against the HE Green Paper

Turn the light out say goodnight, no thinking for a little while

Let’s not try to figure out everything at once

It’s hard to keep track of you falling through the sky

We’re half awake in a fake empire

The National. 2008. Fake Empire.

I wrote this as I listened to Ones and Sixes, by Low.

ONE. A smokescreen

In an important echo of the academic labour protests of 2010-11, the collective Warwick for Free Education argue On the Politics of Consultation that “The Green Paper consultation is a charade… serving as a smokescreen to conceal the upward redistribution of wealth operationalized by market mechanisms.” In particular, they provide a mirror to the idea that the Green Paper realises ‘student choice’ as a socially-useful driver. In fact, what is shaped by the Green Paper is a reductionist, rationalist view of the student as a purchaser of educational services-as-commodities. This shaping has remained relatively unchallenged across the sector by established positions and hegemonic groupings (such as UUK, university mission groups, competing vice-chancellors and so on), although there has been meaningful dissent and the definition of alternatives from inside academic communities.

What this focus on student choice in the Green Paper then highlights are the asymmetrical power relations that exist in this struggle over both the shape and the soul of higher education. Those who work within the sector (fractions of the total population of both students and staff) are faced down by global networks of policy-makers, finance capital, the purveyors of educational services, alongside those working inside the sector who believe that there is no alternative, and that this employability strategy or that consumerisation policy will save us. Even worse, in these asymmetries too many of us remain blind to the painful realities of precarity and debt that infect our academic society. Moreover, this is all framed by national/transnational regulation, for instance through the competition and markets authority (CMA) and the impending Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

And the noose of student choice tightens.

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

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

As a result, we are left with a vacuous academic politics that has its forms and content hollowed out, in a moment where national attempts at collective refusal lack the energy that erupted post-Browne (although strands are maintained by the Campaign for the Public University, UCU, the Campaign for the Defence of the British University and so on), so that finding collective spaces to push-back becomes difficult. Finding the energy to push-back is then constricted because academic labour increasingly faces struggles on a local level as university bureaucracies recalibrate institutions as competing businesses. This includes disciplining the workforce through new workload agreements, absence management policies, and the use of technologies that increase the consumerisation of the student experience and that reduce academic-agency. It also includes performance-management through increased metric-stress (NSS, TEF, REF) and the devolved responsibility for league table positions that internalises innovation-overload. One of the results is increased anxiety and an inability to respond to the myriad harms that are inflicted on the sector, like the removal of the disabled students’ allowance, the removal of bursaries for student nurses, or the increasingly precarious employment terms for many staff.

In the face of such local and national redefinition of the terrain on which higher education operates, the Green Paper presents a world that appears lost because there is no space for any alternative, except at the margins. As a result the proposed consultation is at best “technical” in nature.

[T]he entire façade of consultation is unravelled as little more than a superficial tapping in to the already most privileged voices within a policy framework fixed in principle and intention but malleable on some technicalities. It is an ostensibly equitable process of debate which is situated on the terrain and terms of the powerful. Again, the language of ‘choice’ betrays itself here, never entailing the determination and formation of our education in accordance with student voices, but simply the expression of those voices by proxy through the market and elite figures, borne out by the patronising assumption that we as students do not know what is in our best interests, but that those decisions are best rendered by the (unstable, destructive, prone-to-crisis) market.

Indeed, there is little opportunity or capacity to raise an opposition in principle or totality to the Green Paper, to challenge the essential notion of the market provision of education. Instead the questions are leading, inaccessible, naturalising of market mechanisms, and intended to advantage voices already situated within positions of power.

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

Power. Always asymmetrical.

TWO. Refusal

I find myself increasingly disabled from responding, and I feel anxious about this. I feel that I do not wish to waste my energy, or to legitimise their acts of destruction by co-operating with them and their political theatre. However, the very act of refusal has to be reinforced through acts of creation, in engagement with work on the Co-operative University or with local, alternative educational projects, or through solidarity between student unions and trades unions, or by direct work with trades unions on campus, or at the Second Convention for Higher Education.

NOTE: Should you wish to engage, then details of the consultation are available here, and Martin Eve’s principled and robust response has been openly licensed so that you can hack it and repurpose it. If you want to read more on the Green paper, then there I started a job lot of links, although they are not up-to-date.

In my own struggles to engage, I feel parallels with Carl Death’s work on climate change summits as theatre and exemplary governmentality. He argues that:

the symbolic, performative and theatrical roles that summits play in persuading global audiences that political elites are serious about issues such as sustainable development or climate change are a crucial element of their continued prominence. In this sense, they are a key technique through which ‘advanced modern capitalist consumer democracies try and manage to sustain what is known to be unsustainable’ through ‘the performance of seriousness’ and symbolic politics (Blu¨hdorn and Welsh 2007, p. 198).

Consultation must be seen to be done, in order to legitimise power, and as a result it becomes a very specific form of performance. Thus, engagement with consultation risks reinforcing dominant hierarchies and hierarchical relationships, and concomitant established privileges and rationalities. As Death continues:

These dangers include their questionable efficacy in addressing some of the structural and discursive power relations which have produced the contemporary crises of environment and development, as well as their reliance on a highly individualised model of political agency, the sidelining of more democratic and collective forms of politics, and the disciplining of political participation towards norms of consensus and cooperation.

Critical, dissenting and conflicting forms of engagement are less valued or useful within this rationality of government, and protestors are, therefore, likely to be marginalised and criminalised.

My own position on the Green paper was developed in the immediate aftermath of its publication, and focuses on the specific amplification of productivity and teaching intensity, which appear to have received little attention elsewhere. I am Against teaching intensity.

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.

I argue that it is increasingly important to situate the revolutionising of higher education by successive Governments socially, against wider and increasingly desperate attempts to generate productivity and to stave off crisis. In this, I ask whether the concepts of social strikes and directional demands might enable us to refuse our subjugation under consultations that are smokescreens.

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… 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.

This doesn’t negate extending refusal to the terrain of higher education, and for revealing the reality that

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

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.

THREE. Something more urgent.

I am also anxiously aware both of what is missing from the Green Paper, and of our inability to recover those missing strands, and this also makes me recoil from the consultation. In particular, COP21 followed closely on the Green Paper’s publication, having been signalled for months as a critical moment in the global struggle for a habitable ecosystem/ecology/metabolism/planet. Yet, the idea that higher education might contribute to a response to socio-environmental crises is nowhere to be seen. Here the smokescreen prevents us from seeing the catastrophe unfolding, because we can only respond to the parameters set by learning gain and teaching excellence intensity.

Our obsession with economic productivity and competition, alongside the invisible hand, student choice, and academic performativity, disables the core functions of higher education to contribute solutions to anthropogenic forcing. This is notwithstanding the research and scholarship that goes into the work of the Inter-Governmental Panels, alongside projects like Making Science Public, the actions of academic activists, and so on. At our core, what is our response to James Hansen’s articulation that “[The Paris Agreement is] a fraud really, a fake. It’s just bullshit for them to say: ‘We’ll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.’ It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned”?

The core of our labour inside higher education matters, because as Johanna Oksala notes in The Paris Climate Deal: Just Words?

To get to the promised 1.5°C would require either sucking back green house gases already in the atmosphere with technologies that are, for all practical purposes, non-existent, or achieving a near-complete decarbonization of the world economy in the next couple of decades. This would mean no gasoline-fueled cars, no oil-fueled ships or planes, and no coal-fired power plants by 2050.

How can higher education respond to this proposed re-engineering of the economy, when the only frame of reference we have is competitive rather than co-operative? How can higher education respond to COP21’s recognition of the need to divest from fossil fuels when its core business is predicted on consumption and future carbon emissions? There is no alternative to the acceleration of business as usual. In a depressing echo of the Green Paper’s obsession with the market as arbiter of the allocation of resources, including people, Oksala notes:

It doesn’t even matter much what governments do; what matters is how the markets behave. The Paris deal is essentially an attempt to stop the climate change with the same means that are responsible for causing it: free-markets and their superior ability to provide information and allocate resources in a way that no political process ever could. The optimism of the Paris deal is grounded on the redemptive power of the invisible hand.

Debunking this myth has to be the real target of our criticism. The capitalist world economy is structurally reliant on constant economic growth and cutthroat competition between companies and nations. Giving up cheap energy, cheap food and cheap raw materials is fundamentally against its logic. If we are genuinely going to tackle climate change in a way that has at least some semblance to justice on a global scale we can no longer afford to have economic growth as the goal of good government in the overdeveloped countries, but have to fundamentally restructure our capitalist economies. We have to make a controlled transition to degrowth and promote the accompanying expansion of activities not governed by the pursuit of maximum economic productivity and profit.

While we would all love to believe that stopping climate change implies exciting innovations and creates new jobs, realistically, the transition to decarbonized societies cannot be presented as an option motivated by the economic opportunities it affords. The hard truth is that it necessitates real costs, sacrifices and painful choices, at least in the global North. The most serious hypocrisy represented by the Paris deal is not the empty promises, but the fact that no politician is prepared to admit the inherent connection between constant economic growth and climate change.

If climate change is a systemic problem rooted in the production, circulation and accumulation of capital (or human activity), then how we decide and reproduce its infrastructure, how we use available resources (energy and carbon), and how we consume the world is critical. This includes the role of higher education and the place of universities in that definition. Yet the political options inside the Green paper give us no boundaries for alternative, collective, social practices, or alternative, co-operative ways of reproducing the world. It offers us no collective hope. Even worse it cannot do so because education is folded inside multilateral trade agreements such as the TTIP.

And I reflect on the fact that Alberto Saldamando argues that

The Paris accord is a trade agreement, nothing more. It promises to privatize, commodify and sell forested lands as carbon offsets in fraudulent schemes such as REDD+ projects. These offset schemes provide a financial laundering mechanism for developed countries to launder their carbon pollution on the backs of the global south. Case-in-point, the United States’ climate change plan includes 250 million megatons to be absorbed by oceans and forest offset markets. Essentially, those responsible for the climate crisis not only get to buy their way out of compliance but they also get to profit from it as well.

Those responsible for the climate crisis not only get to buy their way out of compliance but they also get to profit from it as well. How does the Green paper enable us to address this, in its acceleration of our productivity, and the amplification of our obsessions with entrepreneurial activity, employability, internationalisation, metricide, and the market?

FOUR. Saying and doing “no”.

