that brought us to this place. Part of this is about speaking truth-to-power, which is why solidarity and association are so important.

Co-operation: so much of this work is about the long and painful and joyful process of co-operation. How do I learn to co-operate? How do I co-operate to learn? How do I co-operate to teach? I don’t ask myself these questions enough in my daily work. However, we have examples of projects where educators and students are working co-operatively with civil society organisations and the private sector, and are doing so from the bottom-up. Supporting co-operation as a political and pedagogical process is a way of re-framing regulation and governance. That goes as much for the production of the curriculum as it does for the governance and daily life of research centres or institutions.

Occupation: how do I help people to go into occupation of terms like impact or of innovations like learning gain? How do we move beyond the commodification of our everyday academic experiences, through the obsession with producing and circulating data from which new services or financialised metrics can be generated? In this a revelation and critical discussion of the technologies and techniques that we deploy is central. Who benefits from their implementation? Is this a social good or a furthering of private goods? How might we define an approach to data and the creation of socio-technical systems, which support the relationships we wish to nurture? This is important if we are to wrest back pedagogic and epistemological agency from those who would reduce the academic project to inputs and outputs or outsourced, technological systems. If we are to resist new public management inside higher education, then we need a set of conversations with civil society and our publics/communities about what our curricula and institutions are for. We might then use the socio-technical systems that pivot around higher education for something different. For something that lies beyond the arbitration of the market.

Care: how do I act in ways that are true, necessary and kind? How do I work to amplify humane values rather than the labour theory of value? In this, much of my work has to be rooted in activities that are social and associational, rather than simply amplifying joint venturing or entrepreneurialism or outsourcing. This focus on care is situated inside a view of our metabolism as academics and students with nature, through our use and re-use of nature, and also in our approach to diverse and marginalised knowledges and cultural understandings and beliefs. Only then might we rethink and redefine how our social relations, in a way that encourage hope and peace. Hope that we might adapt to or avoid the worst excesses of our crises of sociability; peace in producing and re-producing humanity, rather than specific ways of imaging the world.

NOTE: much of the above is about values and practices. However, I might think about these in terms of the following concrete actions, which are simply a set of possibilities.

I work and live in Leicester, and engagement with local social justice/diversity projects/charities is critical in my liberating knowledge and practice from higher education into civil society. These include work in schools and agencies working with vulnerable groups. It also includes work with charities that have an educational agenda. This work is deeply co-operative and pedagogical, and it is rooted in care.

I am engaged beyond the university in projects like the Social Science Centre in Lincoln (rooted in co-operative organisation, governance, scholarship and pedagogy), and the Open Library of the Humanities (which is creating a new, co-operative model for associational and federated access to knowledge as a communal good).

I am working on academic writing projects rooted in the idea of mass intellectuality, or socially-useful knowledge, practices and literacies. These projects are co-operative in the way that they produce and write, and in the decision-making process around editing. They are about trying to develop and sustain alternative ways of producing academic knowledge.

I have been working with Leicester City Council on a knowledge exchange, digital literacy project that is grounded in and governed by educator-led narratives. The project produced a self-evaluation framework with educators, which is grounded in actual curriculum practices and the idea of radical collegiality in defining CPD strategies. It also developed a framework for open licensing across a City.

With my friend Owen Williams, I implemented an Academic Commons at DMU grounded in an open-source technology (WordPress) and an open source methodology, as a means of involving the academic community in reclaiming power over the technologies that define its work. In this way the academic community can be engaged in the production of the institutional, socio-technical systems.

With an organising committee, I have worked to frame a Centre for Pedagogic Research as a deliberately co-operative, self-critical scholarly community. This includes a focus on developing an open-form of publishing through open peer review, pivoting around an in-house journal.

I wonder if these form a kind of joint-venture of the soul?

on dismantling the curriculum in higher education

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

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

The abstract and some references are linked here.

The slides for my presentation are here.

I’ve appended some notes below. [NOTE: I wrote them whilst listening to this set by Everything Everything at Glastonbury in 2013.]

ONE. A framing of sorts [slide 2]

We are subsumed inside a crisis of sociability. The politics of austerity, global socio-environmental crises, and the emotional crises of anxiety and self-harm internalised and reproduced through over-work, dominate and make our lives increasingly abstract. Inside higher education the curriculum reinforces this abstraction, so that we fetishise educational innovation as emancipatory, rather than working on abolishing the relations of production that drive us to ignore concrete, social emergencies. I wonder, therefore, whether listening to and interacting with voices that have been marginalised in the definition, regulation and governance of the curriculum might in-turn enable us to enact forms of educational repair. Might these forms of educational repair, situated as pedagogical projects, enable us to dismantle the dominant structures that abstract from us the ability to engage with global emergencies? Might we thereby catalyse new forms of sociability?

TWO. The curriculum as a technology [slides 5-9]

David Harvey reminds us of the importance of Marx’s method in revealing what lies beneath everyday abstractions like technology. In an important footnote to chapter 15 of Volume 1 of Capital, Marx highlights how an analysis of technology enables us to reveal:

  • the forms of production, exchange and consumption prevalent in any context (which may be rooted in joint venturing or entrepreneurialism);
  • how we relate to nature and the environment (for instance in our use and re-use of raw materials, or in the carbon locked into our internationalisation strategies);
  • the social relations between people (for instance, inside social centres or co-operatives, or managerial/technocratic settings);
  • our mental conceptions of the world, embracing knowledges and cultural understandings and beliefs (for instance our approach to indigenous cultures or immigration or digital literacy);
  • labour processes and production of specific goods, geographies, services or affects (for instance cloud hosting services or outsourcing, or zero-hours, precarious work, or emotional labour);
  • the institutional, legal and governmental arrangements that frame life (for instance national quality assurance and regulatory frameworks, or data protection and copyright law, or transnational trade partnerships); and
  • the conduct of daily life that underpins social reproduction (for example, the ways in which curricula are designed and delivered, or through which assessments are produced).

