HE Green Paper and related stuff

This is a collection of stuff related to the Green paper, grouped into: Political economics; Sector responses; HE marketisation; Teaching excellence; Learning gain; HE governance; Quality Assurance/regulation; and Research. It is not exhaustive and I probably won’t add to it.

NOTE: I’m painfully aware of the limited range of voices in the list below, and its apparent lack of diversity, including historically under-represented and underserved communities. Is this me? Is this us? What does this mean?

ONE. Political Economics and Policy

HM Treasury Productivity Plan

HE Green Paper

HEFCE: Financial health of the higher education sector, 2014-15 to 2017-18 forecasts

Jo Johnson: Higher education: fulfilling our potential

Paul Clark: The Green Paper needs big data

Hepi: 10 points about the higher education green paper

Andrew McGettigan: The Treasury View of HE (variable human capital)

UCU: HE Green Paper

DBIS (2013): International education strategy: global growth and prosperity

DBIS (2014): Estimating Innovation Spillovers: an International Sectoral and UK Enterprise Study

TWO. Sector responses

GuildHE: GuildHE response to HE Green Paper

Million+: million+ comment on HE Green Paper (England)

NUS responds to higher education green paper

Russell Group: Higher Education Green Paper

University Alliance: University Alliance responds to the HE Green Paper

UniversitiesUK: A summary of the Higher Education Green Paper

UCAS’ response to HE Green Paper

THREE. HE marketisation

Emma Clery: Tuition Fees: 10 Reasons Against

Paul Goodman: Jo Johnson wants the higher education market to work better. Here’s a way of ensuring that it does.

John Holmwood: Slouching toward the Market: the new Green Paper for Higher Education, Part I

John Holmwood: Slouching toward the Market: the new Green Paper for Higher Education, Part II

Mark Leach: Green Paper: the closer you look, the less you see

Andrew McGettigan: 10 things you might have missed about the HE Green Paper

Andrew McGettigan: The accelerated level playing field

John Morgan: Higher education Green Paper: government support for higher, variable fees ‘crystal clear’

Chris Newfield: Are UK universities being cast academically adrift?

Sorana Vieru: We’ve got the power! No, you’ve got the power. Hang on, who’s got the power?

FOUR. Teaching excellence

Richard Black: Higher education Green Paper: have universities really neglected teaching?

Simon Clark: Refocusing universities on teaching won’t be easy

Martin Eve: What TEF is really for

Richard Hall: against teaching intensity

Richard Hall: notes on saying no to the TEF

Chris Havergal: TEF metrics plan attacked by academics

Chris Havergal: ‘Naive’ TEF metrics could undermine widening participation, v-c warns

David Kernohan: CETLs and the ghosts of teaching excellence past

David Kernohan: People in higher education: Professor Sally Brown, teaching excellence and a little bit of history

Mark Leach: The incredible machine? Our visual guide to the TEF

Andrew McGettigan: TEF & fee increases

Martin McQuillan: Remember, Remember the TEF of November

Emran Mian: Can the TEF survive the arguments made against it?

Jess Patterson: 5 Reasons the Teaching in Excellence Framework is Bad News for Higher Education

Philip Plowden: How to approach the Teaching Excellence Framework with confidence

Warwick for Free Education: The TEF: what is it, and why should we oppose it?

Joanna Williams: Higher education Green Paper: what it means for teaching

FIVE. Learning gain

Richard Hall: learning gain and kettling academic labour

HEFCE: 4 million awarded to 12 projects to pilot measures of learning gain

Cecile Hoareau McGrath et al. Learning Gain in Higher Education

Karine Tremblay et al.: Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes Feasibility Study Report Volume 1 – Design and Implementation

SIX. HE governance

Simon Baker: Redbricks, Green and Browne

Ed Byrne: Sector needs ‘oversight’ if BIS takes teaching grant in-house, says King’s principal

Udi Datta: TTIP and higher education policy

DBIS: Degree-awarding powers and criteria for university title

Martin Eve: Jo Johnson: your proposals for British higher education will not yield the competitiveness you seek

Martin Eve: HE Green Paper: response to question 23

David Kernohan: The Green Paper and devolution

Andrew McGettigan: The Great University Gamble

Martin McQuillan: ‘Goodbye to all that’

John Morgan: Pro-market regulator will have ‘different relationship with sector’

SEVEN. Quality Assurance/regulation

Andrew Boggs: Green Paper: six questions about regulation

HEFCE: Quality Assurance Review

Lee Jones: ‘Quality Assessment’ and Completing the Market in UK Higher Education

Lee Jones: ‘Quality Assessment’ and ‘Student Outcomes’: An Open Letter

Gordon McKenzie: Green Paper calls in the architects

Quality Assessment Review Steering Group: The future of quality assessment in higher education

EIGHT. Research

Martin Eve: TEF, REF, QR, deregulation: thoughts on Jo Johnson’s HE talk

Martin Eve: BIS, metrics and non-selective QR allocation

David Matthews: Higher education Green Paper: what it means for research

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

James Wilsdon: The Green Paper: Nurse will see you now

Student Achievement in the Digital Age: How emergent technologies can enhance the academic experience

I’m presenting at The Northern Universities Consortium (NUCCAT) annual conference in Manchester tomorrow.

