book launches: Mass Intellectuality and Democratic Leadership in Higher Education

Over the next month or so we have three events to discuss and celebrate the publication of Mass Intellectuality and Democratic Leadership in Higher Education as part of Bloomsbury Academic’s series on perspectives on leadership in higher education. These events are taking place at Bristol, Birmingham and then at De Montfort. There is a fourth planned for Cardiff around Easter. Details of these events are given below.

  1. Bristol Conversations in Education – Mass Intellectuality and Democratic Leadership in Higher Education (Tuesday 30 January 2018, with Joss Winn and Joel Lazarus).
  2. Birmingham Autonomous University Collective (supported by MGS, ISRF, Westmere UGS and CPT): Mass Intellectuality and Democratic Leadership in Higher Education (Friday 2 February 2018, with Joyce Canaan, Tom Henfrey, and Jenny Pearce). Register here or by emailing bau.comms@outlook.com
  3. De Montfort University, Institute for Education Futures: Richard Hall, Joss Winn (University of Lincoln) and Sarah Amsler (University of Nottingham) will discuss the recently-published, edited collection, Mass Intellectuality and Democratic Leadership in Higher Education. Email me if you wish to attend – it’s invite only.

Blurb from the DMU event…

The context for the book is that higher education across the globe is in crisis. The idea of the public university is under assault, and both the future of the sector and its relationship to society are being gambled. Higher education is increasingly unaffordable, its historic institutions are becoming untenable, and their purpose is resolutely instrumental. What form does intellectual leadership take in addressing these issues and in revealing possible alternatives? The contributors argue that mass higher education is at the point where it no longer reflects the needs, capacities and long-­term interests of global society. An alternative role and purpose is required, based upon ‘mass intellectuality’ or the real possibility of democracy in learning and the production of knowledge.

As editors, Richard and Joss will provide an overview of the context and key themes from the book. Sarah will act as a respondent, analysing the application of these themes to life inside the University, and for educational projects outside. The session will critique intellectual leadership in the university, exploring ongoing efforts from around the world to create alternative models for organizing higher education and the production of knowledge. We will ask: is it possible to re­imagine the university democratically and co­operatively? If so, what are the implications for leadership not just within the university but also in terms of higher education’s relationship to society?

The collection features case studies from academics and students working inside and outside the University. The key features and chapters are detailed at: http://www.richard-hall.org/2017/09/01/published-mass-intellectuality-and-democratic-leadership-in-higher-education/

Reference

Hall, R., and Winn, J. (eds). (2017). Mass Intellectuality and Democratic Leadership in Higher Education. London: Bloomsbury Academic. http://bit.ly/2dYsEkDandhttp://hdl.handle.net/2086/12714


Radical pedagogies: dismantling the curriculum in higher education

I spoke yesterday at radical pedagogies: a humanities teaching forum at the University of Kent. My slides are here.

A recording of my jibber-jabber will be made available at some point via the conference website. However, there is a recording of a similar presentation at Greenwich from last November here.

I have posted some key links and resources that help me analyse or deconstruct or dismantle my approach to the curriculum below. Herewith I have posted some of the fundamental points that I was trying to explore during my talk.


ONE. As Sara Ahmed notes (following Angela Davis) in Living a Feminist Life, acknowledging those who have helped to carry the fire of your argument is important. Whilst I begin from an attempt to understand the reproduction of the world through the application of absolute negativity, or negative dialectics, my focus on rebuilding my understanding as something more productive demands an engagement with the narratives, stories and analyses of those who have been made marginalised. It is impossible for me to believe that those voices which led us into multiple crises of sociability, or social reproduction, are those we should listen to for solutions. They all must go.

TWO. One outcome of this is an attempted dialogue with those who would decolonise or dismantle the alienating contexts in which we are forced to work.

THREE. One such alienating context is the University, which is increasingly toxic. In order to hold on to what I need, I attempt to remember (and sometimes it is very difficult) the words of bell hooks describing learning as a process, rooted in the shared intellectual and spiritual growth of students and teachers, which emerges from conditions of care. Thinking about this in relation to Sara Ahmed’s description of what it means to live a feminist life gives us a starting point for discussing a more humane approach to the curriculum, which is the site of our critical engagement with each other. Ahmed’s description acts as a heuristic, enabling us to test our assumptions about ideals, norms, justice, legitimacy, marginalisation, mobility and so on inside our curricula.

FOUR. I ask whether it is possible for us to go into occupation of a curriculum that has been repurposed as a thing, reinforced by data and underscored by money? Is it possible for us to reclaim the curriculum as a process of becoming and of being, against a hegemonic view of the curriculum as a positional good both for students and institutions? Can we think about the ongoing process of creating social wealth through the curriculum, rather than reducing it to exchange-value and individual positionality?