We might usefully substitute curriculum for technology in this analysis, in order to focus upon how lived pedagogical practices, incorporating design, delivery and assessment for/of learning, each reproduce certain ways of defining the world. Here the labour theory of value is important, particularly as we recognise that in the marketization and financialisation of higher education, the curriculum is being valorised. Thus, we might critique how our pedagogical work is subsumed under the circuits of money (indentured study through fees, organisational debt/surpluses), of production (rooted increasingly in data, the quantified self, learning gain), and of commodities (like content or assessments that can be hived off and financialised, or commodified services created from them).

The sociability that we once understood as emerging from the fluidity of the classroom is increasingly lost to us, as value (the determining purpose) drives sociability. This is the world of funding changes and austerity, which strip us of our autonomy. And this loss of fluidity and autonomy is a bereavement, because rather than the concrete relationships that we had to our curriculum, to our students, to our peers, to our learning, and to ourselves, our educational lives are restructured as accumulated value or impact or excellence or student satisfaction or whatever. And what does this do to us?

And what does this do to us?

And increasingly we have no time to think about what this does to us, as our future timelines are collapsed into a present, which demands that we focus on innovation overload: personal tutoring; peer mentoring; internationalisation/MOOCs; learning analytics; teaching excellence; learning gain/the HEAR; NSS, and assessment and feedback; responses to the removal of the DSA; employability/the FEER; scholarship/REF; and on; and on; and on; and on; and on. When what we would like to do is consider pedagogical design and delivery rooted in: communities of practice; social learning theory; assessment for/of learning; autonomous learning; student-as-producer; constructivism or connectivism; or whatever it is that tickles us.

But those days are gone.

THREE. The graduate with no future [slides 10-19]

Our reality is increasingly a series of abstracted, tactical exchanges, rooted in student fees/debt. However, that reality is framed by the on-going, systemic and global failure to re-enable stable forms of accumulation. And so in the United States (a bell-weather for English higher education reforms) we witness student debt driving short-term growth, with concerns being raised about the medium-term costs of loan repayments and defaults or delinquencies. Folded on top of indenture is the collapse in wages, with data suggesting that real incomes for those without a (professional) Masters Degree or Doctorate have collapsed. Moreover, there are increasing levels of precarity, not just amongst those looking for work, but also for those in work, who are working longer for lower wages and with lower levels of productivity. Significantly this also impacts families, some of whom feel helpless in the search for savings for their children’s college education.

And in the face of quantitative easing for those with power, we wonder about the legitimacy of the higher education system that we are reproducing. As we crave instead quantitative pleasing.

FOUR. Our curricula and us: more efficiently unsustainable? [Slides 20-27]

And the legitimacy of the social relations between people that we are perpetuating and reinforcing, are rooted in employability and entrepreneurialism and internationalisation and shorting the future. The jobs that we are told to prepare students for are steeped in services that are grounded in fossil fuels and commodities trading. Yet we know that this construction of the global economy is precarious, in the face of access to liquid fuels and the macroeconomic effects of binding resource constraints. And we also know that there is an increasing recognition that the global economy has to become electrified rather than dependent upon oil, and that this demands a new transformation of production and consumption and labour processes, as well as the knowledges and cultures that we produce and share and value.

And even more pressingly, we know that climate change is a global commons problem, forcing us to engage with the concrete realities of adaptation rather than mitigation. A transformation that is educational if it is anything.

And in the face of these realities how do our international curricula, or our curricula for enterprise or employability, or our digital strategies, or our [whatever] strategy, help us to adapt as a piece of collective work? As collective educational repair?

Or do they simply help us to mitigate the effects of placing our labour-power for sale in the market? Do our curricula simply help us to become more efficiently unsustainable?

FIVE. The curriculum and power [Slides 28-40]

And do we have any agency in framing what adaptation means and for whom? Because we know that education is being marketised and financialised, and that this process is being managed trans-nationally in order to catalyse a world market in educational commodities. As Stephen Ball argues we witness shifting assemblages or joint ventures of academics and think tanks, policy makers, finance capital, publishers, technology firms, philanthrocapitalists and so on, working together to reinforce and reproduce their power over the world. This power is immanent to the production, circulation and accumulation of value, but it emerges in their power-over our labour. As a result, the academic work of staff and students is recalibrated around its potential (as data or learning outcomes or accreditation or content) for exchange, rather than for public good or communal use.

And this is a structural adjustment policy grounded in formal scheduled teaching and pedagogical practice and curriculum design. A structural adjustment policy framed by commitments to roll-out a teaching excellence framework or enterprise for all, or by partnerships committed to learning gain. A structural adjustment policy underpinned by a “Small Business, Enterprise and Employability Act” that determines “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.”

Because there is no alternative.

And this is a rich terrain for corporations that wish to monetise educational inputs and outcomes. Corporations that wish to create educational ecosystems as forms of cybernetic control, where risk inside the curriculum can be reduced, repurposed and valorised. This is the new normal: the quantified-self situated inside the quantified-curriculum, as previously marginal sectors of the economy are made explicitly productive.

This is no longer the formal subsumption of higher education under capitalist social relations, with the selling and renting of services and technologies and content to us, and the rise of indentured study, and simple questions of debt, profit and supluses. This is no longer a simple partnership between higher education and service providers.

  • This is the explicit repurposing of the labour-power of academics and students, rooted in the production of value for assemblages of universities and technology forms and private equity and publishers and whomever, acting transnationally as an association of capitals.
  • This is the reshaping of the social relations between academics and managers and students, rooted in a new mental conception of higher education as financialised, competing business.
  • This is new labour processes, and the production and circulation of specific, educational commodities.
  • This is new forms of academic labour being managed inside new institutional, legal and governmental arrangements, and the outcome is a new set of relationships that frame the conduct of daily, educational life.

This is the quantified-curriculum as the real subsumption of higher education under capitalist social relations.

SIX. The curriculum and anxiety [Slides 41-46]

And through the process of subsumption our souls are colonised. We find ourselves collaborating in our own alienation, because we have to in order to survive. And we find ourselves labelling self or other, as lacking entrepreneurial drive or being uncreative, or as a luddite, or poorly performing, or failing, or coasting, or disruptive, or troubled, or whatever we cannot bear to imagine we may become.