The abstract I agreed in appended below, alongside the key points that I will try to make about the issues and practices that are affecting how higher education institutions address the intersection of student achievement (with a proxy of future earnings and employability), digital transformation (in order to generate economic growth/productivity), and the wider academic experience (bridging institutional/social spaces and the public/private).


This discussion will highlight educational developments in student and staff digital literacy. It will highlight some of the good, bad and ugly institutional considerations that emerge from international project-work on: technology-enabled, alternative forms of accreditation such as open badges; learning analytics and data mining; education-as-a-service rooted in cloud computing; student-as-producer, connected to personalisation and content creation/curation; and digital footprint and professional identity.

The examples developed will focus upon both institutional and hosted solutions, like Blackboard, Moodle, WordPress and Turnitin, alongside technologies used for non-institutional, informal learning. The institutional and individual implications of these innovations will be related to strategies for professional development, technology and data infrastructures, and governance/legal issues. As a result participants will be asked to consider how their own practices might be affected, and what they might do as a result.

Key Points

ONE. I will discuss an institutional space that is framed in three ways. The first relates to digital transformation and productivity, as it emerges from the policy space for higher education. The second asks us to reconsider which students’ academic experiences are we referring, when we talk about achievement and enhancement? The third tries to situate the relationship between technologies and student achievement, against emergent pedagogical practices.

TWO. [slide 5] The policy/practice space for English HE and technology is being reduced to discussions about performance and productivity related to teaching intensity, student commitment to learning, and the nature of the institutional learning environment (c.f. HE Green Paper). These discussions are shaped by HM Treasury Productivity Plan, which grafts education onto ideas of digital transformation and market-led disruption of established positions. Together these two policy documents situate the relationship between education and technology in terms of human capital theory. The Small Business, Enterprise and Employability Act (2015) includes a section on ‘Education Evaluation’ that promotes human capital development (skills, expertise, employability, intellectual capital, entrepreneurialism and so on), as a catalyst for further financialisation and market-driven innovation [see slide 5 and David Willetts’ view of technology and educational disruption].

The terrain of English HE is also affected by trade liberalisation and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Innovation Partnership, through which education services are likely to be in-scope. This matters because technology enables and is enabled by a rich, transnational ecosystem that involves: academics; publishers; HE institutions; venture capital; non-profits [see slide 6, on the MOOC Universe]. In supporting institutions in making sense of this shifting terrain, Jisc is working on building digital capability with a focus on digital leadership, digital pedagogy/literacy, and digital efficiencies. Here institutions are thinking less about technologies (Blackboard, WordPress, Turnitin, whatever), and instead are thinking about services for students (Replay, Social, Assessment, Learning Resources etc.).

THREE. [slide 7] The interactions between policy and practice change the contexts that enable student achievement, both inside and outside the institution. These contexts are rooted in ideas of “intensity”, “productivity” and “gain”. In order to deliver these, institutions are thinking less about technologies and more about aggregated services for students and staff. These include the following.

  • Data services: learning analytics; open data; c.f. emerging concerns over The Patriot Act, Safe Harbour, and information governance
  • Replay/Learning Content: open repositories; enterprise reading lists; multimedia
  • Accreditation: open badges; e-portfolios; competency-based accreditation
  • Personalisation: universal design for learning; assistive technologies; productivity tools; mobile
  • Social: open education (MOOCs); cloud-based services

FOUR. [slides 8-13] There is a hegemonic or dominant view of students that emerges through the imposition of specific technologies as universal for learning, teaching, and assessment (e.g. learning management systems like Blackboard, multimedia tools like Panopto, or assessment tools like Turnitin). This applies across all levels and for all students, in spite of the developmental basis of those technologies and the enterprise implementation of them.

However, we might question whether these technologies, and our related pedagogic approaches [flipped classroom, bring your own device, universal design for learning, and so on] are enhancing the academic experience of specific students and therefore alienating/disabling others?

The dominant, universal narrative of technology is connected to universal ideas of “progress”, “efficiency”, “employability”. Thus, Pearson speak of technologies in an ecosystem that is: more global; more mobile; holistic; being absolutely obsessed with learning outcomes. Here emergent technologies are linked to the production and circulation of data, which dominates the landscape.

There are important, alternative uses of technology outside formal HE. One such is ds106 (digital storytelling 106), which enables community-based, transnational learning and accreditation. The ds106 space is user-created and curated, and connects to issues of: student-produced, multimedia content; collectively-produced and assessed student outputs or products; the ability to remix and repurpose content, including assessments; alternative forms of accreditation, including open, peer reviewed badging for skills, practices and literacies; and, the relationship between accredited activities and activities that enable sharing of the studet experience (e.g. a radio station).

A more militant story is told by student groups inside formal HE, which are forcing institutions to confront the legacies of colonialism and a racialised curriculum. These include the Why is My Curriculum White? and Rhodes Must Fall Collectives. They force us to question whether emergent technologies can enhance the academic experience for all students, if we do not understand the range of those experience. Does our use of technologies reinforce specific world views and cultural perceptions? How might we use them to challenge established forms of learning, teaching and assessment? For example, how does the digital content that we make available shape a particular, cultural frame of reference? Do our strategies for multimedia enhancement, like lecture capture (an awful phrase), risk some students being unable to speak in class, because they fear being recorded? Do our strategies for e-assessment increase stress on some groups of students?

FIVE. [slides 14-24] The relationship between emergent technologies and student achievement is shaped in a number of ways. I will focus on four.