Because I want to say no. There is something more urgent. I want to let the Green paper through my fingers and to revisit the IPCC’s Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report Summary for Policymakers. I want to revisit the realities of business-as-usual (the constant revolutionising of production and consumption) in light of this reality

Anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions have increased since the pre-industrial era, driven largely by economic and population growth, and are now higher than ever. This has led to atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide that are unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. Their effects, together with those of other anthropogenic drivers, have been detected throughout the climate system and are extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. (p. 4)

I want to question whether the core business of precarious and indentured productivity and teaching intensity in higher education can continue given that:

Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems. Limiting climate change would require substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions which, together with adaptation, can limit climate change risks. (p. 8)

Anthropogenic GHG emissions are mainly driven by population size, economic activity, lifestyle, energy use, land use patterns, technology and climate policy. (p. 8)

I want to question how our internationalisation strategies and our coming subsumption under TTIP enables us to adapt to the reality that:

Climate change will amplify existing risks and create new risks for natural and human systems. Risks are unevenly distributed and are generally greater for disadvantaged people and communities in countries at all levels of development. (p. 13)

How does re-gearing higher education around productivity and teaching intensity enable us to adapt to “[r]ising rates and magnitudes of warming and other changes in the climate system, accompanied by ocean acidification, [that] increase the risk of severe, pervasive and in some cases irreversible detrimental impacts”? (p. 13) How does the Green Paper enable us to recalibrate higher education around solutions to mass extinctions, food (in)security, unequal or limited access to natural resources and water, health problems, and population displacement? Is there an alternative use-value for higher education that refuses its reduction to exchange?

How does the Green paper enable us to re-think higher education for both adaptation and mitigation, as “complementary strategies for reducing and managing the risks of climate change.” (p. 17) Crucially, the IPCC Synthesis Report states that

Adaptation planning and implementation at all levels of governance are contingent on societal values, objectives and risk perceptions (high confidence). Recognition of diverse interests, circumstances, social-cultural contexts and expectations can benefit decision-making processes. Indigenous, local and traditional knowledge systems and practices, including indigenous peoples’ holistic view of community and environment, are a major resource for adapting to climate change, but these have not been used consistently in existing adaptation efforts. Integrating such forms of knowledge with existing practices increases the effectiveness of adaptation. (p. 19)

Given the Government’s decisions to cut funding for domestic energy efficiency, to withdraw support for the Green Sky project (on green fuels), and to ditch engagement in carbon capture and storage projects, this is no surprise. In fact, Benny Peiser, writing in The Spectator, injects some hegemonic realism in stating that “This voluntary agreement also removes the mad rush into unrealistic decarbonisation policies that are both economically and politically unsustainable.”

NOTE the use of “mad” as derogatory, uneconomic, marginalised, and othered.

Here the IPCC offer some points of departure that might form directional demands.

Many adaptation and mitigation options can help address climate change, but no single option is sufficient by itself. Effective implementation depends on policies and cooperation at all scales and can be enhanced through integrated responses that link adaptation and mitigation with other societal objectives. (p. 26)

Adaptation and mitigation responses are underpinned by common enabling factors. These include effective institutions and governance, innovation and investments in environmentally sound technologies and infrastructure, sustainable livelihoods and behavioural and lifestyle choices. (p. 26

Here, educational options are framed as potential approaches for managing the risks of climate change through adaptation. These include: awareness raising & integrating [awareness] into education; gender equity in education; extension services; sharing indigenous, traditional & local knowledge; participatory action research & social learning; knowledge-sharing & learning platforms. (p. 27) But where are the potential spaces for such activities in a Green paper that is situated to deliver productivity gains through learning gain and teaching excellence, driven by intensity of activity?

The Green Paper offers us little then, in term of shaping educational behaviours and cultures that might influence energy use and associated emissions with a high mitigation potential. It’s obsession with capital and human intensity that change consumption patterns and emissions through complementary technological and structural changes. I think this is the root of my refusal to engage. The anxiety over my “No”. The reality that I need to say “no”. That my saying and my doing should be something other than their political theatre.

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.

For a political economy of Massive Open Online Courses

I have a new article out in Learning, Media and Technology, titled “For a political economy of Massive Open Online Courses”. The abstract and keywords are below.

There are 50 eprints available.


In understanding the changes that are impacting the global higher education sector, developing a critique of the relationships between technology and technological innovation, new managerialism and financialisation, and the impact of the secular crisis of global capitalism, is critical. Moreover, it is important to critique these changes historically and geographically, in order to understand how political economics shapes the space in which higher education policy and practice is recalibrated for capital accumulation and profitability.

This article will argue that educational innovations like MOOCs might usefully be examined in light of the relationships between: technological and organisational innovation; the historical tendency of the rate of profit to fall that is affecting competing educational providers; the disciplinary role of the State in shaping an educational space for further capital accumulation; and the subsumption of open networks to the neoliberal project of accumulation and profitability. Such an analysis then enables a critique of the claims that are made for open networks in delivering new forms of sociability that transcend structures of power and domination.

As a result of this political economic critique, the article will situate the emergence of MOOCs inside-and-against Capital’s drive to subsume labour practices inside technologically-mediated forms of coercion, command and control. It will argue that the ways in which MOOCs and the services that are derived from them are then valorised might offer a glimpse of how the neoliberal educational project is disciplining academic labour and how it might be resisted.

Keywords: academic labour; MOOC; rate of profit; sociability; technological innovation

on the proletarianisation of the University

The subsumption of academic life, through competition and financialisation, and driven by the disciplinary control of data and debt, enforces widening inequalities inside higher education (HE). Moreover, subsumption works to modify the processes of accumulation, which enable academic labour, in the form of student labour-power or staff teaching or shared research, to be proletarianised. The process of proletarianisation is global, and is influenced both by national educational policy like indentured study and using HE as an export strategy, and internationally through the role of trade partnerships and innovations like MOOCs. The end result is an increase in the number of academic labourers, in the form of postgraduates who teach, adjuncts, casual teachers, associate/full professors, and crucially students, who lack control over the means of production. In each of these cases individual labourers survive by selling their labour-power in the market.

This is the relationship between labour-power and subsumption/accumulation across areas of work that were previously regarded as beyond the market. What is revealed in this process is the dispossession of individual and collective autonomy and time. The autonomy that is dispossessed relates to what can be produced and the process of production. The time that is dispossessed is both the present and the future that is foreclosed as it is alienated. This alienated labour-power is scrubbed clean of its usefulness beyond that dictated in the market by metrics, impact and satisfaction. What emerges is the substitution of that alienated labour-power for that which was previously locally-bargained, with control over the means of production residing transnationally rather than at a local level.

For Marx and Engels, in the Communist Manifesto, this process of proletarianisation accompanied the globalisation of the circuits of production. This is reinforced for transnational HE through its explicit connection into the circuits of value production and accumulation, inside mechanisms like the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Marx writes in the Communist Manifesto:

In proportion as the bourgeoisie, i.e., capital, is developed, in the same proportion is the proletariat, the modern working class, developed — a class of labourers, who live only so long as they find work, and who find work only so long as their labour increases capital. These labourers, who must sell themselves piecemeal, are a commodity, like every other article of commerce, and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market.

Thus, we witness reports of adjunct professors who “don’t even earn the federal minimum wage”; and we witness postgraduate researcher-led committees that “have been pushing the[ir] University to honour the essential role that teaching assistants play in University life in the form of fair pay and treatment.”; and we witness self-imposed overwork as a form of self-harm; and we witness a documenting of the processes and pains of casualisation. As students and adjuncts are forced to sell themselves piecemeal they are forced to contend and compete globally. These proletarianised labourers are forced to compete as technological, entrepreneurial, and impactful.

For Michael Richmond, one outcome of this process is that people are forced to become self-exploiting entrepreneurs, beguiled by the promise of autonomy and ever-increasing standards of living, whilst in reality working longer and harder for lower rewards.

The point here is that you’re not just supposed to be paid nothing and get treated like garbage, you have to act like this is all part of your career plan. The demand here is a performative one. I had to “show him that I wanted it” – a demand that is largely unquantifiable but nevertheless psychically demoralising, designed perhaps to differentiate the boss from their staff affectively, even morally, in an industry of surprising equality of immiseration between the ostensible capitalist and the worker.

The reality is that, besides the social status and the myth of the autonomous entrepreneur, the role is a miserable one. They put in longer hours than anyone, often paying themselves poverty wages at first and taking no money out of the business (in fact, usually the opposite) as it often isn’t profitable anyway.

With such a configuration of production, the worker is sometimes left without a traditional boss to hate – leaving either an abstract concept of “the system” or, more likely, themselves, as the culprit. Meanwhile the entrepreneur, no less guided by the coercive laws of competition as any 19th century factory owner or Google CEO, no longer lives the capitalist’s dream of not having to work as instead they play several roles at once, often further hampered by actually “believing” or being emotionally invested in what they’re doing.

[W]orkers’ and managers’ immiseration coincide, where the exploited and the self-exploited service richer or credit-worthy consumers while the rentier class hoovers up most of the dosh through property and financial gatekeeping. The self-exploiting entrepreneur, beguiled by the promise of creative control and autonomy, more often than not ends up merely acting as a node for the flow of capitalist social relations.

Michael Roberts has argued cogently how the technologised, entrepreneurial individual is an outcome of the pressures of competition as they emerge from the market correction and deleveraging in the global economy. He has also argued that the crisis is one of profitability and investment, and is affecting both compensation for labour and hours worked. The end-product is that people are being forced into precarious, self-employment (as self-exploiting entrepreneurs) and are working longer hours for lower pay, whilst inequality widens on a global terrain. This is an echo of Marx and Engel’s argument in the Communist Manifesto that competition and the expansion of value, driven by space-time compression across an international market, would proletarianise increasing amounts of work.

Owing to the extensive use of machinery, and to the division of labour, the work of the proletarians has lost all individual character, and, consequently, all charm for the workman. He becomes an appendage of the machine, and it is only the most simple, most monotonous, and most easily acquired knack, that is required of him. Hence, the cost of production of a workman is restricted, almost entirely, to the means of subsistence that he requires for maintenance, and for the propagation of his race. But the price of a commodity, and therefore also of labour, is equal to its cost of production. In proportion, therefore, as the repulsiveness of the work increases, the wage decreases. Nay more, in proportion as the use of machinery and division of labour increases, in the same proportion the burden of toil also increases, whether by prolongation of the working hours, by the increase of the work exacted in a given time or by increased speed of machinery, etc.

Across globalised HE, we witness zero-hours contracts, outsourcing, the need for collective action like the 3cosas, and so on. In a competitive, transnational educational market, academic labour rights will be threatened by the equalising pressures of transnational competition and productivity, which includes new forms of competition from private providers. These might be rival organisations with degree-awarding powers, partnerships of accrediting organisations operating through MOOCs, or hedge funds providing venture capital for technologically-driven innovations. Whilst these innovations need to be analysed in terms of the tensions that emerge between the forces of technological production and individual labour time that can be exploited or alienated, they are also driven by a need to overcome the historic tendency of the rate of profit to fall.