FIVE. This is such a difficult thing to do, in the face of a policy narrative that shapes higher education for human capital; in the face of a policy narrative that increasingly proletarianises and diminishes academic labour; in the face of the policy narrative that forces us to internalise performativity, at the individual, subject and institutional-level; in the face of policy narrative that demands anxiety as a motive energy. Here we might reflect on our own cognitive dissonance as we are forced to internalise a particular subjectivity or mode of attention in our relationship to power. We might also reflect on the risks it takes to be wilful, or wilfully dissident.

SIX. The consultation for the Office for Students hints at the joy of learning for its own sake, and the public value of higher education. However, this is quickly subsumed under: the imperative to subsume higher education under the dictates of competition in the market; the imperative to justify this subsumption in terms of value-for-money and consumer protection; the need to commodify the processes of higher education, including the curriculum and staff/student relationships, so that better performance data is available for that market; the belief that it is only through competition that curriculum enhancement can be achieved; and, the reduction of trust-based classroom relationships to risk management, rather than acts of care.

SEVEN. I remember that Engels railed against competition because it separated us and set us against each other; that it forces us to deny the existence or subjectivity of others; that it forces us to objectify others; that it is used as a means of control and to impose more work; and our way out of this living death is cooperative and by authentic association with each other.

EIGHT. I am interested in the curriculum as a process of being and becoming. I am interested in how we engage with this process to reveal the layers of alienation that exist inside the University, in order to reveal those layers beyond. This includes recognising issues of ill-being, precarity and depression, and seeing their relationships to performance management and governance, rooted in the need to drive money and surplus as an apparent form of social wealth. However, it is important to analyse these in terms of separation: of student from staff; of student from content; of student from the start and end points of the curriculum; of the student’s life experience from her experience in the classroom; of staff from the ownership of the means of producing the curriculum; and so on. It is important to analyse these in terms of who governs and controls the labour-power inside the classroom. Our experience inside the classroom is mediated for us. We do not mediate our own experience with each other or with the world.

NINE. We have a lot to be pissed off about. I am indignant. I am searching for dignity. If you are not pissed off, then you are not paying attention.

TEN. We might then use our indignation to analyse a commodified curriculum that is stripped back to reveal flows of alienation at the intersections of: self/subject and other/object reflected in it; gender, race, (dis)ability, class reproduced through it; adaptations to socio-environmental crises ignored in it; disciplinary separations demanded by it. The curriculum as a process of being unbecoming that is an ongoing form of social wealth and a process of struggle over our social reproduction. We might ask, what is to be done?

ELEVEN. One moment of dialogue for developing an analysis is an engagement with ideas around dismantling or decolonising the curriculum, starting from an anti-oppressive position grounded in the experiences of those students and staff who have been othered. This enables us to reveal: underlying logics of truth or legitimacy in relation to curriculum design, delivery and assessment; ongoing colonisation in terms of the commodity dumping of open education resources into the global South and the extraction of human capital from those spaces into the global North; the possibilities that are implicit in a curriculum that is opened-out to a range of contributions and a range of starting points, and which is rooted in voice.

TWELVE. This is incredibly hard work, and demands the care for our collective intellectual and spiritual growth, of which bell hooks spoke. It demands that we consider our positions in relation to courage, fidelity, restraint, generosity, tolerance, and forgiveness. These are not unconditional, and they forces to confront issues of whiteness ¦ lack of support ¦ indirect racism ¦ permanence of race ¦ Eurocentric curriculum ¦ false/double consciousness ¦ exceptionalism.

THIRTEEN. Is it possible to develop the wealth of our real connections through the curriculum, and thereby to liberate ourselves? What does this mean for the ways in which we produce and consume the world? Pace Marx, the curriculum can only form a starting point for this where we enable individuals to create their own social interconnections, in order to gain mastery over them, and to develop their conscious knowing, their being and becoming. An alienating, reified or fetishised curriculum ruled by money does not enable the individual to become herself, or to know herself truly in the world beyond her value in a competitive market. It simply objectifies.

FOURTEEN. Such a moment of becoming then enables us to work against the ways in which our experiences are mediated by the market, the division of labour, commodity-exchange, in order to recognise how our collective, social skills, capabilities and knowledge have been stolen from us and sold back to us as knowledge transfer, impact, start-up activity, entrepreneurship and so on. It might then be possible for us to recognise our mass intellectuality, or our common ability to do. Without such recognition, we will only ever outsource the possibility of solutions to crises to the bureaucrats or scientists or technologists. We will not see that the solution lies inside ourselves.

