This special issue emerged as a result of Universities in the Knowledge Economy (UNIKE), a four-year collaborative research project and training programme for early-stage researchers that investigated the dynamic relationships between universities and knowledge economies in Europe and in the Asia-Pacific Rim. The project was funded by the Seventh Framework Programme of the European Commission (EC) and included researchers based at six different universities in five European countries. Mobility was not only a widespread research interest within the UNIKE academic community but also a reality of the project, which was in itself a practical example of mobility in doctoral education, as envisaged by the European Commission. Many questions emerged as to how mobility became so central to the European Union’s policies for higher education, but also as to how the portrayal of mobility on a policy level compared to the actual lived experiences of mobile students and researchers. ‘Mobility’ can refer to many different things: geographical mobility, social mobility, cross-sectoral mobility or intellectual mobility (interdisciplinarity). The academic literature mostly treats them separately, with clusters of studies around each concept. In contrast, this special issue sets out to investigate these different types of mobility collectively, with authors covering several parts or the whole spectrum of mobilities. We believe it is valuable to discuss these four different aspects of mobility together for two reasons. First, they are often mentioned together in higher education policy as ‘desirable’ characteristics of a given education programme. Second, the ideal profile of the new, flexible knowledge worker supposedly combines all these aspects of mobility in one persona. The policy literature produced by influential stakeholders in higher education such as the European Commission and the OECD focuses on how to encourage, foster and support different kinds of mobility, working on the assumption that mobility is inherently good and will benefit countries, higher education systems and individuals. Much of the academic literature has adopted a similar approach, focusing on ways to enable mobility rather than challenge it.
Mobility in doctoral education – and beyond
Corina Balaban and Susan Wright
The uprooted lives of early career researchers
This article discusses three kinds of mobility among early stage researchers: geographical mobility, mobility between disciplines – or interdisciplinarity – and cross-sectoral mobility. It focuses on how PhD fellows engage with and negotiate experiences of mobility. These types of mobility have largely been presented as inherently beneficial in mainstream policy discourse, but this article presents a more nuanced picture of mobility, showing the challenges of mobility, as experienced and articulated by PhD fellows and some of their supervisors. The research is based on twenty-six interviews with PhD fellows and principal investigators involved in two types of flagship doctoral programmes: the ITN in Europe, and the IGERT in the United States. The main finding is that PhD fellows associated all three types of mobility with feelings of homelessness.
Auto-ethnographic writing in the knowledge economy
This article examines what it means to be an academic in the knowledge economy, using auto-ethnographic writing or storytelling as its starting point. Although academic mobility has been researched for about a decade, deep listening and deep reading in the context of ethnography have not been utilised in analysing what it means to move in this global space. To conduct this exercise, fellows from the European Union-funded Universities in the Knowledge Economy project who were all mobile academics, were invited to participate in ethnographic writing workshops and explore the personal, subjective elements of narrating their experiences of being mobile and being migrants. I aim to not only present the narratives of colleagues who populate the global knowledge economy but also analyse them and ask if certain ideal forms of narrative habitus support academic mobility.
Quis custodiet ipsos consumptores?
Most undergraduates’ main, hands-on involvement in student engagement is completing satisfaction surveys, such as the U.K. National Student Survey (NSS), whose findings make significant contributions to university policy formation. It is therefore important that these surveys produce reliable and valid data, but previous and current NSS versions fail to do this. This article compares the U.K.’s model of ‘satisfaction’ with that of the U.S. National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE). Whereas the NSS treats the student as a passive consumer, the NSSE treats the student as an active participant who shares personal liability for some of the educational outcomes. The NSSE’s greater use of factual rather than opinion questions, allowance for variation in types of students and student effort, and wider interpretation of ‘student engagement’ are seen as more fit for purpose and less influenced by the ideologies of neoliberalism and managerial control.
Constructing and practising student engagement in changing institutional cultures
Lisa Garforth and Anselma Gallinat
This introduction sets the theoretical and historical context for this special issue on student engagement. Drawing on literatures about audit culture, governance and change in higher education institutions, and theories of practice, institutions and organisation, it sheds light on the current era of English higher education. The Browne Review led to the withdrawal in 2010 of the majority of the government teaching grant for English universities, and it tripled tuition fees in 2012. In the post-Browne era, ‘engagement’ emerged as an organising concept linked in multiple ways to other objects and discourses, in particular university league tables and measures of student satisfaction; and it was swiftly and often unreflexively translated into visions for developing learning and teaching. This special issue focuses on this specific shift in policy and discourse, exploring institutional change and everyday experience, and reflecting on the power and limits of policies.
Do we need to reoccupy student engagement policy?
The ‘academic orthodoxy’ () of student engagement is questioned by Zepke, who suggests that it supports ‘a neoliberal ideology’ (2014: 698). In reply, Trowler argues that Zepke fails to explain the mechanisms linking neoliberalism to the concepts and practices of student engagement (2015: 336). In this article, I respond to the Zepke-Trowler debate with an analysis of student engagement policies that illuminates the role of discourse as one mechanism linking neoliberal values with practices of student engagement. Through a corpus-based Critical Discourse Analysis, I demonstrate a persistent and alarming omission of human labour from university policy texts. Instead, the engagements of students and staff are attributed to technology, documents and frameworks. Student engagement is discussed as a commodity to be embedded and marketed back to students in a way that yields an ‘exchange value’ () for universities.
Anthropological reflections on ‘Project 2012’ and The Offer
The prospect of the increase in tuition fees in England from 2012 pulled learning and teaching into the limelight as universities sought to safeguard student recruitment and league table positions in an envisioned new era of increased market competition. As each institution sought to market itself to potential students with a specific learning and teaching ‘offer’, local subject areas faced increasing demands for quality monitoring as well as a host of initiatives and changes to their existing provision. The acceleration of change brought to the fore structures and dynamics that are usually difficult to detect in the routines of everyday life. This article focuses on one U.K. university and explores how the government for accelerated change aimed to reshape learning and teaching practices in preparation for the new times, but in fact served to undermine the visions that had fuelled this change.
In the U.K., ‘student engagement’, and the related ‘student experience’, are increasingly measured, interpreted and then marketed to students as a basis on which to choose the ‘best’ place for their higher education. This article summarises and reflects on presentations from five panel members at a conference on their experience of university life after that choice had been made. The panel included non-traditional students who embodied some of the characteristics (such as age, social class and ethnicity) that have become performance indicators in relation to widening participation and engagement in higher education. This article captures how students themselves understand a concept that occupies such a prominent, if contested, position in contemporary higher education. This analysis invites one to take a closer look at the identity work necessary for students to thrive (and for some just to survive) at university against a backdrop that tends to homogenise both ‘experience’ and ‘student’.
The social construction of student activists and the limits of student engagement
This article explores the limits of student engagement in higher education in the United Kingdom through the social construction of student activists within media discourses. It scrutinises the impact of dominant neoliberal discourses on the notion of student engagement, constructing certain students as legitimately engaged whilst infantilising and criminalising those who participate in protest. Exploring media coverage of and commentary on students engaged in activism, from the 2010 protests against university fee increases and from more recent activism in 2016, the article draws upon Sara Willful Subjects and Imogen Revolting Subjects to examine critically the ways in which some powerful discourses control and limit which activities, practices and voices can be recognised as legitimate forms of student engagement.