And the system’s determining force scrubs our souls.

In this moment do we see those other voices emerging, discussing inequality and the risks of dissociating the self as an abstraction from the everyday realities of those inequalities? And as our commitment to helping students to build mental [entrepreneurial] muscle for the marketplace is questioned, do we ignore those increasing narratives of anxiety and precarity?

And does our work become a culturally-acceptable self-harming activity? Has a sense of anxiety become a permanent state of exception amplified inside and against the currriculum?

SEVEN. #educationalrepair: another world is possible [slides 48-60]

In overcoming this cognitive dissonance, I am drawn to listen to those marginalised voices attempting to define safe spaces inside which the collective work of dismantling can begin. This work of dismantling is rooted in revealing power structures and ways of building the world that are alienating, in that they strip our work, our cultures, our relationships and ourselves from us, in order to valorise them or to silence them. This work of dismantling operates at the level of the institution and the classroom.

So I listen to the ways in which the students who are “Dismantling the Masters House”, are asking “Why isn’t my professor black?” or “Why is the curriculum white?” And I listen to those who are working for #educationalrepair. And this leads us to question whether a canonical curriculum, rooted in a specific, abstracted cultural view of the world, can be anything other than “monstrous”? Indeed, can it enable us to confront global emergencies that have emerged from the dominance of that very cultural view of the world? This is a critical, pedagogical project rooted in the production, consumption and circulation of the curriculum.

Is it possible to refuse the quantified-curriculum, which amplifies certain agendas and forms of power, in order to transform education as a participatory, communal good in the face of crises of sociability? And we remember that this maps across to the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change report on “Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability”. It called for strategies that are place and context specific, with complementary actions across levels, from individuals to governments. It positions this as contingent on, and sensitive to, societal values, objectives, and risk perceptions, with a recognition of diverse interests, circumstances, social-cultural contexts, and expectations.

And isn’t this a pedagogical project? Doesn’t this emerge immanent to a curriculum that needs to be dismantled if we are to engage with global emergencies?

And don’t we already have actually-existing examples of academics and activists and communities engaging with this work of dismantling our abstract experiences, and their concrete impacts?

And is it possible to draw on these examples, in order to associate #educationalrepair with wider societal repair? As a result might we build a curriculum that is engaged and full of care, and where we no longer simply learn to internalise, monitor and manage our own alienation?

And remembering bell hooks we know that this is a rejection of the quantified-curriculum, and a re-focusing upon self-actualisation as dynamic and fluid, and rooted in a different conception of what is to be done.

Critically questioning educational innovation in economics and business: Human interaction in a virtualising world

I’m speaking at the Educational Innovation in Economics and Business (EdinEB) conference next Wednesday (3 June), in Brighton. The conference is focused on the interplay between theory and practice, with the focus on “Critically questioning educational innovation in economics and business: Human interaction in a virtualising world”. The abstract is here. The slides are below, followed by some key points.

ONE. A framing of sorts [slides 2-4]

The idea of educational innovation is subsumed under the circuits of commodity production and money. We are sold the idea that such innovation is emancipatory for learners, freeing them as competitive and entrepreneurial in selling their labour-power and themselves. In the face of the politics of austerity, global socio-environmental crises, and the emotional crisis of sociability and anxiety, are the market and a financialised existence the only way?

TWO. Innovation as fetish [slides 5-11]

The global North is awash in educational innovation that is being driven by the law of value, and the motive desire to make previously socialised contexts like higher education productive. In particular, we see: the focus on families operating as private capitals, investing in their own, permanent re-skilling so that they are competitive; the disciplinary focus on the educator’s professional development and productivity, especially related to digital literacy; and an obsession with data as a means of prediction rooted in financialisation.

THREE. Innovation and the secular crisis [slides 12-21]

Educational innovation needs to be analysed in relation to hyper-financialisation, which itself sits inside the secular crisis of capitalism. Here the work of Marx is enlightening in enabling us to analyse our social forces of production and the relations of production that dominate our lives and our environment. The issue then is one of power and the mode of production of our everyday lives. Moreover, this is situated against the self-expansion of value, which then marginalises or co-opts our very humanity. The failure of self-expansion has catalysed what is called the secular crisis as a failure of monetary policy, or a failure of profitability, and has resulted increasingly in the delegitimisation of capitalism, and the very education innovations that are being forced upon us. Overwork, anxiety, depression, bewilderment are functions of this delegitimisation. Have we failed, or does the mode of production fail us? How therefore do we enable the self-expansion of quantitative pleasing rather than projecting our neuroses which are themselves forms of false consciousness?

FOUR. Innovation and the sociability of academic work [slides 22-40]

Higher educational innovation alters the sociability of academic work, as it drives exchange rather than use and performance management. In this way it becomes a fundamental element in a structural adjustment policy that reshapes the relationships between academics and students. There is a range of policy pronouncements [Willetts and Byrne via the Social Market Foundation, and Rizvi et al via the IPPR], policy tools [like the Future Earnings and Employability Record, and the Teaching Excellence Framework], and funding streams that drive innovation [like learning gain], which enable transnational associations of capitals to drive variable human capital investment, financialisation and marketization. Here we see the work of Pearson driving the joy of data, venture capital investment in MOOCs, and Bain and Company’s response to “a world awash in money”. Educational innovations are sold to higher education as personalisation, or retention, or employability, or whatever. However, they are developed: in response to the development of a world market; in order to make previously marginal sectors of the economy explicitly productive; as a way of leveraging the ratio of the total surplus-value produced in society to the total capital invested; and to revolutionise the means of production.

FIVE. What is to be done?

SIX. Innovation and the colonisation of the soul [slides 41-44]

This is just a note on who has power in a world where environmental and production costs have been outsourced to the global South, and where the compulsion for innovation is driven by specific groups of men. What is the relationship between hegemony and counter-hegemony, as revealed through educational innovation?

