Dismantling the curriculum in higher education

On 22 November I’ll be speaking at the University of Greenwich Open Lecture Series, on the issue of dismantling the curriculum in higher education. I will build on my work on academic alienation, mass intellectuality and decolonising the curriculum. The abstract is appended herewith.

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

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


Against boundaries: Dismantling the Curriculum in Higher Education

On Thursday I’m speaking at the University of Worcester Teaching and Learning and Student Experience Conference . The title of my talk is Against boundaries: Dismantling the Curriculum in Higher Education, and will be based on this Open Library of the Humanities paper. The abstract is appended below, and the slides are posted below that.

The higher education curriculum in the global North is increasingly co-opted for the production of measurable outcomes, framed by determinist narratives of employability and enterprise. Such co-option is immanent to processes of financialisation and marketisation, which encourage the production of quantifiable curriculum activities and tradable academic services. Yet the university is also affected by global socio-economic and socio-environmental crises, which can be expressed as a function of a broader crisis of social reproduction or sociability. As the labour of academics and students is increasingly driven by a commodity-valuation rooted in the measurement of performance, the ability for academics and students to respond to crises from inside the university is constrained by the market. This keynote argues that in understanding the relationship between the university and society, and in responding to a crisis of sociability, revealing the bounded nature of the curriculum is central. One possible way to address this crisis is by re-imagining the university through the co-operative practices of groups like the Dismantling the Masters House community and the Social Science Centre. Such an exploration, rooted in the organising principles of the curriculum, asks educators to consider how their curriculum reproduces forms of colonisation. It is argued that such work enables a re-imagination of higher education that is rooted in an engaged and co-operative curriculum, with a focus on praxis.


BLTC17, The really open university: working together as open academic commons

On Wednesday I’m speaking at the Brookes Learning Teaching Conference 2017. I love this kind of invite, which enables a testing of ideas and a lot of listening to the practices, activities and hopes of others. My abstract is detailed below, with the slides posted after that. The talk enables me to return to that practical work I was engaged with in 2010-12, around the idea of/re-imagining the university. It also enables me to reflect on my recent work inside the University, on commons and co-operative practices.


This talk questions the role of pedagogic scholarship and innovation in addressing global crises of social reproduction. It argues that working together has both possibilities and impossibilities, which need a richer discussion inside the University.

In the past decade, fall-out from the Browne Review has given birth to a number of alternative education projects. These alternatives focused on creating spaces and curricula that prefigure more democratic ways of doing higher education, in which the boundaries between student and teacher are dissolved and where co-operation and peer-projects between scholars become fundamental. Examples include the Social Science Centre in Lincoln and the Really Open University in Leeds. These projects developed grounded, co-participatory scholarly communities, which acted as incubators for pedagogies like Student-as-Producer (Neary and Winn 2011; Pusey 2016).

However, they also share characteristics with transnational platforms like #RhodesMustFall and#Whyismycurriculumwhite, in attempting to push back against the structuring logics represented by the curriculum (Hall and Smyth 2016). These platforms also connect to co-operative forms of higher education like Mondragon University in the Basque country, the Little Schools of the Zapatista Movement, and the education sector of the Brazilian Landless Movement.

Reflecting on these alternative forms is helpful in analysing our responses to the crisis of higher education, in order to locate spaces for truly progressive pedagogies inside the university. If such spaces do exist, on what are they based and what is their relationship to the curriculum? How do they enable academics and students to respond to issues of inclusivity and diversity, collaboration and peer production? Three responses may be considered:

  • open, academic commons supporting a sharing economy inside and across a porous interdisciplinary curriculum;
  • safe, scholarly communities of practice, perhaps forming solidarity economies that refuse enclosure; and
  • positioning the university and curriculum within (and against?) the development of ‘mass intellectuality’, or socially-useful knowledge produced outside the university.

References

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

Neary, M., & Winn, J. (2011). The student as producer: reinventing the student experience in higher education. In M. Neary & J. Winn (Eds.), The future of higher education: policy, pedagogy and the student experience (pp. 192–210). Continuum. Retrieved from http://eprints.lincoln.ac.uk/1675/

Pusey, A. (2016). Pusey, A. (2016). Strike, occupy, transform! Students, subjectivity and struggle. Journal of Marketing for Higher Education, 26(2), 214-32. Retrieved from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08841241.2016.1240133


notes for ‘alternative education’

On Wednesday I wrote that a while back I’d been asked to contribute to some work-in-progress on the idea of dangerous words. The three terms I selected were ‘immiseration’, ‘managerialism’, and ‘alternative education’. The work-in-progress hasn’t progressed so I’ve decided to publish what I wrote a year ago, starting with ‘immiseration’ and ‘managerialism’, and finally with ‘alternative education’ today.

The brief given was to:

  • explore the connections between a particular set of selected terms and their role in contemporary social relations, where these words function as one aspect of social relations and not as ‘empty signifiers’;
  • question the increasing use of some words in the public and private domains and to explore the effects of these words and the logic that underpins them, on meaning-making and on creating possibilities for improving life;
  • critique these terms as one aspect of social relations in education;
  • discuss acts of separation that are made possible through simultaneous processes of distinction, differentiation and stratification, whilst bearing the possibility for their representation.

The idea is to uncover tools to refuse the neoliberal/capitalist idea of education as a neutral and technical process, which in-turn imposes its ideology on us. This ideology uses a language that teachers, educators, researchers, students and parents are encouraged to co-opt. Occupying and refusing certain words, and finding alternative ways of doing, making, creating, sharing, pooling, gifting (against producing, services, productivity, entrepreneurialism and so on), are critical moments in resistance and refusal. Ultimately they are critical moments in a process of liberation.

Alternative Education

Alternative education raises questions about whether another world is possible. Alternatives ask educators and students to question the governance, regulation and resourcing of hegemonic, institutionalised forms of education, alongside their curricula, through both negative critique and prefigurative practices. The idea of an alternative questions the legitimacy of formalised spaces, often standing against both their forms and content, and as a result defining an educational undercommons (Harney and Moten 2013). Such an undercommons is a space for solidarity and resistance, from where resources and relations can be drawn. It might exist inside formal education, as a sector of the economy or in its institutional forms. An undercommons forms an underground that enables subversion and new forms of organisation, and which problematises dominant narratives about education (for entrepreneurship, growth, sustainable development and so on).

In this being inside-and-against the school or the university, alternative education takes the perspective of voices that are marginalised because they are racialised, gendered or rendered economically-valueless or indebted, in order to re-imagine and re-produce new forms of educational life or sociability. The idea of an alternative also emerges beyond formalised spaces, in autonomous communities that exist beyond the school or university as it is re-purposed as a factory (Cleaver 2002; The University of Utopia n.d.).

This idea of alternatives being in, against and beyond recognises that hegemonic educational institutions have been subsumed within the circuits of capital. This means that the governance and forms of such institutions, and the work of academics, professional service staff and students, have been re-engineered by capital on a global terrain. Moreover, the labour that takes place inside these institutions is repurposed and re-produced in its relation to money capital, productive capital and commodity capital, in order to generate surplus value, surpluses, profits and so on. The domination of capitalist social relations over academic labour is driven by the abstracted power of money and the generation of surplus value. This opens up the possibility for alternative forms of education, both inside formal spaces and beyond the boundary of the formal, to become new sites of struggle in response to the on-going crisis of sociability. This crisis is signalled by the co-option of socially-useful knowledge, or the general intellect, so that it can be valorised (Hall 2014; Virno 2004). Educational relationships have been productively intensified in order to facilitate the expansion of capital, rather than for the solution of global, socio-economic and socio-environmental crises. Inside the school or the university, educational innovations are fetishised as emancipatory, whereas in working against and beyond these spaces, scholars in alternative educational spaces are working to abolish the relations of production that drive societies to ignore concrete emergencies (Hall and Smyth 2016).