FIFTEEN. We have so many examples of resistance and struggle and indignation, and of collective being and becoming, which emerge from inside and outside of the University. At issue are the ways in which we remove the false binary between inside and outside, in order to dismantle the University or to dissolve the institution into the fabric of society. At issue are the ways in which we use critical pedagogy to abolish the University, so that praxis, knowledge production, useful knowledge emerge at the level of society, rather than inside a fetishised institution.

SIXTEEN. How can we be wilfully engaged? How can we use the classroom as a weapon for wilful engagement, rooted in love? How do we become inter-generationally ungovernable?

SEVENTEEN. Do not fetishise the University. Do not fetishise the curriculum.


Some resources

Ian Clark has been maintaining useful notes on the conference here.

Ahmed, S. (2017). Living a Feminist Life. Durham: Duke University Press.

Ahmed, S.(2012). On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life. Durham: Duke University Press.

Ciccariello-Maher, G. 2017. Decolonizing Dialectics. Durham: Duke University Press.

Davis, A.Y. (2016). Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine and the Foundations of a Movement. London: Haymarket Books.

Dinerstein, A (2015). The Politics of Autonomy in Latin America: The Art of Organising Hope. London: Palgrave Macmillan

Dismantling the Master’s House (2015). Dismantling the Master’s House, Available at: http://www.dtmh.ucl.ac.uk/

Hall, R. (2017). The rise of academic ill-health. http://www.richard-hall.org/2017/09/06/the-rise-of-academic-ill-health/

Hall, R., and Winn, J. (eds). (2017). Mass Intellectuality and Democratic Leadership in Higher Education. London: Bloomsbury Academic. http://bit.ly/2dYsEkD andhttp://hdl.handle.net/2086/12714

Hall, R., and Smyth, K. (2016). Dismantling the Curriculum in Higher Education. Open Library of the Humanities. 2(1), p.e11. DOI: http://doi.org/10.16995/olh.66

Hall, R., and Bowles, K. (2016). Re-engineering higher education: the subsumption of academic labour and the exploitation of anxiety. Workplace: A Journal of Academic Labour, 28, 30-47. http://hdl.handle.net/2086/12709

Hall, R. (2014). On the abolition of academic labour: the relationship between intellectual workers and mass intellectuality. tripleC: Communication, Capitalism & Critique, 12 (2), 822-37. http://hdl.handle.net/2086/10816

hooks, bell . (1994). Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. London: Routledge

Lorde, A. (1988). A Burst of Light: Essays. Ithaca, NY: Firebrand.

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

McGettigan, A (2015). The Treasury View of HE: Variable Human Capital Investment. Political Economy Research Centre. Papers Series 6. Available at: http://bit.ly/2mkH7sK

Mirza, H. (2015). Decolonising Higher Education: Black Feminism and the Intersectionality of Race and Gender, Journal of Feminist Scholarship, 7-8: 1-12.

Neary, M. (2017). A pedagogy of hate. Policy Futures in Education, 15 (5). pp. 555-563. Available at: http://eprints.lincoln.ac.uk/26793/

Neary, M (2011).Student as Producer: A Pedagogy for the Avant-Garde; Or, How Do Revolutionary Teachers Teach? Learning Exchange 1(1) Available at: http://eprints.lincoln.ac.uk/4186/

Rhodes Must Fall (n.d.). Rhodes Must Fall. Available at: http://rhodesmustfall.co.za/

The Social Science Centre (n.d.). Available at: http://socialsciencecentre.org.uk/

Taylor, K-Y. (2016). From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation. London: Haymarket Books

The University of Utopia (n.d.). Anti-Curricula: A Course of Action, Available at: http://www.universityofutopia.org/sharing

‘Why is my Curriculum White?’ collective (2015). 8 Reasons the Curriculum is White, Available at: http://wire.novaramedia.com/2015/03/8-reasons-the-curriculum-is-white/

Winn, J (2015). Academic Labour and the Capitalist University: A Critique of HE Through the Law of Value, PhD thesis. University of Lincoln. Available at: http://eprints.lincoln.ac.uk/17330/


dismantling the curriculum in higher education

On Wednesday I’m speaking at the University of Greenwich Open Lectures in Teaching and Learning.

The lecture will be broadcasted live via this link:  https://tinyurl.com/critical-pedagogy-2

The slides are appended below the abstract, which is based on this OLH article.