SEVEN. Abolishing educational innovation [slides 45-56]

The general intellect offers us a way of reframing educational innovation for alternative purposes beyond the market, at the level of society. The key here is how to define a different form of sociability, so that we are able to address global crises more appropriately. In this model there is a need to abolish the distinction between the University-as-factory and society, so that concrete collective work as a social force of production enables different ways of addressing problems. Here we have examples of innovative thinking and modelling from inside the University that focus upon the struggle for alternatives. These include The University of Manchester Post-Crash Economics Society and the Women’s Budget Group. We also have examples of innovative thinking and modelling from outside the University that focus upon the struggle for alternatives. These include People’s Political Economy and the Social Science Centre. We also have examples of the innovative thinking and modelling from inside-and-outside the University that focus upon the struggle for alternatives. These include the Manchester Open Data Project, the Telekommunist Manifesto, and the FLOK Society. The examples demonstrate that the process of innovation might be repurposed for outcomes that lie beyond the market, and which are shaped through critical pedagogy and co-operative practice.

EIGHT. Is it possible to innovate against the rule of money? Is it possible to innovate so that learning and teaching enable self-actualisation in a world that is framed by emergencies?

Dismantling the Curriculum in Higher Education

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

DTMH. 2015.

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

Fallon, J. 2013. African outcomes.

Fossil Free. 2015.

Gates Foundation, The. 2014. College-Ready Education, Strategy Overview.

Hall, R. 2014. On the abolition of academic labour: the relationship between intellectual workers and mass intellectuality. tripleC: Communication, Capitalism & Critique 12(2): 822-37.

Harris, K., Schwedel, A. and Kim, A. 2012. A world awash in money.

HEFCE. 2015. Learning and teaching excellence: Learning gain.

McGettigan, A. 2014. Financialising the University. Arena Magazine.

The Social Science Centre. 2015.

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

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

on academic bewilderment




a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome: “he felt a surge of anxiety”

Synonyms: worry; concern; apprehension; apprehensiveness; consternation; unease; fearfulness; disquiet; perturbation; fretfulness; agitation; angst; nervousness; stress; trepidation; foreboding; suspense.

when once you had believed it

now you see it’s sucking you in

to string you along with the pretense

and pave the way for the coming release

Get Innocuous. 2007. LCD Soundsystem.

What do we do in these half-days between £9,000 fees and what is to follow? When what we know will follow will be the grinding everyday of future earnings and employability records, and teaching excellence frameworks, and an obsession with learning gain, and the circuit of impact.

And all the while we wonder what is happening to the public-facing, public good that we hoped this academic life was about. As those with power argue for a removal of the ceiling on indenture. As those with power argue for outsourcing the fabric of the institutions which we thought were safe spaces. As those with power seek to monitor our every moment. As those with power seek to make us responsible for the safe running of the machine that destroys the fabric of our being. Forced to reproduce their alienation of our lives, inside the machinery of the institution, and inside the fabric of our public engagement, and inside our relationships with our students-as-customers, and inside our very selves.

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.

Marx, K. 1857. Grundrisse. Chapter 14.

I knew you were low man,

But the truth is I was shocked

(Of) power eyes, eyes never lie

Kids, Kids never lie.

Time to Get Away. 2007. LCD Soundsystem.

And we can see that those governing networks that enforce learning gain, and the national student survey, and the research excellence framework, and the higher education achievement record, and the future earnings and employability records, and performance management, and new public management techniques and methodologies, and internationalisation strategies, and precarious labour rights, cannot care about all the ands. They cannot care that as well as teaching and assessing and administrating and researching and scholarship, that this is too much.

They cannot care that this reduces the capability of people and relationships to withstand stress.

They cannot care that this is too much.

They cannot care that this makes us anxious.

And this anxiety is driven by the need for us to live two half-lives. In one we try to be partners in a social construction; in social sustainability; in a willingness to address those global issues that will fuck our world over. Partners in trying to find solutions that are not beholden to the structuring logic of the market. Yet this half-life decays quicker than the other half-life – the demands made of us to treat our lives as services that can be commodified and exchanged. Our whole lives now reproduced as labour-power. Lost to us.

And in making sense of the loss our cognitive dissonance places the use-value and the exchange-value of our work in screaming tension.

And how can we survive this?

But there’s no love man there’s no love and the kids are uptight

So throw a party till the cops come in and bust it up.

North American Scum. 2007. LCD Soundsystem.

How do we survive as we see vindictive actions taking place against trades unionists and students who go into occupation? How do we survive when the police are invited onto campus to maintain a very particular narrative of democratic order? How will we survive when the senior management of universities increasingly resort to banning orders against protest? How will we survive when senior management are content to refer to students who question governance and power as “yobs”?

How will we survive when the tactics that were trialled and practiced and refined during the Coalition are amplified just as austerity is amplified?

How do we build an alternative when there can be no alternative?


And it keeps coming,

And it keeps coming,

And it keeps coming,

Till the day it stops.

Someone Great. 2007. LCD Soundsystem.

And the question becomes what now for academics and students, in this “how”? What now in the face of a recovery that demands continual, Keynesian stimulus, and the attrition on wages and living standards and labour rights and welfare in order to maintain the rate of profit, and indentured study, and precarious life and work, and the permanence of deficits and debt, and narratives that hate and which demonise.

What now for academics and students as this crisis of over-accumulation, and its political impacts, flood into the University?

What now for academics and students as the value of their labour-power collapses in order to maintain the rate of profit?

What now for academics and students as their labour-power is alienated from them, and turned into work for which they have little use, beyond its ability to let them survive physically in a world that is cognitively and emotionally broken? And yet at the same time we can see that this physical survival is time-limited, as we continue to refuse to divest because we must consume.

You spent the first five years trying to get with the plan

And the next five years trying to be with your friends again

All My Friends. 2007. LCD Soundsystem.

Because at the level of the State and in the hierarchies of universities, there is increasingly limited understanding of the political economic value of the labour of academics and students. And there is limited willingness to enable that labour-power to support the wider public good, as a form of mass intellectuality. There is just the attempt to scrub that labour-power clean of any risk.