From inside-and-against the hegemonic institution, alternatives articulate the limits of formal education, including its problematic nature as a public or private good (Marginson 2012). Here, the idea of the school or university as a form of enclosure of knowledge and practice is refused through public intellectualism or educational activity that is conducted in public. Such activities widen debates over ideas and fields of study beyond the academy to the public, in that they refuse both the colonisation of disciplinary spaces by academics and the delegitimation of certain voices. This public activity contains the germ of militancy (Neary 2012; Thorburn 2011) because it aims to do and then to be counter-hegemomic. As a form of workers’ enquiry, militancy in research or pedagogic practice points towards projects that produce knowledge useful for activist ends. This may take the form of open education or scholarship that refuses neoliberal recuperation (Eve 2015) for the production of marketised outcomes like performance data, or new spaces for the generation of surpluses or profits. Such refusals question the societal value of business-as-usual models for public, higher education (Open Library of Humanities 2016).

However, experiments that are against hegemonic practices also offer the potential for radical experiment, alongside the re-imagining of education as a distributed, co-operative, democratic activity. Such experiments question education’s relationship to society. Prefigurative responses then emerge in the pedagogic practices of social movements rooted in pedagogy (Caldart and the Movement of Landless Workers 2011), and through forms of resistance inside the university grounded in community and environmental justice (Pearce 2013), resistance to gender-based violence, and trades union educational activity (Scandrett 2014). This work situates the experience of the educator and student against that which emerges from within social movements, in order to address the possibilities for alternative forms of knowing and being. Here traditions of critical pedagogy are central to the ways in which critical knowing and being emerge to challenge the dominant framing of learning, teaching and scholarship as separate from society and everyday life (Amsler 2015; Motta 2016).

Work that emerges beyond formal educational contexts is situated in practical, alternative initiatives that point towards alternative, societal re-imaginings of education. Such re-imaginings are forms of autoethnogaphy, framed by the idea of the student or educator as co-operative activist, and as such operating collectively through organic intellectualism (the Social Science Centre 2016; People’s Political Economy 2013). Such alternatives offer a means of using critical sociology and critical pedagogy to analyse concrete moments of crisis of specific communities, such as the politics of austerity and climate justice (Buxton and Hayes 2015; Lockyer and Veteto 2013).

In particular, these alternatives are infused by comparative analyses with the pedagogic practices of indigenous communities and people of colour (Motta 2016; Zibechi 2012), for whom the crisis of sociability imposed by capitalism is on-going, historical and material. These analyses specifically relate co-operative, inclusive educational practices of creating and legitimising communities, and challenge the on-going colonisation of knowing and being. They offer ways to refuse the dominant power relations of knowledge production inside contemporary capitalism, and instead speak of decolonisation by feminised and racialised subjects on the margins. This enables those projects to establish unique analyses of educational possibility from within new, emancipatory horizons. These analyses recognise the desire for progressive and democratic forms of education: first, in terms of its governance and politics, and the social relations that circulate inside educational spaces; and second, in terms of enacting radical pedagogies grounded in the abolition of power relations in the classroom.

From this complex educational ecosystem, alternatives sit against the neoliberal enclosure of existing structures and forms, like the school and university. They stress: first, democratic activity, based upon a radical politics; second, militant research strategies, which see research as a tool for political action and for widening the field of struggle against the re-production of alienating forms of education; third, the re-definition of scholarship undertaken in public, as a revolutionary activity. In a politics of community engagement and cross-disciplinary activity, and in radical education collectives, these strategies form cycles of struggle that point towards possibilities for: detonating the school or university (Amsler and Neary 2012); using prefigurative pedagogical practices that enable labour to become the crisis of capital, so that it might become for itself rather than being for capitalisation or valorisation (Occupied California 2010; Holloway 2002); and describing what society might become (The School or Designing a Society 2016).

Alternative education is a reminder of how the sociability that was once understood as emerging from the fluidity of the classroom is increasingly lost to educators and students, as value (the determining purpose) now drives sociability. This is the world of financialisation and marketisation, which strip academics, professional services staff and students of their autonomy. Thus, educational lives are restructured as accumulated value, impact, excellence, student satisfaction and employability. It is here that alternative education offers a way of disengaging from these normalised behaviours, in order to re-engage with problems of the global commons. The alternative is a form of collective, educational repair, rather than our response to crisis focusing upon becoming more efficiently unsustainable.

By engaging with marginalised voices inside, against and beyond educational contexts, alternatives attempt to define safe spaces through 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, because they 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, but it also operates at the level of society (Hall and Smyth 2016; Motta 2016; Rhodes Must Fall 2016). Thus alternative education establishes sociability as the critical, pedagogical project, grounded in actually-existing examples of academics, activists and communities engaging with the work of dismantling our abstract experiences, and addressing their concrete impacts. As a result, it is possible to associate educational repair with wider societal repair, where it is framed by a re-focusing of life upon self-actualisation as dynamic and fluid, and rooted in a different conception of what is to be done (bell hooks 1994).

References

Amsler, S., and Neary, M.. (2012). Occupy: a new pedagogy of space and time? The Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies 10, no. 2: 106-38.

Buxton, N. and Hayes, B (eds. 2015). The Secure and the Dispossessed. London: Pluto.

Caldart, R.S. and the Movement of Landless Workers (2011). ‘Pedagogy of the landless, Brazil’, in Wrigley, T., Thomson, P., and Lingard, B. (eds), Changing schools: Alternative ways to make a world of difference, pp. 71-84, Routledge: London and New York.

Cleaver, H. (2002). Reading Capital Politically. Edinburgh: AK Press.

Eve, M. 2014. Open Access and the Humanities: Contexts, Controversies and the Future Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hall, R. (2014). On the abolition of academic labour: the relationship between intellectual workers and mass intellectuality. tripleC: Communication, Capitalism & Critique, 12 (2), 822-37. Retrieved 5 July 2016 from http://www.triple-c.at/index.php/tripleC/article/view/597/638

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

Harney, S., and Moten, F. (2011). The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study. New York: Minor Compositions.

Holloway, J. 2002. Change the World Without Taking Power. London: Pluto Press.

hooks, bell (1994). Teaching to Transgress. London: Routledge.

Lockyer, J., and Veteto, J. (eds. 2013). Environmental Anthropology Engaging Ecotopia: Permaculture, Ecovillages and Bioregionalism. Oxford: Berghahn.

Marginson, S. (2012). The Problem of Public Good(s) in Higher Education. 41st Australian Conference of Economists. Retrieved 5 July 2016 from http://www.cshe.unimelb.edu.au/people/marginson_docs/ACE2012_8-12%20July2012.pdf

Motta, S.,and Cole, M. (2016). Constructing 21st Century Socialism in Latin America: the Role of Radical Education. London: Palgrave MacMillan.

Neary, M. (2012). Teaching Politically: Policy, Pedagogy and the New European University. The Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies 10, no. 2: 233-57.

Occupied California (2010). After the Fall: Communiqués from Occupied California. Retrieved 5 July 2016 from http://libcom.org/files/afterthefall_communiques.pdf

Open Library of Humanities (2016). Retrieved 5 July 2016 from https://olh.openlibhums.org/

Pearce, J. (2012). Power in Community: A Research and Social Action Scoping Review. Retrieved 5 July 2016 from http://www/ahrc.ac.uk/Funding-Opportunities/Pages/Connecte-Communities-Scoping-Studies-and-Research Reviews.aspx

People’s Political Economy (2013). 2013 Inaugural Report: from foundations to future. Retrieved 5 July 2016 from https://agentofhistory.files.wordpress.com/2015/08/ppe-report-2013.pdf

Rhodes Must Fall. (2016) Rhodes Must Fall. Retrieved 5 July 2016 from http://rhodesmustfall.co.za/

Scandrett, E. (2014). Popular Education methodology, activist academics and emergent social movements: Agents for Environmental Justice, Interface: a Journal for and about Social Movements, 6 (1): 327-334.

