For universities nothing is more important than being a research-led institution where excellent teaching ensures a high-quality student experience and thus securing its position in a highly competitive marketplace. These imperatives are delineated and measured and universities are ranked accordingly, offering a student the choice on where she should spend £27,000 in tuition fees. Thus research, teaching and students are central to universities but how these are understood and engaged with both in policy and universities is through the logics and dynamics of consumer choice, competition, and managerialism.
On Wednesday Professor Mike Neary from the University of Lincoln and the Social Science Centre, Lincoln, came to ESRI to give us a glimpse of what an alternative might look like in his talk Student as Producer.
Mike inhabits an interesting space as Dean of Teaching and Learning at the University of Lincoln where he is part of the re-imagining of the university in neoliberal times while also being a founder-member of the Social Science Centre, a cooperative higher-education experience that presents a radical alternative to mainstream universities.
The Student as Producer initiative, at the University of Lincoln, seeks to realign the purposes and values of academia with the routine practices of a university. The Student as Producer initiative challenges staff and students to enter into a dialogue about curriculum development and institutional change. In doing so the aim is to re-connect the university with the liberal-humanistic project that originated with Humboldt University of Berlin in 1810 but also re-imagine the modern university in relation to current social movements such as Occupy.
A central theme of the talk was how to negotiate between the demands of the modern higher education sector, which is overwhelmed by managerialism, and the attempt to develop an alternative that engages with the crises in higher education and wider society. The boundary between radical project and corporate-inspired marketing at times seem blurred where developing something innovative and engaging can be re-interpreted and used as branding or marketing. Navigating these dilemmas involved a pragmatic process of following theory, researching, inspiring, challenging and working with colleagues but also acknowledging when and where to compromise and work within the system. These were the messy realities of taking action, in refusing to get bogged down in impossibility but building what is possible in a realistic way.
We would like to thank Mike for taking the time to come to ESRI and we look forward to hearing more about this important work.