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What difference does 'difference' make? A discussion with ethnic minority students about their learning experience in higher education

Shirin Housee

This article explores the everyday experiences of minority ethnic students at a university in the West Midlands. Based on interviews with 23 second-level students taking Sociology modules, it seeks to highlight the key social, personal and pedagogic issues for this group of minority ethnic students and to deepen understandings of cultural identity and exchange on campus. The students' multiple narratives and voices are central to the article, as is the possibility that there are multiple ways of experiencing teaching and learning at a university.

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Introduction

Boone Shear and Susan Brin Hyatt

The aim of this Special Issue of Learning and Teaching: The International Journal of Higher Education in the Social Sciences is to analyse the impacts of neoliberal restructuring on higher education and to explore ways of raising students’ critical awareness of these changes in their own environment. This Special Issue developed out of a symposium that was held at the University of Massachusetts in Spring 2008. Both Susan B. Hyatt and Vincent Lyon-Callo presented earlier drafts of their articles on that occasion, as did Dana-Ain Davis, whose article will appear in a future issue of LATISS. Shear and Zontine were the primary organisers of the symposium, along with other students and faculty at the University of Massachusetts, and in their article, they reflect on the collaborative, yearlong reading group project on neoliberalism from which the symposium emerged. We invited John Clarke to join us in writing for this issue to provide an international perspective on these issues as they are currently playing out in the U.K.

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Reading neoliberalism at the university

Boone W. Shear and Angelina I. Zontine

Ongoing transformations of the university - from changing working conditions to issues of affordability and access, increasing 'accountability' measures and commodification of academic production - are increasingly referred to as university corporatisation and are unfolding within and concomitant to neoliberal globalisation. In this paper we outline some of these processes as they are occurring at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and explore the limitations and possibilities of a critical response mounted by a number of students and faculty in the Department of Anthropology. Drawing on ethnographic data and interviews with group participants, as well as our own experiences with the group, we describe and assess this project as a means to investigate and respond to neoliberal governance. Through this analysis we problematise conventional discourses and imaginings of university corporatisation and neoliberalism and explore the sometimes contradictory subject positions that complicate our efforts to respond critically to university corporatisation.

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So many strategies, so little time ... making universities modern

John Clarke

This article examines the modernisation of universities in the U.K., arguing that heterogeneous policy objectives and strategies have become condensed in the construction of higher education as a governable system and the university as a corporate enterprise. It argues that managerialism has displaced and subordinated professional and administrative logics for the coordination of universities, articulating them into supporting roles. Finally, it examines some of the cultural psychological states associated with the contradictory and uncomfortable assemblage that is the modernized university: identifying fantasy, dissociation and professional melancholia. It concludes with an argument that nostalgia for a lost academic community cannot be a foundation for political challenges to the present model.

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To market, to market to buy a ... middle class life? Insecurity, anxiety, and neoliberal education in Michigan

Vincent Lyon-Callo

Corporatisation of universities and restructurings of K-12 schooling in the United States occurred during a period of broad economic, social and political restructurings, which have transformed the lives of middle-class Americans. Community and individual level investments in education are frequently represented as antidotes to increased insecurities confronting these subjects. This paper draws upon my interactions within both the school system and the university in which I work to explore how such practices continue to make sense to students, parents, and policy makers despite the lack of evidence demonstrating that such strategies overcome declining economic security and to suggest possibilities for alternative practices to produce collective mobilisations against inequality.