The first is the increasing complexity of ecosystems available inside and beyond formal HE. This means that institutions are looking to create services for the delivery of: content; assessment; multimedia; social learning; personalised data/information. These are developed digitally, and mean that institutions are extending the backbone of their learning management systems (e.g. Blackboard) through: assessment tools (e.g. Turnitin); social tools (e.g. WordPress/academic commons, plus Campus Pack); interaction tools (e.g. PollEverywhere, TurningPoint, DisplayNote); content tools (e.g. Panopto, Talis Reading Lists); Productivity Tools (e.g. Google Drive, Office365); and collaboration tools (e.g. Blackboard Collaborate, MS Lync, Skype). This is mapped historically for DMU here and here. However, note that Blackboard have a range of platforms (technologies) in Learn, Collaborate, Connect, Mobile an Analytics, which themselves connect to other services (e.g. assessment and feedback).

The second is competency-based learning, like standardised testing, and which can be modelled and enable normalisation and sharing across programmes in different institutions. Here digital transformation grounded in data and content architectures, and e-assessment and e-feedback policies, map onto and potentially change pedagogic practices. Issues of academic autonomy, and tensions between what assessment is to measure and why are live.

The third is the ability to connect institutional and public/personal technologies, so that students and staff can operate across boundaries. This is a more networked approach, witnessed in public good projects like DMU’s Square Mile, and in the Domain of One’s Own project at University of Mary Washington. However, it also needs higher levels of digital literacy amongst staff and students, in order to engage with issue of professionalism, privacy, data protection and interoperability/sharing. It is also affected by institutional policies for social media use and codes of conduct/regulations.

The final point is digital transformation, which emerges from partnerships between HE and technology forms, but also from innovations in network/storage and communications. These innovations are rooted in flows of data and content, and a widening of communications channels, and they tend to blur the boundaries between the institution and the public space (e.g. in the idea of the Cloud). As a result they impact staff and student digital literacy (the skills, knowledge and practices that an individual or community can utilise to work on-line). The Digilit Leicester project is an example of wide-ranging digital, educational change.

SIX. I end with four caveats.

  • Think about data governance at all levels, especially in light of the EU ruling on safe harbour.
  • Think about how to support staff and student management of their own digital identity and footprint, for instance focused upon issues of professionalism and e-safety.
  • Think about digital privacy, for instance student/staff rights to anonymity in spaces that are to be recorded. Do technologies affect our ability to create safe spaces for dialogue?
  • Think about digital literacy, for instance the alignment of staff/student digital skills and practices.

against teaching intensity

My reading of the Higher Education Green paper sits alongside that of the Universities and Colleges Union, with its highlighting of the critical absence of staff inside education policy. My reading emerges against the UK Treasury’s Productivity Plan, Fixing the foundations: Creating a more prosperous nation, which stresses the important of human capital intensity. This is a key theme that underpins the Green Paper, and is a central site of potential refusal by academics and students, with pedagogic engagement as a point of departure. My reading is then situated through recent work on social reproduction and the crisis of sociability that is enforced through the hegemony of marketization and financialisation, and which is realised as exploited and alienated academic labour.

Whilst the sector has been used as a means to enforce primitive accumulation, for instance in international markets, it is also being structurally adjusted through the processes of real subsumption. There are vanguards of academics and students who have already experienced and refused these processes and to whom we might listen in becoming our own moments of refusal. In the process we might refuse to compromise with the Government in its measurement and monitoring of academic labour and in its reduction of teaching to ideas of excellence intensity that quantify the classroom. This is a reframing of the Green Paper in the broader, social context of refusal.

ONE. A note on productivity and the loss of time

Marx saw important interrelationships between the production of surplus-value and the length of the working day, the intensity of labour, and productivity (the productiveness of labour).

[W]e have seen that the relative magnitudes of surplus-value and of price of labour-power are determined by three circumstances; (1) the length of the working-day, or the extensive magnitude of labour; (2) the normal intensity of labour, its intensive magnitude, whereby a given quantity of labour is expended in a given time; (3) the productiveness of labour, whereby the same quantum of labour yields, in a given time, a greater or less quantum of product, dependent on the degree of development in the conditions of production.

Here the management and intensity of work-time and free-time become a key terrain of struggle between Capital and Labour. However, the struggle is itself re-shaped by both competition and the stimulation of new, tradable needs and desires, which push the forces of production and the relations of production into tension. This underscores the tensions that emerge from Marx’s ‘Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy’:

At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or — this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms — with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters.

In Capital, Marx described these tensions in terms of: first, ‘enforcing economy in each individual business’; and second

by its anarchical system of competition, the most outrageous squandering of labour-power and of the social means of production, not to mention the creation of a vast number of employments, at present indispensable, but in themselves superfluous.

Much of our toil is superfluous to the purpose of meeting our basic needs. Instead we are compelled to generate an ever-expanding range of services or products, and to chase them into new terrains or markets. As wasteful is the realisation that we aim to become more productive in the hope that we will have more free time, and yet the system colonises and co-opts that free time, and enforces yet more productivity. We are subjected to increasing levels of excellence intensity of labour across our working lives. And this intensity of labour underscores the desperate search for surplus-value and its materialisation as profit. As a result, Marx argued that we witness how

In capitalist society spare time is acquired for one class by converting the whole life-time of the masses into labour time.