School or Designing a Society, The (2016). Retrieved 5 July 2016 from http://www.designingasociety.net/

Social Science Centre, The (2016). Retrieved 5 July 2016 from http://socialsciencecentre.org.uk

Thorburn, E. (2012). Actually Existing Autonomy and the Brave New World of Higher Education. Occupied Studies. Retrieved 5 July 2016 from http://bit.ly/xzcPRO

University of Utopia, The (n.d.). Anti-Curricula: A Course of Action. Retrieved 5 July 2016 from http://www.universityofutopia.org/sharing

Virno, P. 2004. A Grammar of the Multitude. Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext(e).

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


notes on education beyond borders

Jehu has it.

Communists have to decide how they see the next few years unfolding: Are we simply against Trump or the system that made Trump possible as well. The Democrats, who control the movement at present, want to limit the aims of the movement to an anti-Trump agenda. Communists need to sharpen their critique of Trump to go beyond the merely superficial differences between Trump and Pelosi/Schumer.

From the major, surface eruptions of a failing system in inexorable crisis like Trump and Brexit, to the more localised attempts to overcome stagnation and to repatriate social wealth from the public to the private, like the assaults on national, public education, the question is how do we theorise and the dissent, organise and resist on structural/theoretical and concrete/local levels? It is inside and across education that this currently exercises me. What does this mean for those who labour inside schools and universities? What does it mean for the curriculum? How is the field of struggle widened out beyond the classroom?

This recognises the discussions about whether, in the current moment, Trump is weak and incompetent or enacting a frightening escalation that could presage a coup. However, in either analysis we must seek to grapple with Brian O’Neill’s echo of Jehu:

So far, sadly, the opposition to the order has been a kind of unreason, too. It has substituted the cool, tough, political critique of the order that we need with its own brand of fearmongering and the deployment of an ahistorical dread about the return of Nazism.

Our response needs to engage with: the relationship between education and the State; the value and purpose of our everyday interactions with students and their families/communities; the ways in which education enables the social metabolic reproduction of both capitalism and the capital system; and what is to be done as a pedagogic project at the level of society. Simply engaging in refusing the TEF or promoting no borders or whichever rearguard-tactical-response, without a theoretical analysis of why we are in this hateful space, simply leaves us at the mercy of the next demagogue, howsoever they smile whilst issuing kill lists or refusing to disclose whether any detainees have been victims of sexual violence inside Yarl’s Wood or banning visas for refugees from Iraq for six months or wrongly deporting 48,000 students, and on and on and on. And simply looking at Trump as the distilled moment of this excess enables us to continue-on, wilfully ignorant of our own place in the reproduction of oppression.

Moreover, to expect that we can outsource the solution to the next set of politicians is naïve: “The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie” (Marx, Communist Manifesto). In part this is because the State functions inside-and-for capitalism and is historically and materially contingent on the capital system. However, struggles between states also act as critical moments of antagonism as they vie to become the state of the capital system as a whole. As István Mészáros notes

Thus the reality is not the elimination of nation-state aspirations but an overheating cauldron of perilous contradictions and antagonisms on a variety of levels, ubiquitously asserting themselves among the given and aspiring nation-states and even within the framework of the state formations invented as the projected solution of past inter-state antagonisms, like the—far from unified—European Union…

The overwhelming historical failure of capital was—and remains—its inability to constitute the state of the capital system as a whole, while irresistibly asserting the imperatives of its system as the material structural determination of societal reproduction on a global scale. This is a massive contradiction. Inter-state antagonisms on a potentially all-destructive scale—as presaged last century by two world wars still without the now fully developed weapons of total self-destruction—are the necessary consequence of that contradiction. Accordingly, the state that we must conquer in the interest of humanity’s survival is the state as we know it, namely the state in general in its existing reality, as articulated in the course of history, and capable of asserting itself only in its antagonistic modality both internally and in its international relations.

A response cannot come from accepting the reduction of individuals to their labour-power alone, as is evidenced in State-based proscriptions from both left and right, and in Capital’s desire to subsume all activity under the labour theory of value. Any such response, whether it is about no borders and the free movement of people (as human capital) or the human rights of refugees that are horrifically ignored because they have no market-value (recalling the New Car Recall scene in Fight Club), have to be situated against new forms of social solidarity that are rooted in directional demands and that emerge from new readings of equality, democracy and co-operation.

We can only read issues of equality, democracy and co-operation as they emerge historically and materially from the economic system in which they are subsumed and re-purposed, in this instance the distribution and ownership of labour-power as a commodity. Inside capitalism this then leads to all manner of objectionable ways of categorising individuals based on their human, social, intellectual, cognitive capital, or their being lazy, subhuman or second-class, or their re-composition as skilled/menial workers, whilst all the time we are proletarianised and stripped of our humanity.

Right by its very nature can consist only in the application of an equal standard; but unequal individuals (and they would not be different individuals if they were not unequal) are measurable by an equal standard only insofar as they are brought under an equal point of view, are taken from one definite side only, for instance, in the present case, are regarded only as workers and nothing else is seen in them, everything else being ignored.

In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime need; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-round development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly – only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs!

Marx, K. 1875. Critique of the Gotha Programme.

This is, of course, important in the USA where Yonatan Zunger argues that amongst other groups academics will come under duress (through funding restrictions, issues to do with tenure etc.) ‘because they’re part of those “elites” which are a convenient target for blame, and are also likely to be vocal opponents of the regime.’ Enclosures of academic freedom will be made necessary, in order to decommission the “expertariat” that is seen to threaten the true freedom of the market. And we have already seen Professor Watch-Lists.

We have seen the attack on experts and intellectuals in the UK too, and the denigration of teachers as professionals alongside the reduction of the curriculum to economic outcomes and value-oriented services, which demand performance management and perpetual assessment, and that lead to embodied illness and mental health under siege. And so we might ask, whether being on the streets to question Trump and to push back against State visits is enough? Or whether this is a counter-hegemonic moment when the failing system reveals its antagonism towards humanity as anything other than human capital. And we might ask about the role of educators and students in organising a new social movement, with new directional demands, which lie beyond the organised labour movement and instead coalesce as a new labour movement of the under/over/precariously employed and those who labour for the social reproduction and care of society more widely.

A social movement is a counter-force within an arena of power. At its best a counter-force destabilizes that arena and creates social and political openings, in the moment and in its wake. The longer a crowd exists the more dangerous it becomes. It’s there, in those openings, that we find fertile ground for broad and interpersonal solidarity, trust, dreams of the future, collective desire for anything. That is where we build our positive prescription, our visions. Meaningful, useful dreams are only dreamt in struggle, in the spaces opened and left behind by the fight.

After the fall, Communiqués from occupied California

Such a movement focuses upon critiques of equality, democracy and co-operation in governance, and takes the rejection of the market and of competition, and the mediations of exchange value, private property and the division of labour, as a pedagogic project to be grappled with at the level of society. As such it reinvents the curriculum-as-praxis inside and outside of the classroom. This is the moment at which we attempt to shape a curriculum that is beyond borders, through engagement with the voices of delegitimised academics and students, which make clear how the ongoing colonisation of the curriculum by capital is reflected in its explicit links to colonial repression.

Thus, in responding to social vulnerability, there is a need for those who labour inside the university as academics and students to re-imagine new, public forms of HE. One possibility is through engagement with the voices of delegitimised academics and students, which make clear how the ongoing colonisation of the curriculum by capital is reflected in its explicit links to colonial repression. Such a revelation is a search for radical democracy inside the university, framed by research-engaged teaching and learning that is deliberately militant, public and counter-hegemonic. This positions the curriculum as contingent upon, and sensitive to, societal values, objectives, and risk perceptions, with recognition of diverse interests, circumstances, social-cultural contexts, and expectations. This is a pedagogical project at the level of society.