The risk that is embedded in autonomy.

So that the activities of the University are governed by risk management as a futures-trading activity. So that anxiety about potential risks can be internalised inside the organisation and inside each of us. So that we can never focus on the present, because that present is immanent to past performance and mitigating future failure Where future failure is anything other than total quality excellence, all the time.

So how can we focus on this essay or this tutorial or this viva or this paper or this presentation, when our lives are governed by the demand that we are persistently and permanently alive to the next entrepreneurial possibility? How can we be present with ourselves and others in the present, when we must be internalising and reproducing continual improvement and learning gain and teaching excellence and research impact?

When we are trying to finesse the future and learn from the past, how can we be? In the face of entrepreneurial excellence, how can we be other than anxious?

Avoid all the plans cuz we’re making our day jobs

Into a steady career

We’re both high high high, high high on lemon sips

We all claw claw claw, cli-climb-on to sinking ships

And ah ooh! avoid all the cold sideways glances

And ah ooh! celebrate! celebrate! celebrate!

And then turn to stone

All the Tapes. 2007. LCD Soundsystem.

And where do we look, in order to overcome the duality of an uncertain landscape for our labour and the certainty that our labour is no longer ours? The reality is that it never was, but it felt momentarily like we were the lucky few. With agency and power-over our work, and doing a job that we loved and which was worthy, and that made our families believe in our and their status. That we were someone with something to say. With a voice. With a purpose. With lots of badges.

And now what? Subsumed inside the market.

And now what? Waiting to find out how our labour will be co-opted once more. Even more. Ever more.

And now what, in that co-option by privateers seeking rents from our work, and by publishers seeking rents from our work, and by politicians seeking impact and tradable services from our work, and by transatlantic trade and investment partnerships seeking to open and dominate our labour for exchange, and by investment banks seeking to monetise the future and past of our work as derivatives?

And what now when these privateers and politicians and publishes and trading networks and investment banks act as an association? As a joint venture?

Fight or flight? Or just give up?

Sound of silver talk to me

Makes you want to feel like a teenager

Until you remember the feelings of

A real life emotional teenager

Then you think again.

Sound of Silver. 2007. LCD Soundsystem.

And what are the feelings we remember now? When we teach? When we present our work? When we listen to others teach or present?

What are our feelings when we hear about the foreclosing of opportunity beyond the market?

What are our feelings when we hear about how marginalised groups are fighting to be heard inside the academy? When we hear women protesting sexual harassment on campus? When we hear students and academics who wish to dismantle the university as a form of colonialized and colonializing house? When we hear postgraduate students and precariously employed academics voicing concerns about casualization? When we hear students and academics calling for divestment and to leave fossil fuels in the ground?

How do we address our silence?

What does it mean to speak?

And oh… Take me off your mailing list

For kids that think it still exists

Yes, for those who think it still exists

New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down. 2007. LCD Soundsystem.

Perhaps what it means to speak is to register that this space and time of higher education is not what we thought it might be. And that what we hoped it might be will be way beyond our comprehension in the next five years. So that it might just have been a dream.

And that what we hoped it might be is not the institution or the idea of the campaign to defend what never was and never could be. Nothing and nowhere.

Perhaps what it means is to take their instantiation of risk, and their trading in our psyches on our fears of being punished for being anything other than excellent, in every way and all the time. Perhaps we take this past and futures trading and show what it is doing to our individual and collective selves, and our individual and collective ability to face socio-environmental crisis. To face a crisis that is rooted in our political economic; our very material history.

To try to find spaces and times to refuse and push-back against their trading in our psyches.

To try to find spaces and times to refuse and push-back against the demand for entrepreneurialism and exchange. Because entrepreneurialism and exchange just demonstrate the fleeting nature of our status and the self-harm of a constant need to reproduce ourselves anew.

To try to find spaces and times to refuse to download and install their fear of their potential loss of control. Because their control risks blinding us to wider, structural and societal iniquities. So that we risk reinforcing those iniquities of debt, precarity, outsourcing, the attrition on labour rights, delegitimation, the militarisation of the campus, through our silence.

And we cannot do this on our own. Alone inside higher education. When we are through the looking glass.

And it keeps coming until the day it stops.

Fight or flight? Or just give up?

Because sometimes we forget that we spent t he last five years discussing and planning in occupations and social centres and co-operatives. And we remember that people are fighting austerity and organising foodbanks and fighting for the right to a home and for asylum. And in the face of this all they could do was militarise against that organisation.

As James Butler wrote in 2011:

Any movement is what you make of it – I won’t be ceding the ground to conspiracy theorists, or the liberal centrists, or the nationalists. There is a real chance here, and to pass it up without any engagement is jawdropping.

Sometimes I forget that we might be stronger than we think.

Critically questioning educational innovation in economics and business: human interaction in a virtualising world

I’m speaking at the Educational Innovation in Economics and Business (EdinEB) conference on 3 June, in Brighton. The conference is focused on the interplay between theory and practice, with the focus on “Critically questioning educational innovation in economics and business: Human interaction in a virtualising world”. I will be speaking about the following…


The global economic crisis of 2008 has been followed by a persistent recession, with low levels of growth, weak aggregate demand, and high levels of underemployment or unemployment. This forced an engagement with the idea that the global economy is witnessing a secular stagnation or crisis, which has in-turn recalibrated the landscape of English higher education, with implications for the idea of the University. This process has amplified the twin forces of marketization and financialisation that are reconstituting the higher education sector for the production, circulation and accumulation of value.

As a result of this restructuring for value, educational innovation has been subsumed under political economic realities, which stipulate that there is no alternative to the logic of choice and competition. This political economy is underscored culturally and pedagogically through an obsession with innovation that includes: redefining academic labour as entrepreneurial or for employment; enforcing a creative curriculum; amplifying the use of data to establish learning gain; co-opting the staff/student relationship as partnership; developing internationalisation strategies through open education.