Abstract

The higher education curriculum in the global North is increasingly co-opted for the production of measurable outcomes, framed by determinist narratives of employability and enterprise. Such co-option is immanent to processes of financialisation and marketisation, which encourage the production of quantifiable curriculum activities and tradable academic services. Yet the university is also affected by global socio-economic and socio-environmental crises, which can be expressed as a function of a broader crisis of social reproduction or sociability. As the labour of academics and students is increasingly driven by a commodity-valuation rooted in the measurement of performance, the ability for academics and students to respond to crises from inside the university is constrained by the market.

This discussion argues that in understanding the relationship between the university and society, and in responding to a crisis of sociability, revealing the commodification of the curriculum is central. This enables us to discuss the possibility that an open curriculum rooted in ideas of mass intellectuality might enable new forms of social wealth to emerge in opposition to a curriculum for private/positional gain. One possible way to reframe the curriculum is by re-imagining the university through the co-operative practices of groups like the Dismantling the Masters House community and the Social Science Centre. Such an exploration, rooted in the organising principles of the curriculum, asks educators to consider how their curriculum reproduces forms of colonisation. It is argued that such work enables a re-imagination of higher education that is rooted in an engaged and co-operative curriculum, with a focus on praxis.


In, against and beyond the Co-operative University

We’re decadent beyond our means, we’ve a zeal

We feel the things they’ll never feel

They’re solemn in their wealth, we’re high in our poverty

We see the things they never see

Don’t confuse me with someone who gives a fuck

Wild Beasts. 2014. Wanderlust.

Yesterday I was in Manchester for the Building the Cooperative University conference, which is an outcome of the work of the Co-operative University Working Group (hosted by the Co-operative College). The objectives for the day were:

  • to bring together those interested in ideas and practices around a Co-operative University, co-operative higher education and alternative approaches to learning;
  • to facilitate a mutually supportive environment which enables challenges, issues and solutions to be explored and discussed; and
  • to establish a Co-operative Higher Education Forum to promote cooperative and related adult and higher education initiatives.

We heard about a range of actually existing co-operative projects, including the Centre for Human Ecology, the Govan Folk University, the Brighton Free University, RED learning Co-op, Students for Cooperation, the Social Science Centre, Mondragon University and Leicester Vaughan College. There were a range of other projects, and historical, material alternatives that were voiced from the floor, in particular during the morning session. Each of these were situated against the work of Neary and Winn in co-operation, with the opening out of discussions on membership/governance, pedagogy/curriculum/knowledge, validation and accreditation, and finance. There is more at #coopuni.

I hold my hands-up that I have been involved for years in actual, material, radical/alternative education, through occupations/teach-ins, discussions of the governance of the Social Science Centre and Vaughan College, in educational work through the Walsall/Leicester City Supporters Trusts, and in educational work related to homelessness. Yet I found a day that should have been inspiring somewhat odd.

It had a revivalist feeling, yet a revival of co-operativism situated inside a pragmatically-accepted view of the market and profit. I understand and connect with the need to create something that prefigures a better world, and that is rooted in co-operative values and practices, but from the start I had a sense that we were there to receive wisdom that was almost pre-defined (as a better capitalism). I struggled throughout the day with understanding to what the Co-operative University is the answer. Now I guess this might be because I struggle with my own place both inside and outside formal higher education. It is also because we are witnessing the real subsumption of higher education inside transnational capitalism, and the inability of that system to reproduce stable forms of accumulation. As we wait for the next financial crisis I wonder what happens to indebted Co-operative University students when that hits? At the same time I realise that a Co-operative University inside a Co-operative College inside Co-operatives UK inside a world market and framed by co-operative consumption, has everyday realities of planned revenue streams and loans. And this simply amplifies by cognitive dissonance around what is to be done?

This shapes and reshapes how I view alternatives, in their perceived relationship to formal, corporate, control structures enacted through regulation and statute. In short, I found myself questioning why we are building an alternative model of the higher education institution, rooted in an outdated model of educational practice and governed in a way that perpetuates that outdated model. I found myself questioning whether this was a real alternative.

In part my questioning is situated against my own weltschmerz, in particular in the face of ongoing, secular capitalist crisis with its attendant punishing and disciplinary austerity. However, my questioning extends the nature of this socio-economic crisis, which is destroying the lives/futures of millions of people, into the terrain of socio-environmental crisis. I also wonder why we are building a model in this way that is deliberately connected to a hegemonic system of oppression, and which is rooted in contradictions and tensions around the ongoing nature of work and the availability of employment that is increasingly predicted to be marginalised/made redundant by technology in so many sectors. So in building for an unstable world that is increasingly governed by debt as a moment of social discipline, I found myself asking why are we building in this way for a capitalist world that is collapsing? Is building an alternative form of sociability impossible? I found myself questioning how to enact Rosa Luxemburg’s idea (on socialism or barbarism) that ’to push ahead to the victory of socialism we need a strong, activist, educated proletariat, and masses whose power lies in intellectual culture as well as numbers.’