Hall, R and Smyth, K. 2016. Dismantling the Curriculum in Higher Education.

A pedagogical project at the level of society. As a counter-hegemonic project.


The really open university: working together as open academic commons

I have been asked to speak at the Brookes Learning Teaching Conference 2017. I love this kind of invite, which enables a testing of ideas and a lot of listening to the practices, activities and hopes of others. My abstract is detailed below. The talk enables me to return to that practical work I was engaged with in 2010-12, around the idea of/re-imagining the university. It also enables me to reflect on my recent work inside the University, on commons and co-operative practices.


This talk questions the role of pedagogic scholarship and innovation in addressing global crises of social reproduction. It argues that working together has both possibilities and impossibilities, which need a richer discussion inside the University.

In the past decade, fall-out from the Browne Review has given birth to a number of alternative education projects. These alternatives focused on creating spaces and curricula that prefigure more democratic ways of doing higher education, in which the boundaries between student and teacher are dissolved and where co-operation and peer-projects between scholars become fundamental. Examples include the Social Science Centre in Lincoln and the Really Open University in Leeds. These projects developed grounded, co-participatory scholarly communities, which acted as incubators for pedagogies like Student-as-Producer (Neary and Winn 2011; Pusey 2016).

However, they also share characteristics with transnational platforms like #RhodesMustFall and#Whyismycurriculumwhite, in attempting to push back against the structuring logics represented by the curriculum (Hall and Smyth 2016). These platforms also connect to co-operative forms of higher education like Mondragon University in the Basque country, the Little Schools of the Zapatista Movement, and the education sector of the Brazilian Landless Movement.

Reflecting on these alternative forms is helpful in analysing our responses to the crisis of higher education, in order to locate spaces for truly progressive pedagogies inside the university. If such spaces do exist, on what are they based and what is their relationship to the curriculum? How do they enable academics and students to respond to issues of inclusivity and diversity, collaboration and peer production? Three responses may be considered:

  • open, academic commons supporting a sharing economy inside and across a porous interdisciplinary curriculum;
  • safe, scholarly communities of practice, perhaps forming solidarity economies that refuse enclosure; and
  • positioning the university and curriculum within (and against?) the development of ‘mass intellectuality’, or socially-useful knowledge produced outside the university.

References

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

Neary, M., & Winn, J. (2011). The student as producer: reinventing the student experience in higher education. In M. Neary & J. Winn (Eds.), The future of higher education: policy, pedagogy and the student experience (pp. 192–210). Continuum. Retrieved from http://eprints.lincoln.ac.uk/1675/

Pusey, A. (2016). Pusey, A. (2016). Strike, occupy, transform! Students, subjectivity and struggle. Journal of Marketing for Higher Education, 26(2), 214-32. Retrieved from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08841241.2016.1240133


notes on peace education and indignation

On Monday I contributed to a panel discussion on Prospects for Peace Education in the Neoliberal Era, as part of the Adam Curle Symposium hosted by the Peace Studies Division at University of Bradford. I made the following points..

ONE. The essay I produced ahead of the event situates the historical context for Curle’s Education and Liberation against the collapse of the post-war Keynesian compromise. In the West that compromise had ushered in a view of the State as guarantor of the production and distribution of certain forms of socialised wealth, grounded in access to healthcare, welfare benefits, social housing and free education. Yet by 1973 that political moment was under stress, as issues of profitability that had affected the major economies since the 1950s led to Nixon decoupling the dollar from gold. This was a critical way-marker in the development of neoliberal governance and the hegemony of monopoly finance capital, framed by the petro-dollar. Maybe, as Jehu questions, this was the moment when we reiterated our choice of barbarism over socialism.

TWO. The collapse of the Bretton Woods agreement would amplify Curle’s criticism of a dominant, global system rooted in competitive materialism and belonging-identity (rather than awareness-identity). Instead, Curle argued for an education counter-system rooted in a societal counter-system that was borne of a different formation of social wealth. This focus on wealth is central to the argument of his book, because it is situated asymmetrically against value as the dominant structuring form of society that is reproduced under capitalism. Here John Holloway’s focus on the first sentence of Marx’s Capital is important because it emphasises how capitalist social relations abstract and corrupt our concrete world, including how we relate to each other and the values that we embody (such as peace, justice, trust, faith, tolerance and so on). The first line of Capital reads as follows:

The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, presents itself as “an immense accumulation of commodities,”[1] its unit being a single commodity.

Holloway argues:

It is easy to skip over the significance of the first sentence precisely because of what the sentence itself asserts. It is the very fact that wealth appears as a collection of commodities to us who live in capitalist society that makes us take this appearance for granted. We are used to seeing wealth in that way. When we think of wealth we usually think of material wealth, of the things that a person has, probably of money, the general equivalent of commodities. If we refer to someone as being wealthy, we generally mean that she or he has a lot of money, and can therefore dispose of an immense amount of commodities. In other words, the form in which wealth appears leads us to establish an identity between wealth and the immense collection of commodities, to treat them as being identical. And if this were so, then it would indeed be right to treat the first sentence as curtain-raiser, as a sentence that has significance only in leading us on to the central issue, the commodity.

However, wealth does not have to be thought of in this way. For English-speakers, this is perhaps easier to see if we go back to the original German term that Marx uses, Reichtum, which could just as easily have been translated as “richness”: in capitalist society, richness appears as an immense collection of commodities. There is certainly no sharp difference in English between the concepts of richness and wealth, but richness strikes us as having a broader meaning: a rich tapestry, an enriching conversation, a rich life or experience, a rich diversity of colours.

THREE. In the current moment this rich diversity of colours has been corrupted (like corrupt computer code) precisely because the history and materiality of our social and cultural lives has been distorted through the reality of economic crisis. I refer to this as a secular crisis of capitalism. Our enriching conversations are corroded through the toxicity of an on-going and immanent crisis of economic reproduction that catalyses debt, privatisation and financialisation, and the demonization of the powerless, whose lives are made precarious. The counter-measures that are required to maintain the system that Curle pushed against are not working, and they are delegitimising that system whilst they shore it up. This is the terrain upon which our ongoing cognitive dissonance, or even worse our dissociation, is borne.

NOTE: As a result we cannot face the ecological rift that has occurred in the metabolic relationship between humans and the planet: we are unable to do anything meaningful about carbon emissions as they breach 400ppm; we are unable to do anything meaningful about the assault on biodiversity and ocean acidification, or damage to the nitrogen cycle, the overuse of phosphates, and so on. How can we find peace when we are so embedded inside capitalism’s war on the planet?

FOUR. This war also threatens to become inter-generational. There is a looming disconnect between those who benefitted from the aftermath of Bretton Woods and millenials, although following Milton Friedman in The Role for Government in Education many of the arguments made in the global North now stress the importance of student debt being a family investment in human capital. Thus, the UK Government’s focus on future earnings and employability, and the Treasury’s explicit demand for tax data to be linked to student outcome/loan repayment data, de-territorialise and then re-territorialise the system through metrics, debt and risk. Here Curle’s fears around the development of competitive materialism and belonging-identity are realised as families become the very fabric of competition rather than of societal co-operation. And this is amplified because, as Oskar Negt states:

The labor power that capital can tie down by dint of Taylorism is markedly decreasing in both capitalist countries and Third World countries. More and more living labor power is slipping out of capital- ist production processes. This must have political consequences, which will also affect the formation of theories… Today, by comparison, we have a structurally growing industrial reserve army that is tending toward including the whole of society and, increasingly, threatening to cut labor power off from reality…

The fewer opportunities a subject has to appropriate these productive forces, the more often the latter turn into destructive forces. This is one of the core issues in our theory of labor power. It is not only that a growing number of work- ers—and also a growing number of labor characteristics—are unemployed in capitalist labor conditions; it is also that in the long term, these characteristics are being scrapped by being deobjectified.

We are forced to compete so that our alienation becomes more manageable.