TWO. The Treasury, human capital and productivity

HM Treasury of the UK Government have attempted to re-frame the struggle between the material, productive forces of society and the existing relations of production, through its productivity plan: Fixing the foundations: Creating a more prosperous nation. The Plan centres productivity and intensified work on an ideological terrain that situates our means of reproducing society or our social relationships, solely through work. All of life is our duty to capitalist work.

Productivity is the challenge of our time. It is what makes nations stronger, and families richer.

The drivers of productivity are well understood: a dynamic, open enterprising economy supported by long-term public and private investment in infrastructure, skills and science. A nation flourishes when it uses the full skills of all its people in all parts of that nation. (p. 1)

The Productivity Plan is central to an analysis of the HE Green Paper, which situates higher learning through human capital theory. This is a critical insight flowing from Andrew McGettigan’s work on The Treasury View of HE: Variable Human Capital Investment, which sees ‘undergraduate study as a stratified, unequal, positional good dominating future opportunities and outcomes.’ Thus, the Treasury argue (p. 8) that

Our excellent university sector cannot be kept competitive, and open to all who can benefit, unless we make hard choices about funding.

These hard choices are foregrounded here as the Teaching Excellence Framework [TEF] ‘to sharpen incentives for providing an outstanding education to students’, and also increased competition from new entrants to the HE market to ‘deliver better value for money’.

Investment is an essential part of raising productivity. In today’s economy that is not simply a matter of increasing the stock of machines, equipment and essential physical infrastructure but also, crucially, the development of human and intellectual capital. (p. 15)

The TEF is therefore a critical moment of real subsumption that intensifies academic activities, in terms of how the curriculum is structured and delivered, and how it is monitored. The TEF ‘will inform student decision-making, continue to support a high average wage premium for graduates and ensure that students’ hard-won qualifications keep their value over time’ (p. 28). Thus, as John Holmwood argues for the Green Paper, we might note that the Plan ‘represents the familiar neo-liberal package of de-regulation via markets together with strong central direction’, which reinvents work/Academia itself ‘increasingly [as] a ‘Big Data’ project’. In the case of Academia the contexts for this project are now both teaching and research.

In terms of readjusting the relations of production, the Plan hollows out a space to be governed by a modern competition toolkit and the active choices of consumers.

Competitive markets are fundamental to fostering productivity growth. They compel firms to be more efficient and innovative, allow new businesses to enter markets and ensure that the best firms grow (p. 59).

During the last Parliament, the government created the independent Competition and Markets Authority [CMA], bringing existing competition authorities into a more streamlined body and modernising the competition toolkit. The government’s role is to ensure that the regime continues to be amongst the best in the world… to ensure that consumer enforcement capability effectively supports competition and better regulation objectives (p. 60).

The disruption of cultural norms that have been negotiated over time is central to this approach. The Plan’s digital-determinism (and the re-focusing on Digital Transformation) sits at the centre of a desire to break-up unproductive positions and to forge industry transformation. In part this is by breaking established labour relations. In part it is situated through transnational engagements between service providers like universities, and service innovators like communications and infrastructure corporations, or financiers like venture capitalists. These new transnational associations, pivoting around enterprise are ‘driving productivity by ensuring that firms continually strive to improve their efficiency and better meet customers’ needs’ (p. 61). The transnational imperatives of such innovations are central to the Plan’s proposals for exports and international markets, but also to ‘further trade liberalisation’, including The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) (p. 67).

Yet, as Holmwood notes for the HE Green Paper, it elides enterprise, active consumption and growth, whilst ignoring the structuring realities of an economy rooted in precarious employment and debt:

All values are reduced to economic values, but in place of a promise to re-balance the economy, the economy is increasingly directed toward short-term profits and financialisation. Economic inequalities widen, the proportion of ‘graduate jobs’ declines, and the claim that this can help increase social mobility is increasingly hollow.

However, the Treasury view situates these entrepreneurial processes of financialisation and marketization inside the drive for public sector productivity rooted in the needs of employers. Moreover, it ties efficiencies to issues of labour intensity that are shaped by Single Departmental Plans, ‘which will identify key priorities for every department, and will act as a vehicle to link inputs to outputs’ (p. 75). The Plan notes that November’s Spending Review will focus attention on: service redesign and value-for-money; restructuring organisation and workforce; and prioritising technology and data. In part this is a response to a perception of poor decisions ‘about resource allocation across the economy, preventing capital and labour from finding their most productive uses and weighing on productivity growth’ (p. 76). However, it is also a response to ‘the relatively low cost of labour since the crisis [that] may have led firms to substitute away from investment, reducing the effective amount of capital workers can use and thus reducing productivity’ (p. 76).

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

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

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

THREE. Teaching Excellence Intensity

HM Government’s Green Paper, Fulfilling our Potential: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice, looks to enact the Productivity Plan inside English HE, and roots its proposals as the denial of a history of work on teaching quality and quality enhancement. It collapses the contexts of struggles over: teaching and pedagogy; existing educational inputs and outputs; the idea that students are purchasers, consumers and/or producers; and determinants of value for money that are held by families as purchasers, taxpayers as underwriters, and employers as innovators. These contexts are collapsed onto one ideological terrain that seeks to delegitimise alternative conceptualisations of HE.