Much of the day returned less to ideas around co-operative pedagogy and co-operative governance/values, and instead to issues of co-operative capital and finance. This reminded me of Mészáros’s critique of the dehumanising reality of the capital system, which reduces life to second-order mediations that maintain alienated-labour as the primary mediation of our lives. This was amplified when someone with the conch stated that he wished for such co-operative practices to realise a return on their investment. In that moment it felt impossible to escape from the gravitational pull of capital, and I was reminded that if another world is possible it will have to be built from the ruins of our present, inhuman situation, through our voluntary labour being liberated or repatriated from inside the corporate university and ploughed into a co-operative alternative instead. Without liberating time or stealing time in the name of co-operation, we will simply reproduce our existing alienation ad nauseam.

We have internalised capitalism’s value-set, rooted in productivity/intensity and where any alternative is seen as sinful. As Gorz argues in farewell to the working class, we need to realise something different. Tactical and affective autonomy reduces the acceptance of hierarchical discipline, and increases demands for the quality and content of work that is both necessary/in the sphere of heteronomy and free/in the sphere of autonomy. What we require is less a masculine, engineered, corporate life driven by technique, and instead one rooted in humane values where individuals rather than capital are sovereign. Anything otherwise makes capital/exploitation/appropriation central to a productive life, and diminishes the space for a useful life.

In Volume 3 of Capital, Marx describes the sphere of freedom or autonomy beginning beyond the sphere of necessity or heteronomy. Freedom consists of being able to work with as much dignity and efficiency as possible (in the sphere of necessity) for as brief a time as possible. It is important that a heteronomous sphere is subordinate to the sphere of autonomy, with the maximum efficiency and the least expenditure of effort and resources. The key is to make it possible for individuals to move from heteronomous, wage-based social labour effected in the general interest and requiring little time or intense involvement, to autonomous activities which carry their end in themselves. Can a Co-operative University help facilitate this as an alternative model, or only extend the apparently necessary labour based on production for exchange rather than use?

This is crucial as labour is increasingly proletarianised and jobs are abolished, and it demands a re-evaluation of the sphere of necessity, what is necessary in order to sustain life, and an end to bullshit work and bullshit jobs that are unnecessary and simply flood the market with useless use-values or exchange-values. Quite how we get to this is another matter, yet during the day I was constantly reminded of the work of more militant and radical, social movements, which had focused upon general assemblies, militant research, and work done in public, as actually-existing autonomy. Connections between such social movements, enacted through solidarity mechanisms and solidarity economies, and focused upon the generation of forms of mass intellectuality that can in turn act as counter-narratives, seem increasingly important in the struggle against the corporate university and marketised higher education.

In this, the reality that the new Office for Students can only drive a market agenda, rooted in strengthening the forces of production of knowledge, rather than democratising the relations of production of knowledge, acts as a brake on the alternative positions that any Co-operative University can develop. Where such associational, democratic positions sit in asymmetrical relation to governance and regulation that amplifies the power of marketised solutions, and which drive value-creation rather than humane values, they have little opportunity to counter hierarchy, power and hegemony rather than point towards horizontal, democratic solutions. Here I am left wondering what will be the practical orientation of a Co-operative University to society? Inside a competitive regulatory, governance and funding system, operating across global terrain, in which universities act as nodes in transnational capitalist networks (transnational associations of capital), how is it possible for a Co-operative University not to be co-opted? In a world where there is no monolithic institution, and no outside of capital, where pedagogy gets reformed and repurposed as excellence, what is a Co-operative University regulated by the office for students for? Moreover, inside such governance, what is it possible for a Co-operative University to be? Inside these structuring realities, how can co-operative values survive against the law of value? Years ago I wrote, pace John Holloway, about activism and exodus and the relationship between capital and the University:

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.

There was one final point that emerged through the day and it was rooted in co-operative pedagogy, and co-operative classroom practices. I found the day exhausting because I was talked at for so long, and there was relatively little space for participation. It was almost as if the structure of the day was set up in order to drive a particular set of processes, which were neither co-operative nor recuperative. I am not sure what the structure of the day prefigured. This added to my confusion about the purpose of the day, and the nature of what was given/heteronomous/necessary versus where we had freedom/autonomy to define both the issues around co-operative education and the question to which the co-operative University was the answer.