This acceptance of immiseration is one outcome of recalibrating higher education inside a national export strategy. In his higher education position paper, Robbins Rebooted, Liam Byrne MP, argued that:

If we want a model of more inclusive growth, where more people earn more – at the top of the hourglass, then we need a higher education system that helps to build better jobs and equips people with the skills for high skilled, high value-added, non-routine jobs.

It reminded me of something blunter that Paul Hofheinz, President of the Lisbon Council said to me…: “if we want to live better than others, then we will have to be better than others.”

So our goal is bold and simple: to build a bigger knowledge economy

This is an acceptance that for vast swathes of the global population there is only immiseration and low-skilled, low value-added, routine jobs in a transnational market. This is about competition and the incorporation of HE inside that logic, so that competition is driven by precarity and casualisation and competition between entrepreneurs.

Here Will Davies’ recent work on neoliberalism is useful enables us to analyse capitalist work inside academia in light of (self-exploiting) entrepreneurial activity that is:

  • enacted through new combinations of technologies and practices to inject novelty into the circuits of capitalism;
  • operating through counter-acting norms that can never be stabilised;
  • rooted in a new productive environment that accommodates power: first in expanding the time-scale for returns; second in expanding the arena for competition; and
  • grounded in vision and desire.

The avaricious desire is therefore to recalibrate the whole of existence as an entrepreneurial life, in order to widen the orbit of productive labour. In part, this is done through the individuated, technologised Self. It is also achieved through the entrepreneurial recalibration of the collective labourer. Critically, this means that universities as businesses are restructured for the production of surplus value, through organisational development, knowledge transfer, impact, technological innovation and so on. As Marx argued in Chapter 16 of Capital:

Capitalist production is not merely the production of commodities, it is essentially the production of surplus value. The labourer produces, not for themself, but for capital. It no longer suffices, therefore, that they should simply produce. They must produce surplus-value.

That labourer alone is productive, who produces surplus-value for the capitalist, and thus works for the self-expansion of capital. If we may take an example from outside the sphere of production of material objects, a schoolteacher is a productive labourer, when, in addition to belabouring the heads of their scholars, they work like a horse to enrich the school proprietor. That the latter has laid out their capital in a teaching factory, instead of in a sausage factory, does not alter the relation. Hence the notion of a productive labourer implies not merely a relation between work and useful effect, between labourer and product of labour, but also a specific, social relation of production, a relation that has sprung up historically and stamps the labourer as the direct means of creating surplus-value. To be a productive labourer is, therefore, not a piece of luck, but a misfortune.

To re-quote Michael Richmond:

The self-exploiting entrepreneur, beguiled by the promise of creative control and autonomy, more often than not ends up merely acting as a node for the flow of capitalist social relations.

A critical issue for academics and students as labourers emerges from the process of their working lives as they are rooted in the creation of circulation of services that are compensated through “a share of the surplus product, of the capitalist’s revenue” (Marx, Grundrisse). Thus, those who labour to provide a service, alongside those who labour to produce surplus value, are faced by capital’s drive to expand and accumulate value, and to reduce costs in the face of maximising profit. For Marx, profit was key in disciplining and exploiting (productive) labour and in driving down labour costs. Thus, in speaking about the relationship between public infrastructure, [technological innovation], the role of the State and the drive for private profit, Marx argued the following.

The separation of public works from the state, and their migration into the domain of the works undertaken by capital itself, indicates the degree to which the real community has constituted itself in the form of capital. A country, e.g. the United States, may feel the need for [technological innovation] in connection with production; nevertheless the direct advantage arising from them for production may be too small for the investment to appear as anything but sunk capital. Then capital shifts the burden on to the shoulders of the state; or, where the state traditionally still takes up a position superior to capital, it still possesses the authority and the will to force the society of capitalists to put a part of their revenue, not of their capital, into such generally useful works, which appear at the same time as general conditions of production, and hence not as particular conditions for one capitalist or another – and, so long as capital does not adopt the form of the joint-stock company, it always looks out only for its particular conditions of realisation, and shifts the communal conditions off on to the whole country as national requirements. Capital undertakes only advantageous undertakings, advantageous in its sense. … Capital must be able to sell the [technological innovation] in such a way that both the necessary and the surplus labour are realised, or in such a way that it obtains out of the general fund of profits – of surplus values – a sufficiently large share to make it the same as if it had created surplus value. The highest development of capital exists when the general conditions of the process of social production are not paid out of deductions from the social revenue, the states taxes – where revenue and not capital appears as the labour fund, and where the worker, although he is a free wage worker like any other, nevertheless stands economically in a different relation – but rather out of capital as capital. This shows the degree to which capital has subjugated all conditions of social production to itself [Marx, Grundrisse)

Critically, proletarianisation is amplified not only by the privatisation of the conditions for social reproduction but also by the demand for labour to be productive (i.e. to expand capital). As soon as it becomes unproductive, then it will not be employed or it will be outsourced. Investment in new physical and virtual spaces through which surpluses can be invested and returns taken out is pivotal in the expansion of capitalism. Thus, the idea of traditional HE needs to be addressed against the production and circulation of value, and in response to potential blockages that might induce a crisis by constricting capital flows. Innovations like MOOCs might fruitfully be analysed against these potential constrictions or barriers to the social reproduction of capital, which maintain an increase in the rate of profit and leverage further investment.

Thus, Marx and Engels argue in the Communist Manifesto, emerges a:

class of labourers, who live only so long as they find work, and who find work only so long as their labour increases capital. These labourers, who must sell themselves piecemeal, are a commodity, like every other article of commerce.

The growth of technological and entrepreneurial activity inside and against the University forms a way for capital to leverage the ratio of the total surplus-value produced in society to the total capital invested. Educational innovation also enables a redistribution of surplus value from businesses that produce commodities or services like universities to those that market them or that lend money to make academic labour productive. Therefore, it becomes important to analyse the role of innovation in revolutionising the means of production and in proletarianising the University. One signal that this is occurring is Pearson’s focus on “doubling the amount of really high value learning [at no extra total cost]” through: being more global; being more mobile; thinking holistically; being absolutely obsessed with learning outcomes. Pearson argue:

building an ever-wider range of bigger and more complex standalone products and services to participating in more open, interoperable educational ‘ecosystems’, centered around learners

Responses to this entail a critique of academic labour inside the University and across the terrain of HE that also includes open environments and Commons. Such responses might usefully focus on the following.

ONE. Critiques of the value of academic labour, as it is generated both by tenured/non-tenured staff and through the labour of the student. This will enable the latter to become more than the carrier of technologised, entrepreneurial value, born out of the marriage of debt and data. Recalibrating the work of academics (and sub-strata of academics, like adjuncts, tenured/untenured and so on) and students as labourers, and therefore as the working class governed by the wage relation (even where it is debt-driven), is critical in refusing proletarianisation. This has implications for the control of time and the autonomy of capitalist work. Academics and students may feel that they have more autonomy, but the wage-relation and the real subsumption of work affects that reality. As Marx notes in Wage Labour and Capital

the putting of labor-power into action — i.e., the work — is the active expression of the laborer’s own life. And this life activity he sells to another person in order to secure the necessary means of life. His life-activity, therefore, is but a means of securing his own existence. He works that he may keep alive. He does not count the labor itself as a part of his life; it is rather a sacrifice of his life. It is a commodity that he has auctioned off to another. The product of his activity, therefore, is not the aim of his activity.

But the worker, whose only source of income is the sale of his labor-power, cannot leave the whole class of buyers, i.e., the capitalist class , unless he gives up his own existence. He does not belong to this or that capitalist, but to the capitalist class ; and it is for him to find his man — i.e., to find a buyer in this capitalist class.

Even the entrepreneur as commodity-producer is obliged to sell her products in competition. Critically, the means of production inside HE, in terms of the content, the infrastructures, the data and learning analytics, the applications and so on, are not owned by the entrepreneur unless she becomes a member of the capitalist class. Generally, the technologised, entrepreneurial labourer is forced to sell her labour-power and her products as commodities for a wage.

TWO. Critique of the mechanisms through which debt/indenture and the need to compete on a global terrain for a wage underpin proletarianisation. This means that transantional businesses governed by partnerships accords like the TTIP have power over labour and can restructure on a global basis, underpinning labour arbitrage.

THREE. The ways in which the expansion of the circuits of value-production and accumulation dominate the why of education, and underpin increasing academic alienation as autonomy over the mode and means of production are lost.

A critical issue is whether there are moments of solidarity across the academic labourer as a collective worker (student, worker, tenured/non-tenured academic and so on), in order to support collective action that looks towards the abolition of alienation through the abolition of capitalist work. Otherwise, as Marx notes in Wage Labour and Capital, academic labour will be increasingly subject to regulation through the exhausting logic of competition.

Now, the same general laws which regulate the price of commodities in general, naturally regulate wages , or the price of labor-power. Wages will now rise, now fall, according to the relation of supply and demand, according as competition shapes itself between the buyers of labor-power, the capitalists, and the sellers of labor-power, the workers. The fluctuations of wages correspond to the fluctuation in the price of commodities in general. But within the limits of these fluctuations the price of labor-power will be determined by the cost of production, by the labor-time necessary for production of this commodity: labor-power.

What, then, is the cost of production of labor-power?

It is the cost required for the maintenance of the laborer as a laborer, and for his education and training as a laborer.

The squeeze on remuneration and the potential for solidarity amongst collective labour has been argued by the IT Consultancy Gartner:

Digitization is reducing labor content of services and products in an unprecedented way, thus fundamentally changing the way remuneration is allocated across labor and capital…. Mature economies will suffer most as they don’t have the population growth to increase autonomous demand nor powerful enough labor unions or political parties to (re-)allocate gains in what continues to be a global economy.

Following on from Will Davies’ work, we might ask whether and how solidarity can be sought that refuses or pushes-back against proletarianisation in and through the University? In particular, the following questions feel important.

  • How might the notion of political decision-making or action be harnessed in ways that broaden the horizon of political possibility inside-and-beyond the University?
  • Does such deliberation lead to stagnation or reconfiguration? Do planning, debt and data subsume the future to incentivised utility-maximisation?
  • How is it possible for individual agency and collective institutions to be criticized and re-imagined simultaneously, in order to overcome neoliberal narratives?