This keynote will argue that educational innovations might usefully be examined in light of the relationships between: technological and organisational innovation; the dominant political economy that is affecting competing educational providers; the disciplinary role of the State in shaping an educational space for further capital accumulation; and the subsumption of open networks to the realities of performativity and performance management. The argument will situate educational innovations inside-and-against Capital’s drive to subsume labour practices inside technologically-mediated forms of coercion, command and control, rather than to enable social mobility or emancipation.

It will be argued that the ways in which such educational innovations and the services that are derived from them are valorised might offer a glimpse of how the processes that drive capital accumulation might themselves be resisted. The argument will draw on the examples of The Post-Crash Economics Society (PCES) at the University of Manchester, the People Political Economy Project in Oxford, the International Student Initiative for Pluralism in Economics (ISIPE), and the Rethinking Economics conference, in order to examine the social relationships that emerge around notionally neutral, educational innovations. We might then ask, is it possible to reclaim human interaction and sociability in a virtualising world?

On common educational ownership and refusing human capital

ONE. Resistance is futile.

In discussing the financialisation of higher education, and the marketisation that is immanent to it, Andrew McGettigan has argued that:

I am frequently asked, ‘what then should be done?’ My answer is that unless academics rouse themselves and contest the general democratic deficit from within their own institutions and unless we have more journalists taking up these themes locally and nationally, then very little can be done. We are on the cusp of something more profound than is indicated by debates around the headline fee level; institutions and sector could make moves that will be difficult, if not impossible, to undo, whether it is negotiated independence for the elite or shedding charitable status the better to access private finance.

McGettigan’s most recent piece on the unfolding political economy of higher education and variable human capital, develops the argument that we are on the cusp of something more profound. This is rooted in a new policy framework inside which the practices of teaching and learning can be disassembled, commodified and traded/exchanged. This new policy framework is enacted through a variety of secondary legislation rather than a specific act of parliament, and seeks to turn the culture of higher education towards entrepreneurialism and social mobility. This culture is grounded in the family acting as a capitalist firm, rather than in other social formations, such as those that are co-operative and collective. Here, performance measurement and management dominate University life, and bring the relationships that emerge in the classroom and within families into stark, asymmetrical relation to the market. As a result, life inside-and-outside the classroom is collapsed around the need to generate value and exchange and enterprise. What happens inside the classroom becomes a primary, societal concern beyond the governance and regulation of individual universities or the higher education sector.

The Coalition government has quietly put in place a series of measures designed to support a new performance metric: repayment of loans by course and institution. It could become the one metric to dominate all others and will be theorised under the rubric of ‘human capital investment’.

The Small Business, Enterprise and Employability Act received Royal Assent at the end of March 2015. Section Six of the bill is titled ‘Education Evaluation’… I quote [the Act]

[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.

Here, we have a clear flow between an enterprising policy framework and the imperative to generate learning gain. Thus, we witness the Higher Education Funding Council for England, working with partners like the RAND Corporation:

to develop better ways of capturing excellent educational outcomes, including new approaches to measuring students’ learning. Developing our understanding of student learning is integral to ongoing debates about the quality and impact of higher education, and how we evidence the value of investment in it.

This inter-relationship between teaching quality and outcomes is fore-grounded in the work of the UK Higher Education Academy, which argues that:

This [partnership] approach recognises that engaged student learning is positively linked with learning gain and achievement, and argues that partnership represents a sophisticated and effective approach to student engagement because it offers the potential for a more authentic engagement with the nature of learning itself and the possibility for genuinely transformative learning experiences for all involved. Hence we speak of engagement through partnership [emphasis added].

Whilst the focus on learning gain and achievement here is not specifically linked to performance management and financialisation, it provides a professionally-validated, evidential space for the overlay of financialised services onto the relationships between staff and students. This is a process of evidencing the value of education as a private and positional good.

TWO. Enterprise for everyone, all the time.

In this process of evidencing the value of investment in higher education, McGettigan notes the importance of Lord Young’s report for government, Enterprise for All, in which was “recommended that each course at each institution should have to publish a Future Earnings and Employment Record ‘so that students can assess the full costs and likely benefits of specific courses at specific institutions.’” And we should not be surprised to witness an opening-up and connecting of datasets around academic performance, retention and progression, the repayment of student fees, and future earnings profiles. Because in addressing the structural crises of the economy, new financial mechanisms are pivotal, as are new markets that enable exportable services that mitigate poor performance. And as a result, performance becomes a tradable commodity. And think of the opportunities for value creation if we can compare performance and earnings across programmes of study and institutions and cohorts. And think of the opportunities for value creation if we can re-engineer curriculum inputs so that we can reduce the risk of futures trading in educational outcomes and earnings.

And so the Enterprise for All recommendations included the creation of the Future Earnings and Employment Record (FEER).

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

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

For McGettigan this policy space, framed by a cultural turn towards entrepreneurialism, underpins the co-option of teaching and learning for exchange.

In October 2013, David Willetts, then minister for science and universities, expressed his enthusiasm for a new research project funded by the Nuffield Foundation:

Professor Neil Shephard of Harvard University and Professor Anna Vignoles of Cambridge University are currently merging a wealth of data from the Student Loans Company and HM Revenue and Customs which should deliver a significant improvement in the current data on labour market outcomes of similar courses at different institutions.

…The project is titled ‘Estimating Human Capital of Graduates’ and seeks to assess how the future earnings of ‘similar students’ vary ‘by institution type and subject’:

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.

Crucially then, undergraduate degrees are shaped and presented as the individual’s willingness to invest in her own human capital, in order to become productive and as a result socially-useful. One of the policy outcomes is the need to recalibrate HE around the logic of ensuring that the consumers of education have good enough data or information upon which to make their investment choices.

[Education is] a human capital investment that benefits the private individual insofar as it enables that individual to boost future earnings. Universities and colleges are then to be judged on how well they provide training that does indeed boost earnings profiles. Such ‘value add’ ’would displace current statistical concoctions based on prior attainment and final degree classification. The key device is loans: they go out into the world and the manner in which they are repaid generates information. Graduates then become the bearers of the units of account by which HE performance is set into a system of accountability: ‘What level of repayments is this graduate of this course likely to produce over the next 35 years?’