In the afternoon session I attended the pedagogy, curriculum and knowledge break-out group, and one of the attendees highlighted that we should be talking about dialogue, praxis and the development of the critical consciousness. There was a real dialectical tension in the room as participants attempted to strip back the layers of co-operative pedagogy, curriculum and knowledge, and a general refusal to engage with questions around what is knowledge for and how should the curriculum be governed. Instead interventions pointed towards the nature of socially-useful knowledge, and its relationship to inside/outside the corporate university. There was a focus on the production of such knowledge through practices that were constantly prefiguring something more democratic, as moments of struggle or rupture. In these ways it felt like there was an urgency around dissolving the practices of producing socially-useful knowledge and that knowledge itself inside the fabric of society. Throughout there was an unfolding of why, and a desire to engage with Neary’s question of how do revolutionary teachers teach in a time of crisis?

Is it possible to reconnect co-operative relations of production and values, to co-operative projects, to the co-operative College and into a federated co-operative University? Moreover I wonder how it is possible to connect these activities and moments of becoming to the development of a solidarity federation across a range of other sectors of civil society, in order to develop counter-narratives? It strikes me that the conversations that happen in the margins are key. Conversations that happen in counter-positions, like Rhodes Must Fall, are key. Conversations that happen in spaces that are not white and male and privileged are key. Here, I do not wish to discuss becoming a challenger institution or a moment of disruption, where those challengers and those disruptors simply enable capital to reinvent itself through forms of de-/re-territorialisation.

Rather, I continue to wonder, how is it possible to reimagine the University? How can the Co-operative University enable us to believe that another world is possible?

Or am I just a Cassandra; a Jeremiah; anti-everything?


slides and notes on academic alienation and mass intellectuality

I presented at the DMU Institute for Education Futures seminar yesterday. My paper is based on a forthcoming article in a special issue of TripleC on academic labour, and underpins work that I am doing towards a monograph on the alienated academic, for Palgrave Macmillan.

The slides are appended below.

There are a fuller set of notes here.


Leicester Vaughan College, a co-operative Community Benefit Society

I’ve been asked to be a Board Member for Leicester Vaughan College, as it is being re-founded as an independent higher education college and governed as a co-operative Community Benefit Society. LVC aims to provide university-level education dedicated to the needs of part-time learners and to those wanting ‘a second chance’ to study.

The College currently has a non-accredited programme and is working towards offering fully-accredited degrees in various forms of counselling and in arts, humanities and social sciences. There is more information on the LVC site, including information about membership and governance, with a membership form at the foot of the page (your share in the co-operative is £1), or here.

The objects of LVC are to:

  • provide university-level education [Higher Education] to those over 18 in Leicester and beyond
  • offer education which is centred on fully-accredited face-to-face, part-time learning and is open to anyone who can benefit from it professionally, personally or intellectually
  • continue and expand the Vaughan tradition of providing adult learners in Leicester with high quality university-level education, which is compatible with the requirements of working and personal lives
  • develop courses which reflect local needs, and our local and economic context
  • build, through the values and ethics of co-operation, an institution which prioritizes education over profit

LVC supports:

  • the provision of education and opportunities for a broad range of students from diverse communities.
  • an equitable and sustainable working context for adult educators and all who work and learn as part of the College.
  • an alternative and sustainable model of Higher Education focused on the needs of students, staff and the wider community delivered through co-operation.

Tristram Hooley has recounted why and how this has been fought for once the University of Leicester decided to close the Vaughan Centre for lifelong learning. There is more information on the Save Vaughan Facebook page.

It is also important to situate this work against wider discussions about the potential for a Co-operative University, including a forthcoming Making the Co-operative University conference in Manchester. For more discussion on this see Joss Winn’s recent blogpost and his list of resources relating to co-operative higher education. Also see Mike Neary’s praxis in relation to co-operation across-and-beyond higher education, and its impact on students and staff.

The Leicester Vaughan College Twitter feed is here.

The membership form is here.


Special Issue CfP: Impacts of neoliberal policy on the lived experiences of primary school communities

With Mark Pulsford, I have a Call for Papers for a Special Issue of Power and Education, looking for contributions that ground neoliberal policies and logics in the everyday routines and practices within Primary school communities.

The details of the call can be downloaded from here.

The first-stage is for fully-referenced abstracts to be received by 1st December 2017, and the planned publication date is November 2018.


IEF Seminar on academic labour and alienation

I’m leading the first DMU Institute for Education Futures’ seminar of the 2017/18 season on Tuesday 31st October from 13:00-14:00 in Hugh Aston, room 2.32.

I’ll be speaking On the alienation of academic labour and the possibilities for mass intellectuality.

The abstract is over on the IEF website.

This connects to the monograph I’m working on for Palgrave Macmillan.

There are some previous notes here.