FIVE. This secular crisis is political and economic and is rooted in an ideological position that has generated monstrosities in UK higher education like the White Paper’s proposed teaching excellence framework, and the obsession with teaching intensity and productivity in the Green Paper. As our educational lives are subsumed under the structuring realities of value, rather than alternative conceptions of social wealth, one outcome is the disconnection of our educational souls. As our curricula are restructured around performance management, progression, retention, student-as-purchaser, education commodified as a service, learning analytics, employability, and so on, our conversations with our students, our peers and ourselves are in tension with our desire to care. The rule of money places us in conflict with our desire to care, and so we dissociate, rage or employ cognitive dissonance as defences. For Curle, such a world was rooted in psychological alienation that itself emerges from social, political and economic violence. For Marx, in the German Ideology, such alienation was fourfold: from the process of production; from the things that we produce; from our society; and from ourselves. In the incorporation of all forms of education inside the production processes of capitalism, in the damaging realities of over-testing,  monitoring, permanent technological and organisational restructuring, precarious employment and so on, those very spaces that set out to be rooted in care, justice and peace are reproduced as anxiety machines.

SIX. Inside our anxiety machines, time is weaponised against us. We are forced to internalise the system’s demands around contact hours, workload planning, absence management, imposed deadlines for impact relating to teaching and research, and so on. As a result, both space and time are made unsafe for staff and students, who must also contend with the boundaries of relationships that at once appear to be rooted in care/contract and use/exchange. These are the contested qualities of being that are embodied in our formal educational institutions. We might then wonder what else we can set in-motion inside-and-outside the school or university that refuses this reality? Here, our learning is enriched through engagement with the struggles of campaigns against the ongoing re-colonisation of the university’s history and material realities, grounded in its organising principles, financing and curricula, like Rhodes Must Fall or Black Lives Matter. It is also enriched through the educational work rooted in co-operative values and organisation. These examples force us to consider how to frame a richness of life or experience, or how to stitch a rich tapestry, which prefigures the world we wish to see. Such prefiguration is educational, iterative and generative of new possibilities. However, crucially it is also inter-generational, open and public, radical in that it stresses the need to find alternative forms of value that works to create the society we would wish to live in, and democratic. Such prefigurative activity is borne of a realisation: that our current forms of social reproduction are in crisis; that new forms of solidarity across indebted generations and between those suffering in healthcare or education or social services or housing are needed; and, that these new forms of social solidarity might coalesce around directional demands, like the social strike that stops the system and forces conversations.

SEVEN. It is in co-operatively-negotiated, solidarity actions that peace might re-emerge as a possibility or as a guide to our direction of travel. For solidarity enables us to move across boundaries between contexts and disciplines to examine

the real object of knowledge, which is the social phenomenon as a whole.

Schmidt, A. (1968). On the Concept of Knowledge in the Critique of Political Economy, p. 93.

Yet peace is grounded in: individual and collective courage to act; faith in each other and ourselves; justice for the wronged, othered and alienated; and, hope for setting in motion a different world. Peace emerges through education as a form of social wealth that is against-and-beyond capitalist social relations. It emerges as indignation with the present state of things, where we recognise that it cannot emerge through private property and wage slavery, or through the State taking control of production. As Jehu argues:

We do need to think about how the immediate seizure of what we need to live (in places like the UK this would also mean mass non-payment campaigns) could open into new forms of social organisation; also about how import-export relations can be sustained in industries that are necessary to social reproduction once the power of capitalist owners has been annulled… Capital is vulnerable to radical approaches that emphasize real relations over material relations. Our approach should be guided by the desire to address issues in a way that does not make capitalist categories our starting point.

Only when we have recognised and held the tension of the values inside us, which are revealed as embodied or psychological illness, can we begin to be and to create anew, by prefiguring the world we wish to see. Prefiguring this world is situated against challenge and struggle.

We do need to think about this; but the question of how to re-organise the world market along ‘socialist’ or ‘communist’ lines is meaningless without an acceptance that mass movements can only succeed by making severe inroads into bourgeois property relations.

it is in the middle-term of active struggle that a movement against capital must necessarily arrive at the stage of greatest tension and uncertainty. It is a moment in which the most fundamental contradictions of class and ownership cannot be ‘knitted together’ into a woolly hegemony and then handed over to a ‘future’ which can scarcely mask its ingratitude.

De-Arrest Editorial Services (2016). Demeaning the Future.

Thus, peace is contingent on the development of mass intellectuality as a force for the production of Curle’s counter-system, rooted in new relations of production, where our co-operative engagement might recuperate the social brain from its co-option solely for the production and accumulation of value. We need to be disinhibited from seeing peace education as an on-going, day struggle, which is enacted at the level of society.


Adam Curle: Education for Liberation and the potential for mass intellectuality

On Monday I’m at the University of Bradford speaking at a panel session at the Peaceful Relations and the Transformation of the World: An Academic-Practitioner Dialogue on Peace in the 21st Century. The panel is on Prospects for Peace Education in the Neoliberal Era. In order to ground my work at the intersection of peace studies, the idea of the University, and the concept of mass intellectuality, I have written an essay, attempting to connect Adam Curle’s Education for Liberation from 1973 with our current condition in higher education in the global North. The essay ends by pointing to our work on mass intellectuality inside-against-and-beyond the neoliberal university.

I wrote it whilst listening to Annie Mac Presents.

ONE. A shared humanity

We do not need education without needing a world that is being destroyed.

Our emphasis is on education: within the reality of our social relations, confined by the struggle of daily life, against the hierarchical relations between institutions, academics and students.

We share our work in education so that one day we might become free through education. It can feel like a hopeless act of hope yet as a conscious act of anti-alienation, sharing can be emancipatory.

We have been objectified as Teachers and Learners. These are illusory concepts. Sharing is to resist the commodification of our lives and escape the measures of Capital, its controls of ‘quality’ and its life-support machine of ‘efficiency’.

Sharing brings curricula to life as a flow of ideas, an unstoppable, irrepressible mass intellectuality that recognises no disciplines and responds to every act of discipline.

The University of Utopia (n.d.). Anti-Curricula. A Course of Action.

In Education for Liberation, Adam Curle argues for the creation of new educational conditions that refuse the ongoing deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation of everyday life, in order to enable individuals (and families, communities, societies) to address themselves.

we try to create conditions in which the fewest obstacles are placed in the way of people coming to terms with themselves.

Curle, A. (1973). Education for Liberation. London: Tavistock, p. v.

NOTE: hereafter reference to this volume is given simply by ‘Curle’ and the relevant page number.

What Curle laid bare in 1973 was the intersectional realities of poverty, oppression, exploitation, hunger, disease and emotional sickness, and a recognition that ‘if all these things were abolished’ then what would be left is our shared humanity. This idea of a shared humanity picks up our utopian desire to connect, not through the exchange-value of our education commodified as a service or financialised and marketised through debt and performance metrics, but by sharing what is socially-useful. This process of sharing knowledge, skills and literacies both inside and outside the formal institution, dissolves the boundaries of that institution. As a result, it resists the enclosure of the university and its knowledge, and pushes back against the idea that the market is the sole arbiter of access to that knowledge.

Moreover, the sharing that rests on dissolving the boundaries that exist: between the inside and outside of the university; between students and teachers; and between those who know and those who do; forms a moment of resistance to the idea that the market is the only way that we can address global emergencies. These emergencies demand social action taken at the level of society. For Curle there is a sense of needing to overcome this restricting alienation because:

Education enslaves: men and women become free through their own efforts. (p. 1)

TWO. The structuring realities of value

The historical context for Curle’s work on education and liberation is important. He is writing shortly after Nixon unilaterally ended the Bretton Woods international monetary system, and as the post-war Keynesian compromise was ending. These are way-markers on the path to neoliberalism that placed an aesthetic appreciation of (economic) value, rather than (humane) values, centre stage. Yet for Curle, ‘the keystone is justice rather than wealth’ (p.1), and this opens-up potential connections between social justice movements and those looking for post-capitalist alternatives, as a response to the emergent, globalised phase of capitalist development. However, this work of connection frames the problems of justice and wealth through political economy, and one that reclaims wealth as social, and specifically as a collective power-to do or to create the world, separated out from accumulated, individualised forms of wealth (as money or financial assets). This is the material and immaterial wealth of art, science, technology and knowledge, which rest on social relationships that themselves refuse to be organised through private property, wage labour and the market.