Thus, academics might ask whether, in a globalised life that is restructured around the metrics of efficiency, value, enterprise, and where social life is restructured for-profit, are there alternative, qualitative descriptions of life that might enable alternatives to be developed? One possibility lies in the idea of the Commons and the praxis that emerges from commoning, which is a global idea of socialised solidarity. Elsewhere I have argued for a critique rooted in mass intellectuality and open co-operativism, as a mechanism for framing a useful higher education that recognises its own alienation through

  • democratic governance and regulation of transnational worker co-operatives
  • connections to the circuits of p2p production and distribution
  • pedagogic moments that reflect the open, democratic, autonomous, social focus of co-operatives
  • a framework for the common ownership of products, assets and commodities
  • a reclamation of public environments for the globalised, socialised dissemination of knowledge (e.g. copyfarleft)
  • connecting a global set of educational commons rooted in critical pedagogy
  • conversion, dissolution or creation of co-operatives that are transitional and pedagogic

Refusing the proletarianisation of the University hinges on the creation of a ‘direct form of communal manifestations of life carried out in association with others – [that] are therefore an expression and confirmation of that social life’ (Marx on Private Property and Communism). This might be realised in spaces that incorporate increasingly alienated social forces in the global North, as well as those largely ignored in the global South. This requires that we have a more mature discussion of the possibilities for pedagogic production as a social activity that are for-society rather than for-profit.

In part this recognises that HE is folded into the circuits of capitalism precisely because no space is more important for the generation and accumulation of the knowledge, practices and skills produced co-operatively at the level of society, as ‘mass intellectuality’. Is it possible that a critical political economy of higher education as it is proletarianised might offer a way of developing an emancipatory critical pedagogy on a global scale? Might such a political economy enable the knowledge, practices and skills produced socially and co-operatively inside-and-beyond HE to underpin new social relations of production as a pedagogic project beyond the market?

Social sustainability, mass intellectuality and the idea of the University

On Monday 30 June, I’m presenting in Leeds at the Building Sustainable Societies, Sustainable Education conference. I’m speaking about Social sustainability, mass intellectuality and the idea of the University.


This presentation considers the interconnections between critical pedagogy and the idea of mass intellectuality, in order to reflect on the current crisis of higher education. The argument will situate the liberationist perspectives of critical pedagogy inside the idea of mass intellectuality, or the process of democratic knowledge production at the level of society. It will be argued that in the face of the secular crisis of capitalism, which is recalibrating the idea of the University and of higher education through marketization and competition, it is the development of mass intellectuality that offers a mechanism for a different, co-operative form of social sustainability. In confronting enforced, structural changes, this approach offers more than the tropes of individual resilience, or of mitigation or adaptation, which emerge from readings of environmental sustainability. In fact, it enables a critical, alternative reading of the social sustainability of higher education strategies for internationalisation, entrepreneurialism, consumerism, and so on. These alternatives pivot around the re-politicising both the curriculum and the University, and are particularly useful in enabling a critique of the place of higher education inside the circuits and cycles of globalised capitalism. As a result, mass intellectuality potentially offers a richer way in to revealing higher education as a key site of struggle over the production and accumulation of value. More importantly, in forcing educators and students to ask “what is to be done?”, a focus on mass intellectuality suggests possibilities for pushing back against the subsumption of contemporary higher education for capitalist work. As a result we might ask whether alternative forms of social sustainability are desirable and possible.

My slides are available here.

I will make the following argument.

ONE. The idea of the University has to be developed in relation to the production, circulation and accumulation of value. This is a form of sociability and power that recalibrates the world and amplifies suffering. There are some ideas here.

TWO. We are witnessing and through our labour we are party to the restructuring of the University for value. A range of transnational networks and policy advocates, as well as representative academic and managerial groups, amplify this as an entrepreneurial turn inside the University. In particular the University is being culturally redefined through a range of counter-measures that intend to reinstate stable forms of accumulation. Here the daily violence of debt, unemployment and the collapse in real wages make concrete the realities of an abstracted life. There are some ideas here.

THREE. The University is disciplined by transnational activist networks that form associations of capitals, designed to transform governance, regulation and funding for value. This is antagonistic and intergenerational, and it threatens social cohesion. There are some ideas here.

FOUR. Are defence or refusal possibilities? If so, where are they witnessed? In occupations; in the work of precariously employed labour; in flights of fancy; in the social factory? There are some ideas here.

FIVE. Are defence or refusal possibilities inside the University as an anxiety machine? What is the psychic impact of: alienated labour; the disciplining of academic labour; the cognitive dissonance inherent in the contradictions of abstract/concrete labour; the rule of money? How do we learn to self-care as opposed to self-harm? There are some ideas here.

SIX. How do we understand the relationship between mass intellectuality and the idea of the University? How do we build a counter-hegemony rooted in: radical subjectivity through the production of new forms of critical knowledge in everyday life; spaces for the refusal of the violence of abstraction; occupation of the idea of the public; alternatives to the ideological and material conditions of domination; the creation of democratic, open, worker co-operatives; and an abundance of love, rather than a scarcity of value? There are some ideas here.

notes on money and the democratic deficit and higher education

ONE. Unless academics rouse themselves

Andrew McGettigan writes of the incorporation of the university inside the deliberate re-organisation of our lives as financialised. So that our educational existence acts as a motor of/for other’s financialised power-over us. The financialised power-over our lives by hedge funds, private equity, technology firms, operating and accumulating on a global terrain.

“As universities mirror the increasingly unequal nature of English society, what they offer is a positional rather than a market good: their role in advancing social equality, or minimising embedded disadvantage, will be traduced in a meritocratic game of spotting ‘talent’ and ensuring that it is slotted into the appropriate tier. But the possibility of ditching even such minimal commitments to fair access hits a tipping point if the conversion from charity to for-profit is facilitated by government. This is so novel that we do not even have a term for such a process (‘privatisation’ does not cut it, since the charity is already private). We do though have a precedent. In 2012, College of Law was sold to Montagu Private Equity for £200 million. The export strategy document encourages universities to consider this option if they wish to exploit the new opportunities opened by the digital revolution that fixes education as a tradeable service.

“It goes without saying that this process and that of the financialisation associated with a generalised loan scheme will feed off each other. Although the policy terrain is settled temporarily, the ball is very much in the court of individual institutions: there are few safeguards against the ambition of overweening vice-chancellors fuelled by new financial options.

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

TWO. Uncertainty and volatility as the new normal

Uncertainty and volatility, underscored by and underscoring the disciplining of increasingly precarious academic and student labour, are the new normal. The Institute for Fiscal Studies writes that Estimating the public cost of student loans under the UK Coalition Governments reforms is an increasingly uncertain business.

“Estimating this long-run public cost of student loans is inherently difficult. It depends on the repayments that will be made by graduates for decades to come – which can only be estimated by making a large number of assumptions about the future. However, an appreciation of the cost of providing student loans, and the uncertainty around that, is essential for policymakers. The government needs unbiased estimates of these if it is to properly understand the public finance implications of the current HE funding system, its likely financial sustainability, and how the burden of HE funding is shared between the taxpayer and graduates.

“Were the long-run cost of issuing student loans today to be underestimated, then a future government would have to accept higher-than-expected levels of public sector debt (as loan repayments would not reduce debt as much as expected) or offset this by increasing taxes or cutting spending (which would reduce borrowing and therefore the addition to debt).

“However, it should be emphasised that these baseline estimates are highly uncertain. They are based on a large number of assumptions, changing any of which would alter the estimated cost, sometimes significantly… This uncertainty makes it even more important that the potential cost of student loans is estimated in as transparent a way as possible. The 2012 reforms have increased the uncertainty over the long-run public cost of higher education by replacing the certain costs of teaching grants with the uncertain costs associated with student loans.”

All of which reminds me that Cormac McCarthy wrote, in Cities of the Plain:

“‘It is an uncertain business,’ the old man said, ‘you must persevere. To persevere is everything.’”

THREE. You can scream and you can shout but it’s too late now

The space-time of higher education is being claimed and restructured globally for the market, as universities are being claimed and restructured as competing capitals. This mirrors the globalising effects of the Sky TV deal on English football in the 1990s. As McGettigan notes elsewhere:

“Twenty years ago, the way money moved around English football changed beyond recognition with the advent of the Premier League and Sky TV. Regarding the ensuing stratification and divisions in the professional game, the Manchester Capitalism blog observed a withering of the club as a social institution’ and a fragility attributable to ‘the growing influence of elite networks around the game.’

“Vice-chancellors appear to have less oversight than many football club chairmen. And many of them now talk publicly as if they were appealing to fans desperate for silverware. Consider the recent comments of the Sussex registrar: ‘Universities face a choice: to compete on the global stage or to settle for second-rate status. Our staff and students expect us to aim high, and we do. But this is going to become increasingly difficult. … we cannot afford to be in a position in which any part of our offer to staff and students does not match the best in class.’

Global competition of universities as business underpins Ryan Shorthouse’s argument for universities to be subsumed under the rule of money and the logic of competition, and to articulate their governance and organisation around a risk-based, financial contract with their students. This is not public governance, regulation and funding. This is the transnational rule of money and the devil take the hindmost.

“So a different route to a financially sustainable system needs to be found. One idea is for universities to contribute to the loans subsidy themselves. This could be done collectively, with all institutions contributing a small proportion of their fee income to a pot of money the government can then use to cover written-off loans.

“Or, perhaps more fairly, the cost of written-off loans could be covered by individual universities. If a university charges high fees but few of its graduates pay off their loans, the government should find a way of getting that institution to cough up. It could, for example, reduce the amount the university receives in teaching grant in future years. If the amount deducted were sufficient, this could deter universities from overcharging in the first place.

“An alternative, more radical, solution would be for universities – rather than students – to take out loans from the Treasury to finance undergraduate tuition. These loans would be repaid through the earnings of a university’s graduates, who – in an “equity contract” with their university – would pay their loan back to their alma mater through the PAYE system under the same parameters as now.

“Under this system, universities could charge their graduates what they wanted. But they would be wise to lend only what they would expect to receive back from each cohort of graduates. This would result in the state paying considerably less, while low-earning graduates would pay the same (nothing until they were earning more than £21,000 a year). Universities would be exposed to greater risk, but they could potentially derive much greater rewards, too.”

Risk and money and impact, driven by commodification and competition, and resulting in the subsumption of the humane values that drive a critical education under the demands of the market. And so we witness George Osborne framing a consultation on how to spend £7 billion in capital funding for science for the next Parliament through the “greatest opportunity for commercial application.” I wrote elsewherethat this is the General Intellect of society co-opted inside financialised higher education, so that the University comes to be governed and organised around money and impact:

“Through innovation and competition, the technical and skilled work of the socialised worker, operating in factories or corporations or schools, is subsumed inside machinery. Therefore, the ‘general intellect’ of society is absorbed into capitalised technologies and techniques, in order to reduce labour costs and increase productivity. As a result, ‘the human being comes to relate more as a watchman and regulator to the production process itself’ (Marx, Grundrisse, p. 705).

“Inside the University, how do we come to understand the mechanisms through which the general intellect is co-opted into technical and scientific processes that enable capitalist work and value production? Is it possible, inside the University, to reclaim them?”