Closing the Attainment Gap Evaluation Role

At DMU, we are advertising a full-time, temporary (fixed Term until 28 February 2019) evaluation post (yes, I know it says project manager but it has an evaluation focus), focused upon Closing the (BAME) Attainment Gap.

Please note that I intend to convene an evaluation stakeholder group, to inform the generation of the research scope, questions, paradigm, methods, ethics and so on. This will include conversations around the connection of this work to developments in critical race theory and education, dismantling the master’s house and black studies, intersectional analyses, and so on.

Project Manager, Closing the Attainment Gap (the job details are here).

The project aims to extend the Value Added (VA) metric and Inclusive Curriculum Framework (ICF) currently used to address the black and minority ethnic (BAME) attainment gap at Kingston University, and share good practice amongst partner institutions. The ICF is the institutional approach to building inclusivity from ”concept to review”. The Framework applies a set of principles to the dimensions of learning and teaching to ensure success for all students through a curriculum that is accessible, reflects students” background and prepares them to positively contribute to a global and diverse workplace. The VA metric highlights differences in attainment which cannot be explained by student entry qualifications or subject of study. This moves discussions beyond the student deficit model leading to effective action and cultural change.

This role is designed to manage and embed project evaluation across De Montfort University. Working closely with the project team and staff working on our institutional Closing the Attainment Gap Project, your role is to maximise the validity and reliability of the project’s outcomes at DMU, through the appropriate implementation of evaluation methods. A secondary role is to assess the interconnections between the VA and ICF, and DMU”s approach to Universal Design for Learning.

You should have previous experience in leading project evaluation, and have an understanding of current pedagogic issues in Higher Education, including inclusive curriculum design and the experience of BAME and disabled students.

You should also have previous experience of report writing and presenting evaluation outcomes and results.

Role details and further information/enquiries are available here.


quit moaning about the TEF

The Role specification: Subject Pilot and Year Three Panel members and assessors for the TEF has been published. As ever, HEFCE claims that TEF “is a scheme for recognising excellent teaching, in addition to existing national quality requirements… It provides information to help prospective students choose where to study.” Now, as we move towards subject-level TEF, HEFCE is looking to recruit another 100 academics and students to work on subject pilot panels. I assume that they will also provide some form of deliberative, distributed leadership on the on-going implementation of the TEF in their own institutions.

I mention this move to widen academic labour’s complicity in the implementation of the TEF, because it reminds me that last year, in response to a call on the National Teaching Fellow listserv for positive engagement, I wrote about resistance: “It feels important for me as an NTF neither to consider nor to do this work.”

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

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

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

There is plenty of other stuff that I have written against the TEF. However, my endpoint that the TEF will damage both the quality of teaching and learning and the relationships between teachers and students, and that far from enhancing and celebrating teaching (through a culture of promoting excellence) it will solely focus upon the commodification of university life through the proxy of student labour market outcomes, has been amplified. This was emphasised both in Jo Johnson’s speech to UniversitiesUK on 7 September 2017, and also in Chris Husbands’ keynote at the DMU learning and teaching conference yesterday.

Johnson’s speech, titled Embracing accountability and promoting value for money in Higher Education, reiterates the core of the TEF lessons learned summary policy document. In this, strengthening accountability through the integration of rich data about graduate employment (using LEO data), alongside a new supplementary metric on grade inflation, emerges at the same time that the reliance on NSS data is to be reduced. For Johnson, there is a need to pay lip-service to the humane values that underpin higher education, whilst pivoting the re-engineering of higher education around surplus value.

The pursuit of knowledge is the hallmark of a civilized society and for many people a sufficient end for the higher education system in and of itself.

That said, we must accept that the transition from an elite to a mass system of higher education brings with it an expectation of a strong economic return too.

Johnson argues that the current and previous governments’ re-engineering of the system will enable him to support academic and academic leaders in rejecting “the arguments of the statists and the pessimists”, and in justifying the continued existence of English universities through a process of on-going reform. There is no alternative, and “we should welcome the scrutiny and embrace accountability.” However, as Catherine Boyd and David Kernohan note, this “moves the TEF away from something that is done on behalf of applicants towards being something that is done for reasons of policy implementation.” They highlight:

For those who have argued that salary outcomes are a crude or inappropriate measure of teaching excellence, this is bad news. Alongside the halving of the NSS weighting, it looks like the TEF is becoming more focused on student labour market outcomes than teaching excellence.

There was always an inevitability about this transition away from our recent history of quality enhancement across the sector, towards a new normal that subjugates teaching under the rule of money framed by new public management/performance management. Thus, a range of academics no longer discuss the politics of the TEF, rather the focus is how to make it more objective or efficient. This is teaching becoming more efficiently unsustainable beyond the market. Simon Marginson argues:

for better and for worse we live in an era of performance management in higher education. This is dictated ultimately by public accountability, and it is an unanswerable requirement.