The HE Green paper amplifies the roll-out (c.f Stephen Ball) of a specific neoliberal agenda, which has a long ideological lineage, through which the terrain for the marketization of everyday life was prepared. In English HE this is witnessed in the recent history of: the move of universities and HE into the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills; the raising of fees under New Labour; the Browne Review; the ramping-up of fees, and the HE White Paper under the Coalition. These moments normalised the idea of mass HE rooted in active consumer choice and open data, career-ready human capital, and global competition (p. 10). Thus, these moments prepare Academia for short-term productivity fixes that are rooted in bureaucracy, and which demand that students and academics surveil and monitor themselves, in the name of:

the development of a positive work ethic, so that they can contribute more effectively to our efforts to boost the productivity of the UK economy (p. 11).

This is a productivity that is shaped by:

(1) the length of the [academic] working-day, or the extensive magnitude of [academic] labour; (2) the normal intensity of [academic] labour, its intensive magnitude, whereby a given quantity of [academic] labour is expended in a given time; (3) the productiveness of [academic] labour, whereby the same quantum of [academic] labour yields, in a given time, a greater or less quantum of product, dependent on the degree of development in the conditions of [academic] production.

In order to develop the forces of academic production, active consumer choice is central, and this emerges against data about ‘Course quality, teaching intensity and contact hours’ (p. 11). Entrepreneurial intensity is central to this prescription for academic productivity. UCU’s response presents a counter-narrative that teaching is an inclusive, collegial endeavour, and that is enriched through peer-review, and which depends upon the labour conditions of both teachers and students.

Everyone recognises the need for high quality teaching, but unless government places staff at the centre of the process and addresses underlying issues like casualisation, low status of teaching, lack of career progression and lack of funding, the green paper is unlikely to achieve its stated objectives

This focus on the Green paper as an attack on labour rights and conditions of work, designed to drive service redesign and workforce efficiencies, questions whether, as David Kernohan notes, ‘the TEF can become a [] vehicle for a community of interest based around a common idea’, without being centred around academic labour struggles. In particular, this is because academic labour and teaching intensity are rooted in attempts to de-professionalise HE. As UCU note, any TEF will be transplanted onto a fractured terrain.

Temporary contract working is endemic across UK higher education, with 69,000 (43%) out of a total of 161,000 contracted academic staff on non-permanent contracts. Among 40,000 teaching only staff, 29,435 (73%) have non-permanent contracts. These figures do not include the 75,000 so called ‘atypical’ academic staff who are also largely engaged in teaching but who are usually employed only on an as and when basis and have little access to CPD, career development or other scholarship opportunities

These data about teaching excellence intensity might enable conversations about: the precarious, indentured reality of English HE; how tuition fees are spent (p. 12), which discusses the labour costs of the work of students as well as staff, and then re-opens debates about wages for schoolwork; HE as exchange-value and tradable asset, rather than publically- or socially-useful value; changes to behaviour that are grounded in interpretations of projections about future earnings, which are themselves historically-hedged; changes that emerge from inside pedagogic relationships and through the curriculum; and a desire to limit higher learning to data and value-for-money:

The TEF will increase students’ understanding of what they are getting for their money and improve the value they derive from their investment, protecting the interest of the taxpayer who supports the system through provision of student loans. It should also provide better signalling for employers as to which providers they can trust to produce highly skilled graduates. (pp. 12-13)

This is the proposed structural adjustment of HE to meet the needs of the Treasury’s Productivity Plan.

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

TEF should also prove a good deal for employers and the taxpayer. The aim is to improve the teaching that students receive, which in turn should increase their productivity and help them secure better jobs and careers. It should enable employers to make more informed choices about the graduates they recruit… With higher returns, more graduates will be able to pay back more of their loans, reducing the amount that needs to be subsidised by the taxpayer in the longer term. This is on top of the benefits to taxpayers from having a stronger economy powered by a higher skilled workforce. (p. 21)

This is the excellence intensification of academic labour rooted in a restructuring of the relations of production through explicit connections to active consumer choice and a functioning competition and markets authority (p. 27), which can ensure that the HE terrain is opened-up for trade liberalisation and the TTIP. As Datta has argued, TTIP is pivotal because it protects access to the market for corporations operating across borders. Moreover, the UK Government has made no reservations to the application of these protections in education, and indeed the coupling of the Green Paper and the Productivity Plan to TTIP mean that ‘the experiment in the market operation of the higher education sector could potentially be irreversible’.

The last leaked draft of TTIP is expressed as applying to services which are performed commercially. In an education market which is characterised by a mixed economy of both privately and publicly funded, profit-making and non-profit making institutions, education services are likely to be treated as within the scope of the TTIP treaty.

The excellence intensification of academic labour is shaped by three aspects (p. 32): teaching quality (TEF); learning environment [which demands that universities open themselves up to part-privatisation for the service redesign and workforce efficiencies of the Productivity Plan]; and student outcomes and learning gain [data]. This is Holmwood’s Academia as big data project amplified by human capital intensity, alongside the incorporation of ‘new common metrics on engagement with study (including teaching intensity) and learning gain, once they are sufficiently robust and available on a comparable basis’. This is not just the excellence intensity of work, but the intensity of motivation to work. It is also the shaming of those who do not enhance ‘Student commitment to learning – including appropriate pedagogical approaches’, or ‘Teaching intensity – measures might include time spent studying, as measured in the UK Engagement Surveys, proportion of total staff time spent on teaching’ (p. 32).