This restructures learning, teaching and scholarship. Structurally, academic work becomes a response to the realities of financiaisation, which re-purpose the design, delivery and assessment of the curriculum for exchange. What is the point of our flipped classroom or our social learning theory or our peer-assessment or our peer mentoring strategy, except as a means to measure learning gain? Our pedagogy is simply a means to produce/capture/use data to commoditise every curriculum asset (learning outcomes, curriculum delivery systems, progression data, content, assessments and grades and so on) to the benefit of finance capital, and the Government, through financial profits and rising asset values that correlate with bubbles and speculation. And given that so much of the UK’s economic growth is generated through services and consumption, this is unsurprising.

THREE. Historical anxiety and data.

McGettigan develops this point by situating it against its historical context, in the relationships between the government, education institutions, and both individuals and their families that were highlighted by Milton Friedman in The Role for Government in Education:

[Education is] a form of investment in human capital precisely analogous to investment in machinery, buildings, or other forms of non-human capital. Its function is to raise the economic productivity of the human being. If it does so, the individual is rewarded in a free enterprise society by receiving a higher return for his services.

The subsidisation of institutions rather than of people has led to an indiscriminate subsidization of whatever activities it is appropriate for such institutions to undertake, rather than of activities it is appropriate for the state to subsidise. The problem is not primarily that we are spending too little money … but that we are getting so little per dollar spent.

For McGettigan this is a critical point in re-structuring higher education.

And here is the rub. The growing and unexpectedly large subsidy built into the current iteration of fee-loan regime points to that same problem: the government is not getting the maximum from borrowers or from universities (which are using tuition fees to subsidise other activities like research). One might blame universities that set fees for classroom subjects at the same rate as lab-based subjects, that blanket £9 000 per annum, or loan funding offered for subjects that do nothing to boost graduate productivity. Either way, it points to the issue of mis-investment rather than underinvestment. Indeed, given the statistics on graduates filling posts that do not require graduate qualifications, from the human capital theory perspective, one might even use the language of overinvestment in HE. It is not clear to many whether the problems of the graduate labour market are recessionary, structural, secular or a combination of all three.

As David Willetts argued in Robbins Revisited “Without radical changes to how universities were financed however it was going to be difficult to change their behaviour. Now there is an opportunity to use our funding changes to push a real cultural change back towards teaching.” And, of course, one of the critical outcomes of this behavioural change is that academic work becomes suffused with anxiety, because judgements are being made. Is this course creditworthy? Is this course meeting externally-imposed standards that are financialised? Does this course have benefit for individuals and the institution in the market? Is this course entrepreneurial enough? Is this course a private, positional good? And flowing from those questions are judgements about the design and delivery of the curriculum, its content and its assessments. And these judgements enable a feeding frenzy for any public/private partner or joint venture that can offer tradable services that are designed for learning gain. This is the background noise that drowns out everything else inside the need to crack new markets for new services.

The current vogue for the private sector to use evidence to drive an allegedly neutral cultural and political space for policy is amplified through analytics and big data. These tend to frame the expectations of the voiceless student as a cipher for a weakly-theorised view of impact, efficiencies, personalisation, scaling, and service-led innovation. There is no space to discuss structural inequalities that amplify issues of autonomy or agency, or the ways in which consent is addressed inside the classroom. In this process, openness or transparency or accountability is no substitute for political engagement. Thus, this article on Lies, Damned Lies and Open Data argues that

Now we must renew the much larger battle over the role of evidence in public policy. On the surface, the open data movement was about who could access and use government data. It rested on the idea that data was as much a public asset as a highway, bridge, or park and so should be made available to those who paid for its creation and curation: taxpayers. But contrary to the hopes of some advocates, improving public access to data—that is, access to the evidence upon which public policy is going to be constructed—does not magically cause governments’, and politicians’, desire for control to evaporate. Quite the opposite. Open data will not depoliticize debate. It will force citizens, and governments, to realize how politicized data is, and always has been.

In her essay on the anxieties of big data, Kate Crawford enables us to wonder whether such a politicisation might emerge from an analysis of anxiety.

Already, the lived reality of big data is suffused with a kind of surveillant anxiety — the fear that all the data we are shedding every day is too revealing of our intimate selves but may also misrepresent us. Like a fluorescent light in a dark corridor, it can both show too much and not enough. Anxiety, as Sianne Ngai has written, has a temporality that is future oriented: it is an expectation emotion, and the expectation is generally of risk, exposure, and failure. British group Plan C in their blistering manifesto “We Are All Very Anxious” argue that anxiety is the dominant affect of our current phase of capitalism, engendering political hopelessness, insecurity, and social separation.

The current mythology of big data is that with more data comes greater accuracy and truth. This epistemological position is so seductive that many industries, from advertising to automobile manufacturing, are repositioning themselves for massive data gathering. The myth and the tools, as Donna Haraway once observed, mutually constitute each other, and the instruments of data gathering and analysis, too, act as agents that shape the social world. Bruno Latour put it this way: “Change the instruments, and you will change the entire social theory that goes with them.” The turn to big data is a political and cultural turn, and we are just beginning to see its scope.

FOUR. The academic bind: dismantling the curriculum.

McGettigan has connected issues of policy to the mechanics of financialisation through data, and highlights the bind that academics now find themselves in.

What I have outlined here, 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.

The risk is that academics seeking to resist this further privatisation of knowledge will be cast as vested interests seeking to protect an old, inadequate system lacking in transparency. We will end up on the wrong side of the argument. The difficulty: How to articulate what is threatened? How to defend forms of knowledge which are not subordinate to private returns? Academic freedom and autonomy now face a more pressing, insidious, financialised threat than the traditional bugbear of direct political interference. But all this may prove too abstract for effective resistance.