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Universities and neoliberal models of urban development: using ethnographic fieldwork to understand the 'Death and Rebirth of North Central Philadelphia'

Susan Brin Hyatt

As a political and economic philosophy, neoliberalism has been used to reshape schools and universities, making them far more responsive to the pressures of the market. The principles associated with neoliberalism have also extended to programmes for urban economic development, particularly with respect to the largescale gentrification of neighbourhoods rendering them amenable to investments aimed at creating spaces attractive to white, middle-and-upper class consumers. In this article, I discuss how universities themselves have come to play a significant role as urban developers and investors, promoting commercial retail development and building upscale housing in neighbourhoods adjacent to their campuses. My entry point into this discussion is through describing an ethnographic methods class I taught in 2003, whereby students carried out collaborative research in the African-American neighbourhood surrounding Temple University's main campus in Philadelphia. As a result of their work, we produced a neighbourhood newspaper that sought to disrupt the commonplace assumptions about 'rescuing' the neighbourhood from what was presented as an inexorable spiral of decline; rather, our work showed that actions taken by the university, itself, had helped to produce the very symptoms of decline that the new development project now purported to remedy.

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Analysing a 'neoliberal moment' in English higher education today

Joyce E. Canaan

English higher education, like other parts of the public sector and higher education in other countries, is currently undergoing considerable change as it is being restructured as if it were a market in which universities, departments and academics compete against one another. This restructuring is producing new processes of subjectivity that discipline those who work and study in higher education institutions. Feminist poststructuralists have suggested that this restructuring is enabled partly through new forms of accountability that seemingly offer the 'carrot' of self-realisation alongside the 'stick' of greater management surveillance of the burgeoning number of tasks that academics, amongst others, must perform. This paper, located in the context of these changes, builds on Judith Butler's insight that processes of subjection to the dominant order through which the self is produced entail both mastery and subjection. That is, submission requires mastery of the underlying assumptions of the dominant order, which concomitantly introduces possibly subversive responses to subjection. This paper explores a 'neoliberal moment' I recently experienced when I had to fill out a form introduced for modules that failed to reach newly introduced marking 'benchmark' criteria. As I suggest, the process of being subjected to the disciplining that this new criterion demanded, brought me the mastery necessary to avoid such disciplining in future. However, individual subversion did not significantly challenge these forms of accountability; only a collective 'scholarship with commitment' could do so.

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Diversity, gender and widening participation in global higher education: a feminist perspective

Miriam David

This article is a critique of the expansion of higher education in global and national contexts. First I provide an analysis of the transformation of higher education as a form of 'academic capitalism' and how second-wave feminist critiques and pedagogies have become incorporated as have women, amongst other social groups, in increasingly diverse forms of post-compulsory education. Yet, the transformations in global higher education have not been in the direction of greater gender or social equity. Second, I provide evidence of the policies and practices of the U.K. government in widening participation to U.K. higher education, drawing on research, commissioned by the U.K. government, and conducted by the Teaching and Learning Research Programme. I provide detailed research evidence, from the seven projects, about the policies, practices and pedagogies within English higher education. I argue that, although neither gender nor social equality has been accomplished, there is evidence of practices that value and respect social diversity and inclusion of women's diverse perspectives and feminist pedagogies.

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For us or against us: coercion and consensus in higher education

Mary Evans

In debates about the admission of state school pupils to Oxbridge various individuals within those institutions have challenged the idea that universities should be vehicles of social change. At the same time, Oxbridge and other universities have accepted the responsibility of 'enabling' entrepreneurship and other market-led initiatives. I want to explore some of the implications of this position in terms of the making of the person in higher education and in particular the ways in which conservative refusals of the recognition of class, gender and race differences reinforce wider structural inequalities.

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Gender and sexuality: the discursive limits of 'equality' in higher education

Liz Morrish and Helen Sauntson

This special issue sets out to investigate a number of areas of concern, regarding gender and sexuality, which are identifiable in the current British higher education environment. We argue that current dominant 'neoliberal' discourses, which emphasise the commodification of higher education in the U.K., function to set limits upon 'equality'. While these discourses often suggest a widening of opportunities within higher education, with an emphasis upon unlimited individual freedom and choice, the lived experience can be rather different for women and sexual minorities. This issue explores the impact such discourses are having upon gender and sexuality identities and practices in the academy.