It is important students have information about the composition of the course, including contact hours, to help them make informed choices about the course they choose to study. The CMA identified this as being material information likely to be required by the Consumer Protection Regulations, and as part of the payment, service delivery and performance information required to be provided pre-contract under the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations. (p. 32)

In order to avoid metricide, or the inability to financialise positive outputs/outcomes because of poor data, competition will compel universities to drive down on staff working conditions, including new workload arrangements and increased surveillance of teaching, research and administration. As Andrew McGettigan has noted ‘if you work in HE, then pay bargaining is going to be a dismal business for the foreseeable.’

We are therefore pushed towards the acceptance of further state-sponsored privatisation of HE. This is not re-imagining the university through learning, teaching or pedagogy, but an unmaking of the university in the name of service redesign, workforce restructuring/efficiency and global, high-tech enterprise. This is HE deterritorialised for productivity, so that only those [academics, students, institutions] ‘that innovate and present a more compelling value proposition to students will be able to increase their share’ (p. 54). As a result what emerges from the Green Paper is an assault on collective work: the collective work of students unions; and of the collective work of students and staff as academic labour. Instead we are forced into asymmetrical relationship to the reality of our fetishized and rugged individualism in the market. Here our pedagogic decisions and the relationships that flow from them are to be governed by the TTIP, the CMA and the proposed Office for Students.

FOUR. Value-for-money: there is no alternative.

This policy space is further constrained by money, and in particular cash-flow forecasts and the need to generate operating and investment surpluses. As noted by HEFCE in its Financial health of the higher education sector, 2014-15 to 2017-18 forecasts ‘relatively small changes in key assumptions can have a significant impact on an HEI’s ability to generate surpluses’ (p. 1). This shifting terrain of short-term signals being shaped by active consumer choice and competition is overlain onto a

trend of falling liquidity (cash) and increasing sector borrowing… The sector expects its liquid funds to fall from £7.7 billion as at 31 July 2014 to £5.0 billion as at 31 July 2018, equivalent to 67 days of expenditure; the lowest level reported since 31 July 2006. At the same time, the sector expects borrowing to increase from £6.7 billion at the end of July 2014 to £9.2 billion at the end of July 2018, by which time the sector would be in a net debt position of £4.1 billion. The trend of increasing borrowing and reducing liquidity is unsustainable in the long term. (p. 2)

Crucially, the Financial Health report notes that as ‘charities, HE institutions are obligated to ensure that they remain sustainable and do not expose themselves to undue risk. Strong liquidity is particularly important given the level of uncertainty and risk that currently exist in the sector’ (p. 2). Yet as McGettigan notes, the corporate forms of English universities and their relation to finance capital have been continually questioned.

In 2013, a government report on HE as an export suggested that universities should consider whether charitable status (and ‘objects’) had outlived its usefulness. [He quotes]

Although this [charitable status] model has many strengths, it does not lend itself to rapid growth. The governance structures and obligations of charities, or of bodies of similarly ancient pedigree established by Royal Charter or equivalent instruments, were not designed to grow rapidly, or to run a network across the world.

This trails the Green Paper’s questioning of the governance arrangements of universities so that they better reflect business needs (p. 68), and which then enable engagement with venture capital. This potentially connects to HEFCE’s argument that ‘forecasts assume that the capital markets continue to have confidence in the sector, which depends upon their risk assessments of the sector and individual HEIs’ (p. 3), and the Green paper’s focus on weak or low-quality providers exiting the market, in order that the sector can leverage confidence and finance. As McGettigan notes elsewhere, the real significance of the Green Paper may turn on the proposed changes to the corporate form and governance structures of universities, by enabling private and venture capital to establish associations or joint ventures. Through governance and corporate form, the relations of production across the sector are to be recalibrated, so that teaching excellence intensity can be normalised. Thus, HEFCE’s warning (p. 26) that ‘The reduction in cash balances, the increase in borrowings, and the increasing volatility of income streams point to an increase in finance risk’, folds pedagogic practices and the framing of teaching excellence inside a wider struggle over the financial viability of the sector and of academic labour.

FIVE. What is to be done?

Martin McQuillan asks:

is there any voice today that has the political credibility and intellectual capacity to offer an alternative vision for universities in England? Will one emerge from within the sector? University leaders should not be distracted by the shiny new bauble of achieving Level 4 TEF status. As custodians of our universities they need to think about what is best for higher education in England. Is it really the end of the post-war dispensation of public institutions and public service and the opening up of those institutions to global equity capital? There is a choice to be made here and it is a more profound one than our next mobile phone provider.

Responses from UniversitiesUK, and groups like Million+ and the Russell Group would suggest forms of compromise. Equally, the inability of groups like the Association of National Teaching Fellows to reconcile student work as a form of academic labour that might have points of solidarity with the work of academics, means that notionally professional groups are unable to confront the crisis of social reproduction that is the enclosure and marketization of HE. Moreover, as Kernohan and McQuillan note, the Green Paper either targets managers in the performance management of staff through the data-driven normalisation of practice, or it enforces structural adjustment inside institutions so that more students can be recruited and taught more efficiently. Hence we witness the abundance of technological innovations designed to reproduce the learning environment as a precursor for the restructuring that will be required in order to deliver learning gain. Here is the terrain over which collectivised teaching excellence will be lost to individuated teaching intensity.