FOUR. The international market will save us

Like those English football clubs that strive for Champions’ League places, in order to compete for financial rewards on a European scale, we witness higher education being recalibrated around international competition. So we read that Grant Thornton’s report on Irish higher education connects internationalisation, institutional association or collaboration, and labour arbitrage:

“Change is needed in relation to Ireland’s third level institutions if they are to survive their increasingly strained funding circumstances… Revenue options highlighted, many of which institutes are already taking or are actively considering, include increasing international student income, higher alumni contributions and winning a bigger share of the international research funding pie. On the cost side, options being considered include consolidation, regional clusters, the use better procurement processes and outsourcing to drive down operating costs.”

And Moody’s has reiterated the impact that a globalised higher education terrain and domestic deregulation will have on individual institutions:

“increased competition is likely to lead to growing credit variation between individual institutions. Overall, the ultimate credit impact of the reform on particular universities will depend on their current market positions and the strategies adopted in response to the reform.

“As part of the ongoing reform in the English higher education sector, the UK government (Aa1 stable) recently indicated that it will completely remove existing caps on domestic undergraduate students by 2015/16. This is credit positive for the sector, as it will allow universities to grow enrolment and revenues. However, it also creates an increasingly competitive domestic market, which Moody’s expects will lead to universities implementing capex-driven strategies in order to defend their current market positions and in some cases expand their student enrolment numbers.

“Moody’s notes that the risks and opportunities universities face as a result of the reform vary according to their current market position, exposure to domestic undergraduate market and available financial resources. As a result, Moody’s groups universities into three broad categories to assess the opportunities, expected responses and credit impact of the reform.”

This view is then further reinforced through the normalisation of a discourse of marketization and the rule of money in every facet of higher education, including teaching and learning. Thus, Paul Ramsden writes for the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education that:

“The close association between the student experience and teaching and assessment, as well as broader aspects of university life, is now generally accepted and understood. It forms part of national discourse and international league tables. It is integral to institutional success in competitive systems of higher education.”

<deep breath. For. Fucks. Sake.>   This is the paucity of our higher education discourse. The rule of money peddled as pedagogic practice. As I argued elsewhere on the creation of a higher education market:

“They want to use information and data to quantify academic labour, and to drive funding, and to enclose and commodify pedagogy, and to extract value. A real cultural change. The new normal.”

FIVE:  a new higher education market of commodity producers and consumers (a reprise)

In Volume 2 of Capital, Marx demonstrated that Capital is the unity of three circuits: it is formed of moments of the circulation of money, of production, and of commodities. Money and commodities are mobile, and intellectual or cognitive services or commodities are especially so, and are productive of value. Production, situated in reality, is less mobile, and needs to be corralled or kettled or coerced. Hence the drive for internationalisation or the MOOC, or their need to find spaces from where value can be extracted or invested. And they are no longer just Vice-Chancellors. They are private equity and hedge funds and private providers and policy-makers and transnational activist networks. But mostly they are money.

As David Harvey shows, the money form is more visible and is prioritised because it is how surplus value is realised. Accumulated money and the power that accompanies it means that other forms of human or humane value in the production of commodities are marginalised. Money is hegemonic. The creation of money recalibrates the world.

One form of recalibration is taking place inside higher education, where the discourse of mission-group leaders, Vice-Chancellors and Ministers of State, is around finance, the consumption of education, and business needs. In order to restructure higher education for the market, universities need to be formally subsumed in their current (public/private) forms within capitalist production and circulation, and then restructured inside the circuits of productive and commodity Capital. So we see the transformation of educational services into products, and the use of data, and technological and organisational change to drive further the processes of consumerisation and commodification of academic labour. And this includes the curriculum.

Critically, the subsumption of universities inside the mechanics of capitalist reproduction demands a market. This applies to Vice-Chancellors acting as CEOs or nascent business leaders, and to private providers of educational services, both of whom need specific use-values (course content, data, knowledge exchange partnerships, research outcomes as products, technical infrastructure and so on) in specific amounts that can be purchased and put to work. Crucially, this work has to be productive of surplus value, and profit. Hence it needs a market, and if one doesn’t already exist it must be created. This need for a market is also extended to potential students who carry debt, and who are encouraged to purchase commodities or services-as-commodities, as positional goods. Thus, the material circumstances of the production, purchase and circulation of educational commodities are critical, and they catalyse policy as a means of restructuring. Because policy and secondary legislation (there has been not HE Bill under the UK Coalition Government) are being used to create a market.

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

And pace Marx in Volume 2 of Capital, education as a commodity is critical to this because the commodity is the social form against which every educational capital can be considered. The circuit of educational commodities is the form of motion common to all educational capitals. It is social only in that it forms the total social capital of the capitalist class, as it is restructuring education. Moreover, the movement of individual educational capitals is conditioned by its relationship to other educational capitals, or universities. This is a material relation underscored by competition, surplus value, risk, hedges, and the rate of profit.

SIX. The realities of a world rate of profit

In Volume 3 of Capital Marx argued that:

The progressive tendency of the general rate of profit to fall is, therefore, just an expression peculiar to the capitalist mode of production of the progressive development of the social productivity of labour. This does not mean to say that the rate of profit may not fall temporarily for other reasons. But proceeding from the nature of the capitalist mode of production, it is thereby proved a logical necessity that in its development the general average rate of surplus-value must express itself in a falling general rate of profit. Since the mass of the employed living labour is continually on the decline as compared to the mass of materialised labour set in motion by it, i.e., to the productively consumed means of production, it follows that the portion of living labour, unpaid and congealed in surplus-value, must also be continually on the decrease compared to the amount of value represented by the invested total capital. Since the ratio of the mass of surplus-value to the value of the invested total capital forms the rate of profit, this rate must constantly fall.

Simon Clarke argued for the interconnections between the rate of profit and the exploitation of labour, inside a competitive global market, and the need for progressive responses:

“The historical tendency of capitalist production is to the progressive increase in the productivity of labour, so that each worker mobilises a growing mass of raw materials, and a progressive displacement of direct labour by machinery, so that each worker uses more fixed capital. In physical terms this means that there is clearly a tendency for the composition of capital to rise. The value expression of this composition may not rise so rapidly, because the machinery and the raw materials may become progressively cheaper compared to the cost of labour power, but it is not unreasonable to assume, as did Marx, that there is a constant tendency for the composition of capital to rise in value terms. With a given rate of exploitation, this would imply a constant tendency for the rate of profit to fall.

“The tendency for the rate of profit to fall will be modified by factors which moderate the rise in the composition of capital. However, it will also be counteracted by the tendency for the rate of exploitation to rise which is inextricable linked to the tendency for the organic composition of capital to rise. The rising organic composition of capital and the rising rate of exploitation are complementary expressions of the increasing productivity of labour: with a given real wage increasing productivity immediately implies an increasing rate of exploitation. Whether the rate of profit falls, remains the same, or even rises, therefore depends on the relationship between the rate of increase in the composition of capital and the rate of increase in the rate of exploitation.”

One issue in addressing such exploitation has been class collaboration between labour and capitalist in meeting the challenge of competition from other, especially foreign, capitalists and their workers. This is perceived salvation in continual exploitation. In creating a higher education market we witness reactionary responses based on a retreat to the system of exploitation itself or in finessing the market, rather than in a radical overhaul of the governance, funding and regulation of higher education for a different, social purpose.

Michael Roberts argues that this matters because we are witnessing the creation of a global market and a global rate of profit that represents a different view of the response of national and international bodies to this secular crisis of capitalism. In spite of the organisational and technological innovations designed to extract more value from labour, the tendency of the rate of profit to fall cannot be overcome and this then defines responses to the crisis, including those of universities as competing capitals and UK higher education as a competitive sector. Roberts notes that:

“further destruction of capital values will be necessary through another significant slump in global capitalism to raise profitability. Only then could the remaining potential value from the world supply of labour be utilised to restore the health of world capitalism.”

SEVEN. Unless academics rouse themselves

In a recent video report on the March 22 protests in Spain one activist argued:

“We see the repercussions in daily life but those in power obviously do not feel the affects of the crisis.”

A second added:

“So what they are doing is to cut back on the rights of the pubic instead of defending those social rights. As a result of which people nowadays are unemployed, have no income, and are witnessing the deterioration of public services… the dismantling and the crisis in which the country’s system of production finds itself… [one of] exclusion and social disintegration… and in the next generation we will pay for it”

These activists and the demonstrations that emerged as oppositional space-times inside-and-against austerity focused upon the organisation of everyday life, including healthcare, housing, food and education, through local democratic assemblies that were networked on a national scale around set piece events like M22, and which injected a sense of “dynamism”. This dynamism then invigorated the work of the multitude of invisible, mutual, self-managed initiatives, like the occupations of vacant homes, the development of pantries or food banks, the creation of social centres, the provision of local healthcare.

Thus, this “movement based on assemblies” becomes a critical space-time of alternatives that begin to organise and govern and point beyond the market as the sole organising principle.

“In Madrid, since the famous 15M, or the movement of the occupation of the plazas as I prefer to call it, the social fabric of the neighbourhoods multiplied exponentially… the situation demands more mutual aid, more help in general, in the neighbourhoods, between neighbours, because every day people have less and less, every day the cuts in services are more difficult, every day the police repression is worse, and there needs to be a new form of organisation.”

We might then ask how is our educational life to be organised at once both locally and globally, and how does this organisation connect to the production, distribution and consumption of our everyday necessities? Where we witness economic shock therapy and the rule of money defining and being defined by an oligarchic and polyarchic politics, through which our everyday lives are disciplined, what is to be done? Which brings us back to Andrew McGettigan:

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

on the triple crunch and the secular crisis of the University

I presented yesterday at the Plymouth University Pedagogic Research Institute and Observatory annual conference. I spoke about the impact on higher education of climate change and liquid fuel availability, as symptoms of the secular crisis of capitalism. These are the triple crunch, or in sustainability circles the energy trilemma, and I have previously written about them here and here.

My slides are here.

However, these are the things I wish I had said.

ONE. This secular crisis of capitalism is the secular crisis of the University. This is the systemic inability to reassert stable forms of accumulation. This is the catalysis of a transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich, through: debts and indenture (for instance for students); the destruction of previously socialised and historically-accrued capital (for instance in the commodification and marketisation of public services like free education and healthcare, or access to natural resources); the imposition of precarity as a form of labour arbitrage (for instance, in benefit sanctions, casualised labour and zero-hour contracts); the increase in ‘asset value’ linked to commodities (from mortgages and buy-to-let, to futures in food and natural resources, and staples like gold); and the re-inflation of stock markets to pre-crisis levels.