There is no space in this argument to deliberate over “outcomes in fundamental areas” or “educational and social objectives”. The rule of money, amplified through the commodification of higher education, becomes the only “viable method for assessing teaching and learning”. This, of course, refuses the history of evaluation rooted in institutional audits, or other models for enhancement-led institutional review (for instance in Scotland).

Marginson continues:

The key to achieving the best possible and least damaging performance management system, is to create a virtuous circle between real outcomes, performance measure and the resulting competitive position.

Outcomes, performance management and competition are the rules through which academic labour is to be kettled.

There is no point in looking for alternative narratives or leadership from senior management within institutions. Janet Beer, the new President of UUK, broadly accepted Johnson’s stated position and argued that universities need to make the case for their work more clearly. Her predecessor, Julia Goodfellow previously noted that “the challenge will be to develop the system to ensure the information is properly communicated and helpful to students in the decision making process”. Effectively, it’s the only game in town so we all better quit moaning and get on with explaining ourselves more effectively. In this moment, the kettle tightens: money in the form of student and institutional debt as a key input; and money in the form of student outcomes/salaries as the key output. This is our teaching excellence.

So yesterday at DMU’s annual learning and teaching conference, the TEF chair, Chris Husbands, reiterated the key points from his post-match analysis of the TEF in a talk entitled 10 lessons from the TEF. The takeaways were a reiteration that: first, democratic accountability is conditioned through value-for-money and efficiencies; second, irrespective of contestation over datasets and outcomes, processes like the NSS and the TEF enable institutional leaders to focus minds on quality improvement; and third, it could be worse (we could end up with the equivalent of Ofsted). There is no space here, and no takeaway, for a discussion of alternative, dialogic processes or strategies. To reiterate, this is the only game in town so we all better quit moaning and get on with it.

Husbands’ 10 lessons focused upon the TEF:

  • measuring the things that matter to students (work, retention, assessment, quality of teaching);
  • being outcomes focused, rather than measuring the things that universities are good at talking about like changes to inputs or processes;
  • enabling metrics and benchmarks to deliver hypotheses and judgements;
  • enabling judgements to be made about strategic clarity, in the relationship between policy, practice and outcomes;
  • focusing minds on impact rather than describing initiatives;
  • catalysing coherent strategies for improvement;
  • shining a light on data (il)literacy, and the impact of innovation on students;
  • supporting analyses of genuine student involvement, embedded at all levels;
  • refusing to accept context as an excuse or point of analysis/challenge for poor performance; and
  • demonstrating that excellence and diversity are interconnected.

He ended by talking about the importance of the subject-level TEF for the investment decisions of students and their families.

Intrigued by his starting point in the strategic value of NSS data that could be triangulated with other datasets, and the importance he placed on situating the TEF against the sector’s history of quality enhancement initiatives, I asked the following:

Following Jo Johnson’s speech to UUK, with the inclusion of LEO data and the reduction in NSS weighting in future iterations of TEF, it appears that salary outcomes are to be used as the measure of teaching excellence. Are you worried [not concerned but worried] that the TEF is becoming more focused on student labour market outcomes than teaching excellence?

[c.f. Andrew McGettigan’s worked on the Treasury view of HE, and this report in the Times Higher Education about reinforcement of sector hierarchies]

He replied: “I’m going to give you the politician’s answer”. He stated that his role was to ensure that the TEF process as defined by government and HEFCE could be robustly implemented; that it was his job to deliver the institutional TEF.

Here I am reminded that I once wrote against a neoliberal curriculum, about who has voice/is silenced and the role of leadership.

It is increasingly less certain that institutional leaders, Vice-Chancellors or Vice-Principals, will challenge the dominant narratives of the State, in terms of the marketisation of higher education. Acting as CEOs the logic is that they will attempt to compete rather than co-operate. Thus, in the UK, University leadership was quiet over the threats of violence made by the State against students who protest, and we witnessed banning orders being sought against protest on campus, PhD students being suspended for protesting via poetry, and elected student representatives being removed from University committees for protesting. This enactment of the University as an enclosed space for dissent is a logical outcome emerging from the rhetoric of competition.

In this process of enclosure, we might ask whether our academic leaders will be able to work communally or co-operatively to roll-back the neoliberal discourse that commodifies all of our social life inside the market, and which kettles free debate about what is legitimate. We might ask then what is the role of the academic as activist in developing alternative discourses that argue for a re-humanisation of educational life and activity.

Game over. Thanks for playing.