The most meaningful questions emerge from the labour movement, from specific student groups, or from academic associations that attempt to make concrete the lived reality of Government reforms, for instance in terms of student debt or academic precarity.

Bringing in experts, we ask: what are income-contingent loans, who profits from your debt, how does the experience of having debt affect student wellbeing and life chances, and in what ways do fear of debt and the types of loans that are sold to students perpetuate inequalities? We also hear from activists on how debt can be resisted and how we can move from the idea of individual responsibility to collective action.

Students in debt

The document’s logic has “students” at the heart of the system. If and only if those students can afford to pay higher fees, study full-time, and what they want is what employers want.

Sorana Vieru

And in a terrain that is described fiscally, where money is the critical and universal reference point for academic value that is itself immanent to future earnings, it becomes difficult if not impossible to imagine, as Emran Mian argues, ‘that university teachers can choose how to influence these metrics positively, in dialogue with other subject specialists.’ The political economics are increasingly loaded against academic labour in its relationship with institutional managers who, as McQuillan argues elsewhere, are invoking a disciplinary framework designed to break collective bargaining and collective working arrangements. Moreover, even if, as Mian notes, ‘university teachers take the lead on talking and responding to their students – they’re much closer, if you like, to the critical market-moving information’, it is unclear how such depoliticised talking will trump the governing power of performance metrics that militate against the messy and complex realities of the delivery of the curriculum. It is particularly unclear how this will play-out in the face of the reproduction of an increasingly precariously employed, efficiency-scarred, technologized and redesigned academic labour force. As a result, such talking risks becoming a form of hedging against the quantified curriculum, rather than emerging over time through classroom relationships. In any case, those relationships will be increasingly and intensively squeezed by managers gaming the TEF.

SIX. On the crisis of academic sociability

There is increasing emphasis being placed on the global crisis of sociability that is Capital’s inability to re-establish stable forms of accumulation. This crisis is one of social reproduction that amplifies and exacerbates the worst excesses of the market.

  • It is witnessed through the frame of care-based work, which enables individuals to be reproduced or to get some of their physical needs met (childcare, housework, and so on), by outsourcing it to family members or employees, so that wage-earners can return to the market each day to sell their labour. This work of care is gendered and racialized.
  • It is witnessed through increasingly precarious employment, the assault on social security, State repression of marginalised groups, unaffordable rents, mental health crises, lack of access to basic amenities including water and healthcare, and disciplinary policing.
  • It is witnessed in the rise of companies purportedly involved in the sharing economy like Uber, AirBnB, TaskRabbit and Postmates, which enable a digital transformation of sectors of the economy whilst failing to provide any form of social security or employment rights.
  • It is witnessed in the inability of indebted individuals and States to lift externally-imposed capital controls, and in the profusion of anti-labour trades union legislation.
  • It is witnessed in the increasing failure of the curriculum across the globe to respond to its racialized nature, leading to academic struggles like #rhodesmustfall, #millionstudentmarch and #whyismycurriculumwhite. In large part these struggles are fuelled by the indignation of students of colour against the on-going colonial condition of the university as an export strategy for specific hegemonies.

This is the separation of workers from their means of subsistence or reproduction, or the increasingly precarious state of that separation, which legitimises particular voices, such as those promoting intensity/productivity/excellence. Keir Milburn argues that this ‘subordinates you to a timing and framing determined by someone else’s strategy’.

As Devi Sacchetto argues, this applies transnationally because ‘The geography of production is now organized in different areas depending on the kind of commodities that are produced and on the lead and sub-contracting firms’. Thus, it applies across HE because the university is being reconstituted as the producer of commodities rather than relationships and practices, in-part through changes to its corporate form and governance that usher in new joint ventures.

In response to the generalised (non-HE) crisis of sociability, there has been a call for the social strike, as a means of generating alternative political actions rooted in solidarity across social relationships. Such actions connect society and the factory through the critique of social conditions that tend to immiserate.

Overcoming the limits of present forms of organization means to cut across the artificial division between labour and social struggles, and to bring organization on a transnational level, coming to terms once for all with the fact that the national level of action is by now clearly insufficient to build an effective power. Labor and social struggles must find a common political ground of connection.

Final document from 1st Transnational Social Strike Meeting.

This is increasingly live because, as Alisa Del Re notes:

In Europe the reproduction of individuals is subject to a continuous fluctuation between “social” and “private.” The social is the space of direct manipulation, organized by laws, public expenditures, customs, and moral rules that crush the individual’s ability to desire. The private is coarsely idealized as the space of freedom, but in most cases it reveals itself as the dominion of neglect, misery, frustration, powerlessness, and loneliness.

It becomes important to ask how we might ‘organize vulnerability and turn it into political action’ on a scale large enough to enable new relations of social reproduction that respond less to the market and transnational prescriptions of what market freedom entails. Such a reimagining would focus upon a social reproduction that was rooted in equality between different human bodies, rather than being rooted in the equality of data flows. Such a reimagining has to find spaces inside the university, but increasingly it has to hear and propagate those alternatives that emerge beyond, in social centres or on the Commons, or in responses to austerity.

Thus, a critical response to the HE Green Paper is

making the new conditions visible, disrupting the circulation of capital and directly socialising, collectivising and communising our social relations, reproduction and struggles… Most obviously this involves striking (or otherwise acting) in ways that maximise feelings of collectivity and enhance general levels of sociability.