In this secular crisis, the dislocation of the debt-driven indicators of economic growth from the realities of how value is created in the productive economy infects the University. It drives student debt, and the data-driven consumption of the idea of education. It drives the myth of the student-as-entrepreneur, who is able to recreate and reinvent herself as an autonomous wealth creator. It drives the myth that higher education exists for international competitiveness and employability, in the face of global labour arbitrage, the disciplining of dissent, the 40 year collapse in real wages, and the catastrophic rise in youth unemployment. It drives the financialisation of the student loan book, and the monetisation of the activities of the University through the bond markets.

In this secular crisis we witness academic subsumption under the rule of money. We witness academic inability to refuse the proprietary claims made for the rule of the market. These claims that are made for the market as the principal organising mechanism for our academic lives, and which cannot be refused, are our secular crisis. And do we wonder at our alienation under the re-inflation of a financial bubble that now re-defines academic study and work, and that will make the poor even poorer when it bursts? A market correction; which further corrects the idea of the University; which further disciplines the idea of the academic; because debt and immateriality cannot create value when it is dislocated from a productive life.

TWO. Indenture, precarity and correction: a collective threat to the social cohesion of our communities and our universities, precisely as they are to our cities and our nations. Where is this collective threat in our discussions of what a University is for? How are the relationships between the market and money, labour and production, value and values, connected to the University as engine for entrepreneurship or internationalisation or employment or creativity? Is the University redeemable?

THREE. And this point further coalesces around the University as energy sink; around the University as engine of value creation; around the University and gross domestic product. Because there is a strong correlation between liquid energy use and GDP, and yet as global energy demand is on the rise, our access to liquid fuel is forecast to decline. As the US Joint Forces Command reported in 2010:

A severe energy crunch is inevitable without a massive expansion of production and refining capacity. While it is difficult to predict precisely what economic, political, and strategic effects such a shortfall might produce, it surely would reduce the prospects for growth in both the developing and developed worlds. Such an economic slowdown would exacerbate other unresolved tensions

And we have a recent UK Ministry of Defence Strategic Trends Programme report, which argued:

The western ‘way of life’ is often associated with ready access to a wide variety of consumer choice and relatively cheap energy. This is likely to be increasingly challenged as lifestyles follow GDP levels and ‘normalise’ across the globe. This trend will have significant impact within the US and the UK, where the way of life for the bulk of their populations may be challenged by rising energy and resource. prices, and the declining availability of finance to sustain discretionary spending.

There is no precedent for oil discoveries to make up for the shortfall, nor is there a precedent for efficiencies to relieve demand on this scale. And so the IMF have reported that:

our prediction of small further increases in world oil production comes at the expense of a near doubling, permanently, of real oil prices over the coming decade. This is uncharted territory for the world economy, which has never experienced such prices for more than a few months…

we suspect that there must be a pain barrier, a level of oil prices above which the effects on GDP becomes nonlinear, convex. We also suspect that the assumption that technology is independent of the availability of fossil fuels may be inappropriate, so that a lack of availability of oil may have aspects of a negative technology shock.

In that case the macroeconomic effects of binding resource constraints could be much larger, more persistent, and they would extend well beyond the oil sector.

And yet public sector debt, and student debt, and University debt, are burdens that ultimately require economic growth to pay them down. Or they demand the discipline of the State in enforcing the claims of the market to your/my/our labour. As Marx wrote:

the nature of the exchange of commodities itself imposes no limit to the working-day, no limit to surplus-labour. The capitalist maintains his rights as a purchaser when he tries to make the working-day as long as possible, and to make, whenever possible, two working-days out of one. On the other hand, the peculiar nature of the commodity sold implies a limit to its consumption by the purchaser, and the labourer maintains his right as seller when he wishes to reduce the working-day to one of definite normal duration. There is here, therefore, an antinomy, right against right, both equally bearing the seal of the law of exchanges. Between equal rights force decides. Hence is it that in the history of capitalist production, the determination of what is a working-day, presents itself as the result of a struggle, a struggle between collective capital, i.e., the class of capitalists, and collective labour, i.e., the working-class.

Between equal rights force decides. Until our debts are redeemed. And if energy supply looks likely to constrain growth, well what then for the University? What then for our academic labour? What then for our equal rights?

FOUR. Maybe energy is the least of our worries. The Royal Society’s People and Planet report from 2012 argued that there is an urgent need to address issues of climate change and resource availability across the globe. The report argued:

in the most developed and the emerging economies unsustainable consumption must be urgently reduced. This will entail scaling back or radical transformation of damaging material consumption and emissions and the adoption of sustainable technologies. At present, consumption is closely linked to economic models based on growth. Decoupling economic activity from material and environmental throughputs is needed urgently. Changes to the current socio-economic model and institutions are needed to allow both people and the planet to flourish by collaboration as well as competition during this and subsequent centuries. This requires farsighted political leadership concentrating on long term goals.

Is this radical transformation the entrepreneurial, indebted, analytical, international, exchangeable University? And how is this University to make sense of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change’s report on Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability? This is a report that indicates with high confidence that we are beyond the IPCC ‘marker’ scenario range, and are now at a fork between a mean global temperature rise of 1-3 degrees Celsius and one of 3.5-5 degrees Celsius. Whatever the opportunities this allegedly allows, what is the role of the University in asking questions about the activities it undertakes in contributing to such a rise? What is the critical role of academics in questioning the purpose and value of those activities, be they productive or unproductive? How on earth do universities, driven by internationalisation strategies, measure and reduce scope 3 emissions? What is the role of academics in asking whether this society regulated for the market is the only solution to the crunch of climate change?

FIVE. There is so much volatility and precarity that we might feel deadened by the question, “what is to be done?” And yet under different, collective and co-operative sets of organising principles, which in turn interconnect the State, the market and civic societies, alternatives have been possible.

  • In Cuba, high levels of educational participation and human welfare have been attained at lower levels of GDP and ecological impact.
  • In Bhutan, the Government attempted to index growth based on gross national happiness.
  • In Allende’s Chile, the CyberSyn project attempted to make “a deliberate effort to hand to the people the power that science commands, in a form in which the people can themselves use”.
  • In Mexico, the Zapatista Little Schools of Below, focused upon collective work as “one of the cements of autonomy, whose fruits usually spill into hospitals, clinics, primary and secondary education, in strengthening the municipalities and the good government juntas.”
  • In Ecuador, the National Plan for Good Living, spoke of five revolutions: democratic; ethical; economic; social; Latin American dignity; designed “to build a fraternal and co-operative coexistence.” This includes “the transformation of higher education and the transfer of knowledge in science, technology and innovation”, with practices focused upon diversity, participation, social and economic equality, and bio-knowledge (or an engagement with/care for the land/climate/environment).
  • Through the FLOK Society Transition Project, Michael Bauwens has spoken of the real possibilities for democratic innovation and civic driven change through: the creation of a participatory commons; the creation of entrepreneurial coalitions; the creation of a socially-nurtured, broad-based open commons that are fed in policy and practice; and nurturing solidarity co-operatives. In this way structure supports individual and co-operative agency that is participative, against the commodification of risk that emerges from the individuated consumption in the global North. As Bauwens argues:

we work in a triarchical way. We have the state. We have the civic society with the commons and we have the market with an ethical economy. We need to change all three at the same time and doing so will create a new democracy so we can no longer just talk about democracy and ignore the fact that our state has been captured by financial interests. We have to do something structurally about that. We cannot have a democracy that is actually isolated from the situation in which democracy operates.

  • The IPCC report on Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability asks us to focus on diversity and context, in order to think about complementary actions across levels, from individuals to governments, in reducing vulnerability and exposure to present climate variability. It asks us to focus on societal values, objectives, and risk perceptions. It asks us to be sensitive to context and the diversity of decision types, decision processes, and constituencies, although it is unable to escape Jameson’s stricture that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is the end of capitalism. It asks us to think about short-termism or failing to anticipate consequences that can result in maladaptation. Whatever its boundaries, it asks us to think.

SIX. In the face of the triple crunch, of the volatility imposed by the interrelationships between peak oil, our climate realities, and the secular crisis of capitalism, is business as usual really possible for those who labour and study in higher education? How do we develop the usefulness of our work and ourselves, rather than their means for alienation and exchange?

What kinds of conversations are we having with society about the reality of our need for more sophisticated financial engineering to underpin increasing student debt and precarious futures? What kinds of conversations are we having with society about the market’s domination over our access to/use of liquid fuel, and the management of climate change?

What kinds of conversations should we be having with young people and their parents about the volatile relationships between debt, real wages, unemployment and precarity, in the face of the added volatility of access to the resources that keep the economy growing?

By refusing our critical, academic role in questioning whether there really is no alternative, what are we modelling for our students and our communities and our society? What alternative scenarios are we remembering and revealing and discussing and realising? How are we being careful in realising who has power-to produce the world? How are we being courageous in modelling questioning and difference and solidarity and association and participation?

Is academic neutrality, inside-and-beyond the University, really an option?

higher education and the triple crunch

I’m presenting at the Plymouth University Pedagogic Research conference on Wednesday, about higher education and the triple crunch.

There are some notes on the University and the secular crisis [crunch 1].

There are some notes on climate change and liquid fuel availability [crunch 2 and 3] here and here.

My slides are here.

On the context and use-value of academic labour

Michael Roberts has argued that the UK’s economy, and in particular the productive sectors of the economy, are struggling to recover from the global financial shock of 2008. Roberts argues that

What the comparative data show is that real GDP in the UK underwent the joint-second largest contraction of the G7 economies during the 2008-09 economic downturn.  Following the global financial shock, GDP in the UK fell by 7.2% between Q1 2008 and Q2 2009; this was the joint-second largest peak-to-trough fall among G7 economies.  This is bigger than the fall in GDP in the G7 economies on average and bigger than in the European Union.

I think this confirms my forecast back in 2005 that if world capitalism went into a slump that the UK would suffer more than most because it was, more than any other, a rentier economy, i.e. its prosperity depended on its importance as a global financial centre where it could extract rent, interest and dividends out of the surplus value created by other economies.  In the global financial crash, such economies were likely to take a bigger hit that those with a more productive base.

In the recovery period, the UK’s growth in the period following the recession has been slower than in other major economies.  Average growth in the UK has also been slightly lower than that of the OECD total. 

If we combine the change in employment with the change in real wages, it reveals just where the pain for working people has been felt.

On this measure, British workers have suffered the most in the last five years, with a cumulative fall of 7.3% points, mainly from a decline in wages, but also from a fall in employment.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) calculates that a mid-range household’s income between 2013 and 2014 was 6% below its pre-crisis peak. This was felt equally across high and low income groups when the cost of living was taken into account… The IFS said that inflation between 2008 and 2013 was 20%, while energy prices rose by 60% and food prices were up by 30% over the same period. “Looking forward, there is little reason to expect a strong recovery in living standards over the next few years….Given this, it seems highly unlikely that living standards will recover their pre-crisis levels by 2015 to 2016.”