As Curle was writing, Autonomist Marxism emerged as a conglomerate of different perspectives, drawing on the Italian Operaismo or Workerist Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Autonomist Marxism enabled a focus on the question of why capital moved beyond national boundaries in the post-war years and how it was transformed into a globalised, transnational apparatus for accumulating wealth. Critically, this tradition sought to understand the changing nature of the structure and agency of the working class as the neoliberal phase of capitalism intensified. In this analysis, education is crucial in examining the ways in which labour could form oppositional spaces or cracks through which to resist and push-back against the alienation of exchange and the market. Thus, Autonomist critiques of education focus upon the ability of the student/teacher to develop her own self-awareness and to utilise technology to act for herself. This emancipatory project is revealed as in-against-beyond, which questions the structures that reproduce capitalism’s domination, like the State and its educational institutions. These questions emerge from inside those structures and from perspectives that are against them, so that alternatives that lie beyond might be opened up. This recognises that capitalism is a totalising, social universe, and opens-up a global terrain of struggle for autonomy that includes education.

The struggle to control labour presents the working class (including in the roles of student and teacher) with potential educational tools to develop new points of resistance. In developing such alternatives, there are a number of key ideas that emerge from the Autonomist tradition that are useful in addressing how education relate to the agency of the working class, acting for itself:

Each of these concepts forces a reconceptualisation of how we address the production and circulation of social wealth, materialised not as money or surplus-value, but as our social needs and capacities. For Curle (p. 4) this approach, if not the conceptualisation, was central to a project of overcoming the competitive materialism that emerges from global networks of exploitation. That Curle was able to identify and analyse such networks can be traced forwards to the work of Stephen Ball on transnational activist networks that seek to open-up the terrain of education for-profit. These networks of private equity, publishers, policy-makers, pedagogues, think-tanks, educational technology corporations, venture capitalists, and so on, help to deterritoriaise and reterritorialise education, so that only surplus-value can be liberated. As a result:

Accumulated value, and the power that flows from it, means that other forms of human or humane value in the production of commodities are marginalised.

Jappe, A. 2014. Towards a History of the Critique of Value. Capitalism, Nature, Socialism. 25(2): 11.

As Curle argues (p. 5), as these asymmetrical power relations flood through education, ‘one party to a relationship, the weaker, is impeded through the quality of a relationship, from achieving his [sic.] human potential.’ Thus, formal, institutionalised education (and it is such that supplies much of the context for Education for Liberation) ‘reinforces unpeaceful situations’ (p. 6), rooted in belonging-identity and competitive materialism (pp. 7-8). Here Curle’s work traces the outlines of later analyses of the dehumanization inherent in capitalist social relations and the law of value, in particular the impact of capitalism as a totalising system on individual and collective self-worth. For Curle this emerges as guilt and shame. As Jappe notes:

The difficulty of living in a society dominated by value necessarily leads to the creation of all sorts of ideologies to explain the suffering caused by such a society and that enable the subjects of labour to project onto others the qualities that they are forced to expel from themselves.

Jappe, A. 2014. Towards a History of the Critique of Value. Capitalism, Nature, Socialism. 25(2): 11

Yet Curle’s work on situating education for liberation inside dominant ideologies or the system, also connects to alternative possibilities outlined in more mainstream thinking.

When the accumulation of wealth is no longer of high social importance, there will be great changes in the code of morals.

social customs and economic practices, affecting the distribution of wealth and of economic rewards and penalties, which we now maintain at all costs, however distasteful and unjust they may be in themselves, because they are tremendously useful in promoting the accumulation of capital, we shall then be free, at last, to discard.

Keynes, J.M. 1930. Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren.

THREE. On prefiguration and a new education

In responding to this clash of value and values, Curle emphasizes the need for a new education, which demands ‘an alien form of society’ that values the human, or our shared humanity. This is the possibility of personal evolution, or ‘higher-awareness (awareness-identity)’, formed inside a counter-system of education rooted in altruism (or #solidarity) (pp. 8, 9). This counter-system has echoes of Gramsci’s work on hegemony and counter-hegemony, rooted in acknowledging, analysing and abolishing power. For Curle (p. 10), such a counter-system would have higher levels of (social) awareness (beyond value). It would be grounded in awareness-identity (social connections against-and-beyond the market), and as such it would be altruistic and empathetic with peaceful relation that are loving and supportive. Moreover, it would be based on co-operative and egalitarian democracy.

In addressing how education relates to the creation of such a counter-system, Curle (p. 17) diagnoses that we need to reveal the reality of the system as is. Here, hegemony rests on imparting the knowledge needed by the system to reproduce itself by establishing within us the goals that are also of value to the system. In the UK we can witness this in the HE White Paper and the emerging HE and Research Bill, with its focus on human capital theory in education, to be implemented through teaching intensity, productivity, teaching excellence and performance management.

Curle’s responses echo those academic-activists who continue to resist, refuse and push-back against the on-going assault on the idea of higher education. These responses are rooted in prefiguration. For Curle, the existence and celebration of ‘Different values jeopardize what they have, thus endangering their belonging-identity’ (p. 21, emphasis added). As Sarah Amsler notes, prefiguring the kind of world we wish to see is an on-going process that is generative, iterative and educative. It is the governance and organisation of life as a pedagogical project, which enables the negation of that which is dehumanising or alienating. Connecting to Curle’s hope for justice, this is the negation of our negation.

Moreover, such prefigurative and utopian engagements also enable and share moments of solidarity. In developing Curle’s counter-system, this means thinking through the potential for waves of struggle, which demonstrate solidarity between various groups of workers and others across society impacted by austerity. Points of solidarity include: the embodied toll that neoliberal restructuring and austerity takes on mental and physical health, including in families; the control of performance and activity; the reduction of life to work; and, the inability of the curriculum to manage issues of crisis concerning poverty, climate change, on-going colonialism and so on. Points of solidarity connect:

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

Here there is a need to redefine the terms of resistance as cross-sectoral, acting communally or socially, precisely because those communal or social aspects of our identities are being marginalised or reduced, as work and productivity becomes totalising. There is a need to see this work as educational, rooted in a governance framework and organisation that prefigures what we desire. For Curle this is a constant practice of revealing and resisting minor oppressions that gradually erode our awareness, such as the symbolic racialised nature of the curriculum. Thus, resistance offers the potential for re-humanizing activities (p. 87).

Such forms of resistance also question the very nature of our curricula, and raise the issue of whether our work should be on dismantling the curriculum. Curle wished to see a curriculum that strengthened justice and peace, so that individuals could self-actualise, rather than instantiating a curriculum that is mindless, dehumanizing and intellectually worthless for so many with ‘subtly obnoxious hidden’ elements. Here there is resonance with Rhodes Must Fall and campaigns like #whyismycurriculumwhite, which force us to consider how to connect the inside and outside of the classroom to everyday oppression, and to consider an engaged pedagogy that is infused critically.

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

bell hooks (1994). Teaching to Transgress. London: Routledge, p. 13.

Progressive, holistic education, “engaged pedagogy”… emphasizes well-being. That means that teachers must be actively involved committed to a process of self-actualization that promotes their own well-being if they are to teach in a manner that empowers students.

bell hooks (1994). Teaching to Transgress. London: Routledge, p. 15.