Keir Milburn

A social strike is a strike that occurs on multiple terrains and spaces. By this I mean it’s a strike that is not confined to one workplace, sector or locality. It’s not enacted by a single homogeneous subject but by a multitude of different subjects. It allows some fluidity in changing from one identity to another, say from worker to mother to student and back again. It isn’t defined by the singular identity of worker, a worker that is always a worker regardless of the multiple other demands from other ‘roles’. After all work is omnipresent, it continues long after we leave our official places of work, we work as producers but also we work on the other side of the relationship, as consumers, as clients and service providers. The social strike offers the possibility of building up relationships of solidarity, communication, knowledge, and shared culture, and in doing so recognising their importance in twenty-first century class formation. To be able to strike today means we cannot strike on only one terrain. To disrupt the flow of capital  we need to block all of its avenues – both metaphorically and literally.

Alex Long

Thus, working to situate the restructuring of HE against other social strikes and directional demands, forms one means of pushing-back against the ideas of teaching excellence intensification and of staff/students reduced to human capital. Such moments of solidarity are intentionally counter-hegemonic and would highlight how so much of social [academic] reproduction is predicated on voluntary, unwaged labour, such as that enacted in the home or by students, or by precariously employed labour. Such moments of solidarity would be rooted in specific, social and directional demands grounded potentially in the liberation of free time beyond teaching or study intensity, or in the idea of debt-free education, or in a re-focusing of education on collective well-being, or in harnessing education to global emergencies like climate change. They would need to connect, in Bue Rübner Hansen’s terms, academics and students to ‘[a] constitutive heterogeneity of the exploited and expropriated populations of the world’, which recognises ‘the self-organization and composition of differences and particularly of different strategies of life and survival.’

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

the practical task of class composition – which is necessary for posing the problem of the abolition of the proletarian condition concretely instead of remaining stuck in mutual competition and abstract hope – consists in developing collective strategies of life and survival which either combine, supplement or make superfluous individualized forms of reproduction.

Here academics and students have a central role because

theory, considered as a part of such movements, is the active effort to disseminate strategies of combination and struggle, and of elaborating commons and transversal points of connection between different struggles. Taking seriously the fact that resistances and networks of solidarity preexist irruptions of open struggle means to go beyond the faith in spontaneity. This entails an ethics of militant, embedded research, knowledge production, and popular pedagogy, which proceeds through practices of collectively mapping of the possibilities of composition, and reflections on how to connect and extend networks of trust and solidarity. It implies sharing tools of organizing and tactics of struggle, taking measure of the rumors and whispers, and engaging in small struggles in ways that can help them transform fear and mistrust into courage and solidarity.

As Marx argued in the Instructions for the Delegates of the Provisional General Council of the First International, this implies aiding ‘every social and political movement tending in that [same] direction’.

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

Discipline is basically the mechanism of power by which we come to exert control in the social body right down to the finest elements, by which we succeed in grabbing hold of the social atoms themselves, which is to say individuals. Techniques for the individualization of power. How to supervise [surveiller] someone, how to control his conduct, his behavior, his aptitudes, how to intensify his performance, multiply his capacities, how to put him in a place where he will be most useful: this is what I mean by discipline.

Michel Foucault, “The Mesh of Power.”

Revealing the increased disciplining of social reproduction reveals the crisis of sociability that infects HE, and yet it also offers directions for alternatives. At issue is how to connect opposition to teaching intensity and learning gain, to rent strikes and labour relations/rights inside the University (including those of students), alongside the fight for living wages and pension rights for professional services staff, and then beyond to the complex and heterogeneous global struggles for liberation. This means that ‘a lot of things need to be changed on the ground in order for a massive economic and political transformation to be possible’ (Steven Shaviro). But we have to begin somewhere.

The University and the Secular Crisis

I’ve had an article published in the Open Library of Humanities, based on my inaugural lecture. If you want to revisit those fun-times, you can do so here.

The article is also on “The University and the Secular Crisis”, and it can be accessed here. The abstract is as follows.

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

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.

Beyond the Neoliberal University: Critical Pedagogy and Activism

There is a symposium being hosted by Coventry University UCU, on Friday 15 September 2015. The symposium is focused on the following two questions.

  1. Has the idea of Higher Education as a social good been replaced by the idea of education for profit?
  2. What kind of University do we want?

This event seeks to address these concerns by bringing together activists, academics and trade unionists who are engaged practically with the consequences of the way our universities are being changed.

This event is free to attend but you must register. If you are in full time employment and feel you are able to make a contribution, then a donation of £20 can be used to fund travel expenses of those who need financial support in order to attend.

Details of ticket can be found at: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/beyond-the-neoliberal-university-critical-pedagogyand-activism-tickets-17390600755

Around the world there have been a whole series of occupations and protests led by students, as well as actions involving lecturers and teachers, which reflect widespread disillusion with the way universities have come to act primarily as money making institutions. This event will begin with speakers who will set out the social and economic context for the marketisation of Higher Education, followed by participatory workshops on issues of activism, pedagogy and research.

The event begins at 9.30 and concludes at 4.00. Light refreshments will be provided. Further details will be provided on registration.

For any further enquiries please email: coventryucu@gmail.com

Facebook Event Page: https://www.facebook.com/events/401664850035853/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/coventryucu


#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.


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

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

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