The capitalist mode of production is for profit.  Getting profitability back up in a major slump requires cutting costs (laying off labour, reducing wages and stopping new investment).  American capitalists have resorted to straight reductions in the labour force rather than the backdoor trick of reducing real wages, as in the UK.  Either way, working people pay for correcting the failure of capitalist production. The ‘British solution’, however, will also delay the recovery and the push its capitalist sector into a lower medium-term growth rate.  That’s because the growth in productivity (output per employee) will stop if the labour force is not sacked and there is no new investment in technology to raise output per person.

The ramifications of this attrition on productivity and real wages, with a concomitant focus on organisational development and technology-fuelled restructuring, are being felt through UK higher education, with a series of strikes that reflect a range of labour rights issues inside universities, including: high-rates of pay for vice-chancellors, who are behaving more like CEOs of global businesses; outsourcing of services and labour functions; the precarious employment of non-tenured staff; the docking of pay based on partial working to contract, for two hour strikes; the denial of labour rights (sick- and maternity pay, paid holidays) to increasing numbers of staff employed on zero-hour and sub-living wage contracts; and so on. The arguments around these issues are also reflected in an increasing narrative of the customer, or the student-as-customer, inside the University. Moreover, the critical terrain on which this is being played out is the cost-base for the institution and its financial sustainability. Thus, the markers for this are: the fee-cap on students, through which the value of a degree is presently monetised at £9,000 per annum (although with interest the future costs of indenture leverage the long-term reproduction of credit and wage labour/exploitation); the global drive to control the price at which the labour-power of academics can be purchased through precarious contracts, adjunct labour and attrition on staffing levels and costs; purchasing high value labour from key academics/professors who can contribute to an institution’s global brand through research and development; the drive upwards of management costs, in order to reflect perceptions that high-performers must be retained; and so on.

What is missing in this debate about the fee-cap, or student-as-consumer/customer, and the pay of vice-chancellors and institutional managers is a meaningful discussion about the value of academic labour. What is its use-value for society, as opposed to its exchange-value or its price as a commodity (as academic labour-power). It is labour-power that generates value, surplus value and hence capital. In the Grundrisse (p. 167), Marx argued that labour power is: “the aggregate of those mental and physical capabilities existing in a human being, which he exercises whenever he produces a use-value of any description.” Labour differs depending upon whether it produces use-value (or forms of material wealth) or exchange-value (which is the source of profit and profitability). The labour that produces use-values is concrete, qualitative labour, whereas exchange-value emerges from quantitatively measurable abstract labour. Through exchange, the products of labour are abstracted or alienated, rather than being objectified as use-value. Under the organisation of capitalist production and the coercive laws of competition that work in tandem with the need to turn a profit, exchange and the market dominates over society. The need to abstract labour and to drive exchange for value-extraction underpin organisational development and technological innovation (capital intensity), and the need to drive down labour costs (as means of production), and this catalyses the real subsumption of labour. Increasingly academics are seeing their own labour abstracted for exchange and subsumed under the laws of competition.

As Wendling notes (p. 52), “the social tyranny of exchange-value is so comprehensive that it determines how things are made and even what is made… Capitalism does not care if it produces quantities for use; it cares about producing profit.” It is against this tyranny that the value of academic labour, in the costs of its labour-power, the research/teaching products that it creates, and the relationships that it enables and maintains, need to be discussed and re-evaluated. What is currently being enacted through global labour arbitrage, outsourcing and precarious employment, is the alienation of academic labour through the enclosure and commodification of its products and relationships. This focus on production for exchange is then furthered through the cultural imperatives of student-as-consumer, league tables, impact-measures, knowledge exchange and so on.

What might be needed, in order to push back is a re-focusing on the liberation of academic labour-power, knowledge, skills and practices for use-value that can be used inside and across society. This is the liberation of real wealth outside of Capital’s system of value, and the reclamation of use-value beyond its instrumental use in the market and for consumption. As Marx notes (Capital Volume 1, pp. 300-01)

The value of labour-power and the value which that labour-power valorises… in the labour-process are two entirely different magnitudes; and this difference was what the capitalist had in-mind when he was purchasing labour-power… What was really decisive for him was the specific use-value which this commodity possesses of being a source not only of value, but of more value than it has itself. This is the specific service the capitalist expects from labour-power, and in this transaction he acts in accordance with the eternal laws of commodity-exchange. In fact, the seller of labour-power, like the seller of any other commodity, realises… its exchange-value, and alienates… its use-value.

This set of contradictions and tensions, between use and exchange inside the production and movement of value, and the role of labour as commodity needs to be addressed in the context of the University. What is the work that academics do actually worth? How does it add value and for whom, and how might its social potential be liberated for the use-value of the working class? This means that academics need to address the mechanisms through which the University is mechanised and outsourced, in order that only those with leverage skills are valued. As Marx notes:

along with the tool, the skill of the worker in handling it passes over to the machine. The capabilities of the tool are emancipated from the restraints inseparable from human labour-power. This destroys the technical foundation on which the division of labour in manufacture was based. Hence, in place of the hierarchy of specialized workers that characterizes manufacture, there appears, in the automatic factory, a tendency to equalize and reduce to an identical level every kind of work that has to be done by the minders of the machines; in place of the artificially produced distinctions between specialized workers, it is natural differences of age and sex that predominate… In so far as the division of labour reappears in the factory, it takes the form primarily of a distribution of workers among the specialized machines. (Capital Volume 1, p. 545)

The motion of the whole factory proceeds not from the worker but from the machinery [and therefore] the working personnel can continually be replaced without any interruption to the labour process. (Capital Volume 1, p. 546)

As the University is fully restructured in response to competition and marketization, we witness increasingly exploitative and mechanical conditions of labour. This process delivers performativity and entrepreneurial activity that are themselves internalisations of the need to innovate and exchange, and these processes enable the capitalist, in the form of credit rating agency or vice-chancellor or bond-holder or whatever, to purchase academic labour-power for profit. Increasingly, University management acting as agents for Capital confront academic labour, and: catalyse the internalisation and reproduction of forms of performance management; drive down labour costs through transnational competition; or drive capital intensity and productivity. Pace Marx (Capital Volume 1, p. 723), in spite of these tensions the academic labourer belongs to Capital before he has sold himself to the capitalist.

An added tension or factor in this process is the increasing internationalisation of UK universities. This is important given the structural weakness of the UK economy. The monetisation of UK debt through Government purchases of its own bonds, replicated by the US, Japan and the European Central Bank, can only lead to default. This is particularly the case given the collapse of the post-war Keynesian consensus in the 1970s, the removal of the metallic base to global currencies (in 1971 Nixon stated that the United States would no longer redeem currency for gold), and the deregulation of the spaces in which transnational capital operates. The logic of a global system based on the deregulated transnational finance capital is the endless reproduction of credit to compensate for the lack of demand caused by falling wages in the global North, and huge numbers of new workers drawn from subsistence and part-subsistence into dependency on capitalist wage labour in the global South. This process is witnessed in university engagements in the bond markets and the leveraged growth of student debt, alongside the restructuring of the University as the educational pivot for an association of capitals.

Critically then for universities and for academics contesting the value of their labour is the threat of the structural problems in the UK economy outlined by Roberts, and the wider geopolitical problems facing the failing US petro-dollar. As my friend and colleague George Lambie notes:

The short-term growth in shale oil, and the conquests of Iraq and Libya, plus the seizure of their gold, gave a temporary reprieve for a global economy influenced by the USA. However, the role of Iran alongside the new configuration of power forming around Russian State oil giants, Gazprom and Rozneft, China’s vast gold holdings, and the realisation that significant parts of the global economy wish to trade outside the orbit of the dollar, places stress on the international system inside which universities are being recalibrated.

It is against a pressurised or collapsing dollar system that the value of academic labour and the liberation of its products as socialised use-values needs to be discussed.

Notes on the University and the association of capitals

ONE. Elsewhere on this blog I recently wrote about the domination of merchants in higher education:

The links between commercial educational providers and universities, educators and students as producers and consumers of educational services, data and products, demonstrate power and dependency. This complex interdependency is not reducible to fetishized ideas of money via cost-savings or emancipation based on learning for a life of capitalist work. It links to ideas of the reproduction of capital within limits or barriers, and the current condition inside-and-against education demonstrates how crises re-establish the limits and conditions existing in the system as a totality and in the circuits of productive, money and commodity capital. Moreover, we are witnessing the attempt by finance and commercial capital to synchronise production with their own circuits. This is an uncomfortable symbiosis, as those of us engaged in a higher education that is being restructured by the dictates of finance capital and a new market can attest.

What is becoming more clear is the formation of associated capitals, in the form of public/private education providers, finance capital, brokers of educational services, technology firms, venture capitalists and so on, engaging in a public policy space designed to leverage accumulation and growth. These associated capitals might form transnational activist networks; they might be working in competition. The key is opening-up new markets.

TWO. The Leadership Foundation for Higher Education is hosting a conference Moocs: What we have learned, emerging themes and what next? The conference states that it “will take a critical look at how online and open access learning has evolved during the last year, with a particular consideration of the development of Moocs in both the US, India and Europe.” The speakers at the event are from MOOC providers or are champions of MOOCs as mechanisms for creating a market for educational services and commodities from the global North, for driving down academic labour costs, and for identifying and extracting surplus intellectual capital both inside and beyond the University. The conference is about problem-solving, rather than developing a critique of the idea of “open” or “open learning” or the MOOC phenomenon in light of critical pedagogic practice. Its aims and the biographies of those who are speaking reinforce both hegemonic educational power and the idea that “open” must be used to colonise and monetise higher education. Its aims are to:

  • Evaluate critically case studies in the rapidly unfolding landscape of Moocs and open access learning;
  • Participate in discussions with practitioners of Moocs and new models of open access learning;
  • Consider how these transformations are already affecting higher education provision in the US, UK, India and elsewhere, and to examine institutional and student;
  • Further evaluate the potential for integrating Moocs into university degrees;
  • Consider existing and new revenue models for Moocs.

Recent analyses of the impact of venture capital, higher education bubbles and return on investment, related to Coursera and Udacity do little to assuage the overarching momentum to use “open” or MOOC or whatever as a lever in the struggle between social forces. In any case, the role of new markets like the Chinese in those spaces is still unclear. Any educational technology failures are less to do with pedagogic failings and more closely tied to the political economic realities of a restructuring of higher education for the market. Organisational change and technology are key levers in this process, and their transformational appeal was highlighted by Gartner’s statement that Worldwide IT spending is projected to total $3.7 trillion in 2013. One might also reflect on Gartner’s note that we are witnessing increasing “innovation in personal and competitive business ecosystems” that impact “the labor content of services and products.”