FOUR. Against power inside and outside the classroom

The power relations reinforced through the market, wage labour and property relations deny the essential humanity of the teacher-student relationship. Moreover they deny the self-actualisation (awareness-identity) of the individuals in that relationship, both inside and outside the classroom.

Curle (p. 35) hints at this issue of power, referenced above in terms of hegemony and counter-hegemony (the counter-system), when he refers to the altered psychological reality in which authority is shared. He writes that ‘the best way of promoting an appreciation of social justice may be through building a just and equal society in the classroom’ (p. 42). This reminds us of the work of John Holloway on how to change the world without taking power. Here the altered psychological state is not one of taking power, in order to reproduce both it and its injustices. Rather we refuse to reproduce power relations that disable our self-determination. They key is to focus co-operatively on creating a society in which people determine its development.

Like Curle, Holloway is clear that we have to change the world. However, there is no focus on taking State power. Instead he points towards new structures shaped by our agency and autonomy in doing socially-useful things. This concept of doing socially-useful things again relays back to Curle’s awareness-identity and refusal of competitive materialism. However, for Holloway there is a clear distinction between our power to do things (our creative power), and other’s power-over us or over our power to do things. Wage labour and debt (Holloway’s rule of money) offer others the power to command, and they reveal the structuring logic and power of capital, including across the terrain of higher education. The crucial thing for Holloway, as it was for Curle, is that this power to create and to command is a social power. In Holloway’s terms:

Our power to do is always a social power, is always a collective power, our doing is always part of the social flow of doing.

[In its co-option by capital] the social power to do becomes broken, it becomes transformed into its opposite, which is the power of the capitalist to command the doing of others.

Holloway, J. (2005). Change The World Without Taking Power.

The problem for educators is that inside the classroom and through the curriculum peace can only ever be an aspiration, because our educational work is alienated from us by capital. What we produce as educators or students is commodified as knowledge transfer or in the form of credits. How we produce as educators or students is governed by performance management or made efficient through technology and organisational development. The relationships that we produce as educators or students are governed by metrics and ideas of consumption and purchase, so that our relationship to ourselves becomes framed by enterprise or employment or future earnings. In this, as staff and students we are objectified because we are commanded.

In moving against these flows of educational alienation, our struggle is to build up our power to do differently and socially.

Our logic is just the contrary, it is the logic of coming together, it is a logic of recovering the subjectivity, which is denied by capital. Subjectivity not as an individual subjectivity, but as a social subjectivity.

if we think of the struggle to change society as class struggle, then it is fundamental to see this struggle as being asymmetrical. And once we start to reproduce their forms, and once we start to think of our struggle as being the mirror image of their struggle, then all that we are doing is reproducing the power of capital within our own struggles.

revolution is a question rather than an answer, because the revolutionary process in itself has to be understood as a process of asking, as a process of moving out, not of telling peoples what the answers are, but actually as a process of involving people in a movement of self-determination.

Holloway, J. (2005). Change The World Without Taking Power.

Here then, prefigurative activity as an educational process, operating inside and outside the classroom is central, and it rests on autonomous forms and spaces for action. This means developing confidence in our own structures, in our own time, and in our own space, and as a result develop new ways of (re-)imagining society. As Curle notes (p. 62), it is a process of re-learning the Self.

An ideal society would be self-creating. If it is self-creating, if it is self-determining, then in a sense it doesn’t make sense to project an ideal organization, because the ideal organization would be created by the society itself. 

Holloway, J. (2005). Change The World Without Taking Power.

This process of idealisation, self-determination or community self-actualisation (awareness-identity rooted in altruism and solidarity) is a pedagogical project. Moreover, it is developed at the level of the community (i.e. it is not grounded in the institutions of the State that support the system that Curle speaks against). Here, the community is the educating subject and the whole person (cognition, emotion and body) are forged in a process of subjectification rather than commodification. As Curle identifies (p. 67) this requires liberation from educational roles and pedagogic relations of power. It is reflected in writings about the Little Schools from Below.

The Zapatista schools, in which more than a thousand of us set foot in autonomous communities, was a different mode of learning and teaching, without classrooms or blackboards, without teachers or professors, without curriculum or grades. The real teaching begins with the creation of a climate of kinship among a multitude of subjects instead of dividing educators with power and knowledge from naïve students that need to be inculcated with knowledge.

The pedagogic principles are rooted in:

  • the social politics of counterinsurgency;
  • autonomy that is seated in community control;
  • collective work as a foundation of autonomy;
  • the new cultural politics, which is rooted in family relations and is diffused throughout Zapatista society.

Zibechi, R. 2012. The Schools From Below: “A non-institutional education, where the community is the educating subject”.

This has a more insurgent and overtly post-capitalist flavour than that sketched by Curle. However, the latter still identified the concept of school or of schooling as enabling ‘a highly individual exploration by children of themselves and their world.’ Bound by the need to work, Curle highlights that such an exploration would lead to specialisation and training, although the genesis would be interest rather than position or status. Moving beyond a world of capitalist work, for the abolition of wage labour, takes a transformation of mind. Thus, Curle questions ‘Is there any point of working within the system; and can we work outside it?’ (p. 43).

FIVE. Towards mass intellectuality: higher education and responses to the secular crisis of capitalism

One response to this is Curle’s work on awareness and identity through social action or praxis (c.f. Curle, A. Mystics and Militants: Study of Awareness, Identity and Social Action. London: Tavistock). What he calls for is material, cultural and social development that enables:

a coherent philosophy of the relationship of education to society which would make it possible for the real strength of affective education to be directed towards transforming the social setting which neutralizes so much good contemporary work in education. (p. 62)

Thus:

Education for liberation must, in fact, include instruction in the techniques for creating social change, for building the counter-system. (p. 80)

Education building a peaceful society through connection to our humanity. Liberation from habits of thought, action, and feeling that make us less than human, and that transform the system into a counter-system. Against the institutionalised (though the network) nature of low awareness, belonging-identity and competitive materialism. The human spirit rather than distorted psychological needs. (p. 127)

We know that the secular crisis of capitalism has generated a structural adjustment policy across the terrain of higher education, which reshapes the relationships between academics and students. We know that in this crisis is revealed the ‘means of economising the use of labour outrunning the pace at which we can find new uses for labour’ (See: Keynes, J.M. 1930. Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren). We know that the system’s counter-measures cannot resolve its underlying problems, rooted in expansion and accumulation, and that those very counter-measures undermine capitalism’s legitimacy (See: Cleaver, H. 1993. Theses on Secular Crisis in Capitalism: The Insurpassability of Class Antagonisms). We know that the heart of the issue is the collapse in the production for profit by the private owners of the means of production, which has led to deleveraging, liquidation, reduced investment, austerity, indenture and so on. We know that even the authors of the neoliberal moment speak of systemic stagnation (with demographic and educational imbalances, inequality and debt), the failure of monetary policy; below-trend aggregate demand/growth and chronic under-investment, and a need to re-focus on Human Capital Theory, entrepreneurialism, the family as the unit of investment, and future earnings potential (See: Summers, L (2014). Reflections on the ‘New Secular Stagnation Hypothesis’ In: Tuelings, C and Baldwin, R eds.  Secular Stagnation: Facts, Causes and Cures. London: Centre for Economic Policy Research Press, pp. 27–38). This secular crisis swamps socio-environmental and socio-cultural crises that have disproportionately affected the global South, and which have amplified the impacts of the on-going coloniality and patriarchy of power. As we know, it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism.

In this context it is clear that higher education is in crisis. The idea of the public university is under assault, and both the future of the sector and its relationship to society are being gambled. Higher education is increasingly unaffordable, its historic institutions are becoming untenable, and their purpose is overwhelmingly instrumental. What are the alternatives? As Curle asks, ‘Is there any point of working within the system; and can we work outside it?’

