Changes to higher education, the role of neo-liberalism in academic life and the various social forces shaping researcher identity and practice are all set to be discussed and interrogated at the Governing Academic Life conference 25-26 June. To kick-start discussion ahead of the event we’ve pulled together a range of resources here on the topics to be explored over the two days. You can view the full programme for the conference here. Monday 16 June is the last day to sign up, so make sure to book online this weekend.
Neoliberalism and governance in the academy
A recent report from the Institute for Public Policy Research has made headlines calling for urgent transformation of British universities if they are to survive sweeping technological change. From massive open online courses (MOOCs) to open access, John Holmwood argues these changes are less about transformative technology and more about privatised commercialisation and must be understood as part of the wider neo-liberal context in which they have emerged.
The Open Movement has made impressive strides in the past year, but do these strides stand for reform or are they just symptomatic of the further expansion and entrenchment of neoliberalism? Eric Kansa argues that it is time for the movement to broaden its long-term strategy to tackle the needs for wider reform in the financing and organization of research and education and oppose the all-pervasive trend of universities primarily serving the needs of commerce.
It is an increasingly difficult time to begin an academic career. The pressures of the REF, casualization and adjunctification of teaching and the disappearance of research funding are enormous obstacles academics face. Sydney Calkin looks at how academics have in many ways become model neoliberal subjects. How might we effectively challenge the growing acceptance of the unpaid, underpaid, zero hours work within universities?
Changes in higher education policy are altering the way academic institutions are functioning in Britain. Andrew McGettigan takes a look at the implications of new funding mechanisms for higher education and writes that new methods of debt issuance will increase the financial fragility of academic institutions. Furthermore, due to the increase in students accessing loans, governments will soon be forced to find new policy options to maintain the new market in undergraduate study.
To mark the thirtieth anniversary of the death of social theorist Michel Foucault, Anne Barron and Mary Evans have organised a conference in late June for academics to reflect on his legacy in relation to higher education. Governing Academic Life will create an interdisciplinary space to discuss the public university, neoliberalism, academic publishing, and assessment measurement. Managing Editor Sierra Williams asked the organisers to elaborate on the motivations behind the event and the impact of Foucault’s work today.
The public university, academic freedom and scholarly communication
Book Review: A Manifesto for the Public University by John Holmwood.
What does the future hold for higher education? Is the university set to become like the panopticon, where academics are constantly surveyed and regulated in the name of efficiency? Tony Murphy finds that A Manifesto for the Public University is a must for all those with vested interests in HE: students, researchers, and VCs, as well as policy makers actively engaged in shaping the future.
Scholars are increasingly expected to consider the wider public in their teaching and research activities, but with little to negative promotion incentive. In fact, finds Christopher Meyers, much of what academics do does not fit into the standard boxes of teaching, scholarship and service. Perhaps it’s time to replace these categories with a single holistic and qualitative standard: High quality teacher-scholars, wherein all of one’s professional activities are judged per their contribution to the academy’s mission of educating, advancing ideas, creating an intellectual environment, and bettering the lives of others.
The tensions between access, popularity and prestige all stand to make collective action toward open access complicated. While favouring systematic transformation of the unfair scholarly economy, Paul Kirby notes there are good reasons to doubt the efficacy of a large-scale boycott of closed journals. Rather, a more subtle strategy might be more effective at changing the system without any penalty to early-career researchers and the plurality of scholarship.
Mark Carrigan untangles the mixture of creativity and routine when academics sit down to convey complex thoughts. Waiting for the organic moment of inspiration when deadlines loom can be unreliable. By making blogging his main vehicle for intellectual exploration, he was free to explore a form of creative expression that he found intensely liberating. Is consistent writing a matter of attentiveness to moments of inspiration or is it also about cultivating the conditions necessary for this attentiveness?
Researcher identity and impact
The stark contrast between the kindness experienced in Bali and the manic, hurried pace of the her own academic workplace environment prompted Claire Aitchison to examine the contemporary ‘enterprise university’. The pressure to publish and burdens to achieve competitive advantage crowd out a collective culture that values kindness and collaboration. If left unchecked this will have adverse consequences for the continuing production of knowledge in universities.
Computer software and data-processing algorithms are becoming an everyday part of Higher Education. How might this be affecting research in the social sciences and the formation of the professional identities of academics? Ben Williamson argues that these are important challenges for social science researchers in HE, asking us to consider how digital devices and infrastructures might be shaping our professional practices, knowledge production, and theories of the world.
Traditional and digital methods of dissemination clashed recently when a storm over live-tweeting academic conferences blew up in the US. Melonie Fullick looks at the accusation that academics can ‘use’ other people’s work to build up their online brand to benefit their academic career, at the expense of others.
With a vast array of performance and output measurements readily available on universities and individual academics, Deborah Lupton explores the parallels between the audit culture in academia and the quantified self movement. Quantified selfers can find great satisfaction in using data to take control over elements of their lives. But it is important for researchers to remain critically alert to both the pleasures and the privations of academic self-quantification.
Measurement and management of the university
In a time of growing demand for and on higher education, university rankings have transformed university strategy. Ellen Hazelkorn finds their crude simplicity is what makes rankings so infectious. Yet, quality is a complex concept. Most of the indicators used are effectively measures of socio-economic advantage, and privilege the most resource-intensive institutions and-or countries. In response and reaction to the limited nature of rankings, alternative methodologies and new formats have emerged.
Business criteria, not education or the public good, drive what marketised universities do, writes Luke Martell. Universities are restructuring for the new era, ploughing money into marketing and glitzy buildings, designed to appeal to applicants as much as function for those that use them. It’s a revolution in what the university’s about, and a counter-revolution is needed.
Peter Wade explores the relationship between the university and the state. Historically the state has recognised universities as key institutions in the reproduction of societies through research and teaching. More recently, university research has been subjected to greater regulation as it holds a special place in government agendas. One way forward would be to evaluate both teaching and research in terms of how closely the two were connected and how far the former has inspired the latter to understand the broad social impact of universities.
Higher education is finding itself increasingly defined by modes of competition, marketisation and privatisation. Richard Hall disentangles the web of social relations in which the university exists and asks what alternatives to the neoliberal model are possible? He finds that academics may need to consider whether a more activist, public and social role is necessary in the face of the restructuring of universities as competing capitals.