Ecosystems; associated capital; entrepreneurialism; competition; growth; new markets; labour arbitrage; higher education.

THREE. Andrew McGettigan has recently argued that we are witnessing market creation out of control in UK higher education. He notes

The government exploited the existing ‘designation’ process to allow students at over one hundred private higher education providers to access student support on terms equivalent to those enjoyed by students at established universities, with the exception that since 2012/13 those students have been only able to borrow up to £6,000 per year towards tuition fees (up from £3,375 in 2011/12).

The cost to the Government “has been £80m over budget. With 30 000 students registered that year for the HNC and HND qualifications offered by Pearson-Edexcel through private colleges (the equivalent of one or two years of undergraduate study), that represents an 150 per cent increase in such students on the previous year.”

McGettigan asks “why does this matter” and argues:

Private providers can currently recruit how they like and, once designated, their Home and EU students have the right to access the publicly backed student loans (EU students can apply for tuition fee loans only).

The loan scheme is subsidised – only 65p in the pound is expected back. Public money is therefore involved.

Many private HE providers are commercial, for-profit operations – some like, Greenwich School of Management or University of Law are owned by private equity – so public money subsidises private fees and potentially profits.

As we saw in the USA, the private sector expands rapidly when backed by public money. Where will this money end up?

Further, we have no understanding of the performance of graduates from private institutions – they may end up paying back much less and so be subsidised to a greater degree

It also transpires that in order to introduce some control to the budget, the public teaching budget will have to be reduced by £20m – this is likely to come out of the budgets of widening participation initiatives. And £25m goes from the Access to Learning hardship fund. That is, students at established universities will suffer as a result.

In education, the public and the private dance out of time. The private is used to speed-up change, and acts as a disciplinary lever on public goods and issues of equality. In this, the State demonstrates its commitment to profit through competition above all else.

THREE. A recent Ernst & Young Global Limited report on China’s productivity imperative noted that there is increasing doubt that China will provide the sanctuary for long-term growth in higher education from the global North. It reports as follows.

A gloomy global macroeconomic outlook, particularly for Europe and the United States. That has already had considerable impact on the Chinese economy as export growth to key markets in Asia, Europe, and North America has slowed significantly since 2010. The worst is Europe, where exports have recently started falling, causing revenues flowing to China’s industrial sector to slow. China’s productivity growth has also fallen. Growth in total factor productivity has dropped from an annual average of 4.7 percent in 2001-07 to 2.8 percent in 2008-10. Earlier rounds of market liberalization and privatization have largely run their course, and the mass reallocation of labor from low productivity agriculture to higher productivity manufacturing is coming to an end.

The report notes that “Raising productivity is critical for China’s economic future as the experience of other East Asian economies shows that capital-driven growth is not sustainable.” Thus, it argues that:

By harnessing the following sources of productivity, we believe that companies can maximize efficiency and drive a new round of profitable growth across the economy:

Take advantage of structural changes such as reforms to lower market barriers and the opening up of new industries to investment.

Maximize the benefits of information technology by making better use of data, improving communication, and enhancing speed and flexibility.

Exploit technological catch-up by combining different existing technologies and adapting them for China’s needs.

Increase the pace of talent development, deploy talent to the highest-value opportunities, and improve the way workers engage with each other.

Meanwhile, Phoenix Capital Research recently focused on The China Crisis You Haven’t Heard About, and stated

In the near-term, China will engage in capital investment (the substitution of capital, technology and information for labor) to drive economic growth. This means the Chinese Government throwing money at the manufacturing, information technology and healthcare sectors in its economy.

The global North’s increasing obsession with on-line learning as a lever for growth has to be seen in light of the use of organisational development and technology to drive labour efficiencies and to lower market barriers. Capital investment, the creation of a reserve army of labour with interchangeable and low-waged commodity and leverage skills, the extraction of rents, and the creation of an entrepreneurial class form a conjuncture with this need to create a global market for higher education goods and services.

FOUR. In Volume 2 (Chapter 16) of Capital, Marx discusses the turnover of variable capital including the impact of working class consumption on that process. He argues that capital advanced as wages ceases to be capital and instead forms the means of subsistence or social reproduction. The mass of commodities that is “annihilated” is consumed unproductively – it maintains labour power but does not produce surplus value. However, Marx argues that speculation both in the creation of a skilled labour force that is able to be thrown into the production process, and in the accumulation and valorisation of capital, tends to push consumption and wages up, and this in-turn tends to be followed by a crash. This restructuring of the flows of capital then reveal a deeper and more permanent problem or contradiction, namely how can capitalists sell their products when the mass of the population is impoverished?

In terms of higher education, we witness the mechanisms through which policy and practice becomes entangled with relationships to distant/new markets through on-line education, and to the idea of the student as an entrepreneur. Marx argues that credit markets, witnessed in the form of indebted study are critical in enabling the expansion of markets into social or public goods like education, and across new geographical terrains. In Chapter 16 of Volume 2 he points up the:

Contradiction in the capitalist mode of production. The workers are important for the market as buyers of commodities. But as sellers of their commodity – labour-power – capitalist society has the tendency to restrict them to their minimum price.

Further contradiction: the periods in which capitalist production exerts all its forces regularly show themselves to be periods of over-production; because the limit to the application of the productive powers is not simply the production of value, but also its realisation.

However, the sale of commodities, the realisation of commodity capital, and thus of surplus-value as well, is restricted not by the consumer needs of society in general, but by the consumer needs of a society in which the great majority are always poor and must always remain poor.

At issue is the relationship between credit markets and individuated debt, the student’s needs to prove she has the entrepreneurial skills to survive and reproduce herself in a global and stratified labour market, the collapse in real wages and graduate earnings, and the idea of the University as a competitive space scored through with a need to extract surplus value and generate profits. How is the indebted individual defined and conditioned socially through a marketised education? What might be our collective response?

In addressing this issue, just as Capital develops its productive power through association, co-operative forms mights also point towards labour’s self-actualisation. William Thompson’s, Inquiry into the Principles of the Distribution of Wealth, (p. 453) argued that socially significant wealth is not that which is accumulated either as real assets or appropriated as claims on future labour, in the form of legal titles, interest rates. Thompson (p. 443) argued that:

In almost all other systems, the productive forces have been considered with reference and in subordination to accumulation and to the perpetuation of existing mode of distribution. Compared with the conservation of this existing mode of distribution, the ever recurring suffering or welfare of the entire human race is not considered worthy of a glance. To perpetuate the results of force, of fraud, and of accident, this has been called security, and for conservation of this lying security, all the forces of production of the human race have been mercilessly sacrificed.

He stated that it was “the forces of production and their free development in the future” that offered hope for co-operative forms of distribution and for co-operative labour. Thus, the recent piece by the Social Science Centre in Lincoln offers a different perspective on what is co-operatively possible at a different, local scale.

FIVE. Technological and organisation changes focus upon reducing the amount of capital needed to produce surplus value. Thus, capitalists adopt techniques that keep labour and capital fully employed, and as a result we witness a history of innovations related to reducing production time or working time. However, in Volume 2 of Capital, Marx also looks at the ways in which capitalists attempt to use innovations in spatial organisation, transport and communications, to reduce circulation time and to increase the geography of capital accumulation.

In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels argue that the need to create and enable capital flows, accumulation and spaces for further valorisation, results in “The need of a constantly expanding market for its products [which in turn] chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere.” One result is that bourgeois, transnational and cosmopolitan consumption triumphs over local, national cultures, and industries that are defined by productivity and intensity dislodge indigenous cultures.

One example of this process is the subsumption and enclosure of intellectual property produced commonly and embedded in technologies and processes as what Marx called “mass intellect”. Thus, Wikileaks recently leaked a secret draft of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free trade agreement between twelve markets representing 40 per cent of the global economy. The leaked chapter on intellectual property rules demonstrates that the United States is pushing to make its Intellectual Property regime the standard for these markets. This focuses upon the adoption of existing US laws, to protect commodities like patents for pharmaceuticals or digital artefacts like movies or educational content. The Electronic Frontier Foundation fears that the IP section will limit on-line freedom.

In the Communist Manifesto it is argued that the Bourgeoisie, though its new powers of production and its commodities and its restructuring of laws, inscribes new, global markets into the circuits of production, and creates a world in its own image. This echoes Marx’s argument in the Grundrisse that the hegemony of the bourgeois mode of production rests on the expansion of a global system of valorisation, which in turn demands that commodities are not simply used but exchanged. This process of exchange demands the spatial transformation of productive forces, including transport and modes of communication. Thus, Capital drives beyond its spatial barriers and we see the “annihilation of space by time”, as circulation time and labour time are revolutionised to give quicker access to new markets.

In this process, the deployment of open, on-line tools are critical and pedagogical. They enable capital to reduce the friction of distance and speed that exists across educational and social spaces They also reduce the costs of educational service and commodity production by collapsing the relative locations of places and infrastructures. For instance, MOOCs enable concentrations of both cognitive labour and associated capital that then lead to efficiencies. Thus, universities working with private educational providers and technology companies form an example of agglomeration economies that enable the relocation of higher education in the global North to new markets. Public policy, in creating a local and global higher education market, draws in further educational functions. Moreover, flattened costs and precarious employment underwrite a more competitive landscape for all higher education providers, reinforced by the agencies like the World Bank and World Trade Organisation.

SIX. Thus, we might analyse the idea of the University, inside-and-against the organisational and technological innovations that drive the speed-up or acceleration of turnover time of educational services and commodities in a global market. These innovations include the subsumption of the University inside associations of public/private capitals, in order to secure their competitive place. These innovations also tend to reduce the friction caused by distance and localised working practices. We might then ask what is the popular response to this process? Does the Social Science Centre offer one such popular response? It states that:

while there are fewer existing networks of solidarity than might exist in larger cities, there is also an intimacy and a proximity that provide possibilities for associational networks that might be diffused in larger cities. Most of us work full-time and cannot give the time to the SSC that we would like to. Without the material basis on which to work and study full-time at the SSC, we have to think creatively about the form and nature of education practised within the SSC.

As a response, educators might question how we work through association or co-operation with the geographical and spatial-temporal implications of a critique of higher education policy and practice. We might highlight the dynamics of accumulation and the need to expand markets in established economies and to create new markets as a new form of imperialism (with privileged rights to sell goods via intellectual property laws). We might ask, how does higher education policy and practice demonstrate the flows of capital between the global North and “emerging markets”, in an attempt to allow production in the former to grow, whilst supporting the creation of competitor-economies? We might ask, where is it possible to find the courage to push-back?