One way of addressing this is by relating education to the concept of mass intellectuality, which emerges from Marx’s work in the Grundrisse on the ‘general intellect’. Marx argued that the dynamics of capitalism meant:

the accumulation of knowledge and of skill, of the general productive forces of the social brain, is thus absorbed into capital, as opposed to labour, and hence appears as an attribute of capital, and more specifically of fixed capital [machinery].

Through innovation and competition, the technical and skilled work of the social individual, operating in factories, corporations or schools, is absorbed into the things she produces. It is alienated from her, and therefore, the ‘general intellect’ of society, i.e. its general capacity for science in the broadest sense, is absorbed into capitalised technologies and techniques, in order to reduce labour costs and increase productivity.

With the crisis of funding, regulation and governance of higher education, there is a need to understand: first, the mechanisms through which the general intellect is absorbed into the total social production process of value, to which universities contribute; and second, how academic practice enables or resists such co-option. This calls attention to the proliferation of alternative educational practices, which are themselves re-imaginings of the idea of the University as a site for the production of knowledge. These alternatives are rooted in the desire and potential for reclaiming the knowledge, skills, practices and techniques that form the general intellect, in order to produce and circulate new forms of socially-useful knowledge or ways of knowing, being in and creating the world.

From this reclaiming or liberation of the general intellect, away from the valorisation of capital, emerges ‘mass intellectuality’ as a direct, cognitive and social force of production that exists as an increasingly diffuse form of intellectuality. In this form it circulates as a ‘commons’ that is pregnant with critical and practical potential but still remains marginal in the face of general commodity production. As a result, it is constantly being recuperated by capital in the form of the ‘knowledge economy’ or ‘cognitive capitalism’. Virno (2001) argues that

Mass intellectuality is the prominent form in which the general intellect is manifest today. The scientific erudition of the individual labourer is not under question here. Rather, all the more generic attitudes of the mind gain primary status as productive resources; these are the faculty of language, the disposition to learn, memory, the power of abstraction and relation and the tendency towards self-reflexivity.

The concept of mass intellectuality refers to knowledge and forms of knowing that can be and are being valorised by capital, but also refers to that same knowledge’s immanent (negative) and pre-figurative (positive) critical and re-constructive potential for new forms of sociality. In this way, mass intellectuality implies a struggle over the proletarianisation of cognitive and affective forms of labour, and its emancipatory implications, as the embodiment of the cumulative history of science.

The process of liberating and reclaiming the knowledge, skills, practices and techniques that are produced inside higher educational contexts is central to moving beyond exploitation and valorisation in the market, and in creating democratic, co-operative alternatives. This implies a critique of subjectivity, in its relationship to the prevalent mode of (knowledge) production. As a result, the critical-practical solutions to global, socio-environmental problems need not be framed around economic growth and business-as-usual. This enables a refocusing on the potential for the democratic or co-operative reproduction of the University, and a level of productive, scientific and social knowledge that exists as an immanent, transgressive potential across capitalist societies.

This process argues for the democratisation of higher education as an emancipatory project that must re-appropriate the means of knowledge production in the labour process, and nurture the co-operation of academics and students. By uncovering the widespread, objective conditions for the alienation of the products and processes of higher education from their social utility, it is possible to describe actually-exiting alternatives that identify the material conditions for new democratic models of knowledge production and education.

SIX. Uncovering collective, pedagogic potential

In our collective work on Mass Intellectuality and Democratic Leadership in Higher Education, student- and academic-activists have attempted such an uncovering, in order to situate higher education against the ongoing crisis of capitalism with responses from inside and outside the University. We articulate the limits of formal HE, including the binaries of public and private, in a range of national contexts, with a connection to traditions of critical pedagogy in which critical knowing has always been existential, collective and transformative. We challenge the hegemonic framing of learning as separate from society and everyday life.

Our opening section focuses on Power, History and Authority inside formal higher education, and asks what and who has led us to this crisis of higher education? What forms of resistance are taking place inside the University? Here we focus our attention on the following.

  • Struggles inside the classroom over the labour of students and academics, and the potential responses that are enabled through critical pedagogy.
  • The lessons to be taken from the development of co-operative higher education.
  • A theoretical understanding of academic practice by students and staff as public intellectualism, as a form of mass intellectuality.
  • The co-option of open access, which questions the societal value of business-as-usual models for public, higher education.

Our second section examines Potentialities for change and radical experiment in various transnational contexts. We ask whether it is possible to re-imagine the University democratically and co-operatively? Case studies here include the following.

  • Engagement with Brazilian resistance to extreme neoliberalism in the pedagogic practices of the Landless Movement. This discusses the impossibility of being an intellectual worker in the neoliberal university.
  • Discussion of Scottish higher education with reference to case studies of environmental justice, resistance to gender-based violence and trades union activity. This situates the experience of the knowledge worker against that emerging from within social movements.
  • An engagement with strands of mass intellectuality as they emerged historically in Bradford University’s Peace Studies curriculum and the CommUNIty project, as they were infused with a material and cultural analysis of sociability in Latin America.
  • A reflection on the meaning and purpose of arts education in its relationship to societal leadership as it emerges in the global North.

Our final section is rooted in Praxis, and looks at practical, alternative initiatives that are rooted in critical pedagogy and physical places beyond the University.

  • The Birmingham Autonomous University declare six theses on the collective failings of the hegemonic, methodological University, and the possibility that exists for creating a co-operative form of societal engagement.
  • An auto-ethnography of an alternative education project in Oxford, UK, the People’s Political Economy, which is framed by the idea of the organic intellectual in society.
  • A critique of the Lincoln Social Science Centre, UK, which offers a means of analysing the governing principles of transnational alternatives, in order to frame questions about their co-operative and democratic, practical and theoretical viability.
  • An eco-critical, thematic approach to mass intellectuality, rooted in the ethics of environmentalism. This enables the alternatives discussed in this book to connect to a wider environmental and transition/resilience agenda and its relationship to formal higher education.
  • A comparative analysis of indigenous communities and women of colour in the Escuela Política de Mujeres Pazifica, and the Family Inclusion Strategy Hunger collective based in the Hunter Valley, Australia. This analysis specifically relates co-operative, inclusive educational practices of creating ourselves, our relationships and communities differently.

Our work is rounded off with an evaluation and systematic critique of the collaborative approach adopted in its production. How might co-operative writing and publishing inside the University enable voices to be heard that are against and beyond the valorisation of academic labour?

SEVEN. Postscript

These struggles for mass intellectuality are an attempt to build solidarity and sharing (as forms of awareness-belonging) rather than to enable commodification, exchange and accumulation (as competitive materialism and belonging-identity). Thus, liberating science and technology from inside-and-against capital’s competitive dynamics is central to moving beyond exploitation. This is a pedagogical project and therefore education is central to society’s potential to re-imagine.

Radical alternatives rooted in co-operative practice offer mechanisms through which new forms of social power might challenge, resist and push back against the marketisation of public education, indentured study, and the hidden curriculum that asserts the primacy of value-for-money, impact metrics, productivity and efficiency. This helps to reveal how the effects of financialisation and marketisation across an increasingly global, social field like education might be inverted and resisted. This begins by revealing the objective, material realities of social life, so that we might give voice to possible, prefigurative alternatives. Mass intellectuality as a frame of reference enables those alternatives, pace Adam Curle, to encourage different ways of thinking about the role, value and form of higher education institutions in society. This is one possible route to the peaceful, liberated social relations that Curle imagined.


Dismantling the Curriculum in Higher Education

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

Abstract

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

Keywords: community; curriculum; praxis; sociability; university


notes on social mobility and hierarchy in HE

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

ONE. Open intensity.

Elsewhere I have argued against teaching intensity that

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Warwick for Free Education also called this out.

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

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

TWO. Variable human capital and the rule of money.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THREE. Towards the quantified curriculum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Britton et al. note, this matters because:

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

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

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

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

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

FOUR. Social mobility as self-exploiting entrepreneurial activity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FIVE. The disciplining of academic labour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This matters because, as McGettigan notes

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

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