I have no glib solution to which you might sign up. But when hard times find us, criticism must strike for the root: the root is undergraduate study as a stratified, unequal, positional good dominating future opportunities and outcomes. What might find broader public support is a vision of higher education institutions that are civic and open to lifelong participation, instead of places beholden to the three-year, full-time degree leveraged on loans and aiming to cream off ‘talent’.

Striking at this root means working with students to question the reduction of our lives to economic value. What is certainly needed is a recognition that the forces of production across capitalist society, which are increasingly restructuring higher education as means of production, are also increasingly ranged asymmetrically against the everyday experiences of young people, whether that is in the curriculum or beyond. As Joss Winn has argued:

Students are more viscerally outspoken about the need for fundamental changes in the governance of their universities. In occupation – most recently at UCL, Goldsmiths, KCL, LSE, UAL, and in Amsterdam – they too demand democracy as a basic requisite for a free university.

Can academics support both critique and the development/nurturing of alternative forms of learning and teaching that in-turn push-back against the dominant political agenda that commodifies humanity? We see such possibilities inside alternative educational forms, and through the politics of occupations, as well as in the collective resistance to austerity in Europe. Somehow, this means taking Schumpeter’s point in Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, that we need to reconnect our work against the dematerialised, defunctionalised and absentee domination of our lives, which is enacted through the market. There is a need to think through how the curriculum and its organising principles might be liberated as a form of open, co-operative, common property that is itself rooted in social struggle beyond the University.

Moreover, they force us to question how to dismantle the curriculum as it is co-opted of exchange, so that at the intersection of common goods, liberation and pedagogic practice, academics might question how to situate the financialisation of higher education, and the use of data and debt to drive control, inside collective action against the politics of austerity. As Winn goes on:

Critics of the ‘co-operative university’ have questioned our commitment to the idea of the ‘public university’. Indeed, co-operatives are anti-statist, but they also exceed the idea of ‘public ownership’ with that of ‘common ownership’, a social form of property that is the antithesis of the right of free alienability (which distinguishes capitalist private property). In short, co-operative higher education is entirely compatible with the idea of the ‘public’ if we reconceive it as an autonomous, open, democratically governed ‘commons’: An academic commons, democratically controlled by academic and support staff, students, cleaners and others.

However, in this move towards common ownership is the formation of a movement whose struggle is beyond the form of higher education, towards engaging with the concept of dismantling as it has been critically developed at UCL. The process of dismantling as it emerges from a critique of “racialised wrongs in our [academic] workplace and in the wider world” focuses upon:

  • unpacking the intellectual and moral arguments for Britain’s former Empire, [in order that] we can begin to challenge its legacies today;
  • analysing the dominance and subjugation which mark these racialised phenomena, we can begin to equip ourselves with the necessary tools to dismantle it; and
  • improving the way we engage with staff, students and the wider world, #DTMH seeks to contribute to a more equal and liberatory future in Britain and beyond.

The concept of dismantling emerges asymmetrically against the idea that the curriculum might be broken-up and commodified for exchange. We might, therefore, look at how this becomes a starting point for a wider questioning of issues of power and ideology inside the curriculum and its organising principles, so that we might offer a wider/societal critique of the co-option of the curriculum.

FIVE. On academic refusal.

As I argue elsewhere on the abolition of academic labour:

Here academics might usefully ask, what activities are we collectively willing to bear and how might they be determined, governed and regulated? This demands that the range of academic labourers, including full and assistant professors, adjunct and sessional instructors, teacher assistants and so on are able to consider points of solidarity rather than division. The work emerging around the new co-operativism, and the intellectual underpinnings of pedagogies like student-as-producer (Amsler and Neary 2012) and of organisations like the Social Science Centre (2014), offer a way of framing and reconceptualising the potential proto/rollback/rollout phases of a co-operative alternative to neoliberalism. This work is also a way of challenging the reality of the competitive restructuring of public higher education, and the idea that the university is for-profit and valorisation. Here it is the spread of ideas across transnational activist networks of co-operators that might enable a reconnection of academic labour as labour across society, in a form that enables it to support mass intellectuality rather than private accumulation (Virno 2001; Winn 2014). As the Social Science Centre (2014) states, hope lies in the “possibilities for associational networks” that critique higher education policy and practice…

This process demands the negation of the reified nature of academic labour, so that social values rather than value are at the core of how society is reproduced.

This demands that we re-engage with the ways in which the labour of academics and students is used by corporations, non-governmental advocacy organisations, and governments, in order to re-frame cultural and educational positions as entrepreneurial, in the name of exchange, the market and the rate of profit. Instead, might it be used co-operatively and in common for work beyond the classroom as it is marketised? Academic refusal to give consent cannot crystallise around silence. As teaching, learning and scholarship are co-opted by the market, in the form of value, money, learning gain or impact, other social or co-operative forms of value are marginalised.

By overcoming our unwillingness to discuss such marginalisation across both university governance and in the curriculum, and in learning from critiques centred on the idea of dismantling, academics might begin to address McGettigan’s point that “What might find broader public support is a vision of higher education institutions that are civic and open to lifelong participation, instead of places beholden to the three-year, full-time degree leveraged on loans and aiming to cream off ‘talent’.” This process of finding commonality and connection across a range of struggles is critical if we are to refuse

A system of educational production that is using learning gain and deliverology and data and performance anxiety to force us into new forms of cognitive dissonance rooted in narratives of labour-market readiness. Might we build something that is engaged and full of care, and where we no longer simply learn to internalise, monitor and manage our own alienation?

on learning gain, academic subsumption and performance anxiety

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

Arcade Fire. 2011. Ready to Start.

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

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

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

Suba Devarajan. 2013. Deliverology and all that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endnotes. The History of Subsumption.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Conservative Party Manifesto, 2015.

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

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

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

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

A real cultural change.

The new normal.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Fallon. 2013. African outcomes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drew Faust. 2013. Harvard University Fossil Fuel Divestment Statement

And that in the struggle for divestment one researcher writes:

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

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

I care deeply where my university invests its money.

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

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

Wall street jumps in the Hudson

With gold in their bathing suits

Then we send in the miracle ferries

That’s all we do

The National. 2010. Sin-Eaters.