Do we need an Alternative Education Strategy?

Below is the text of my own submission to the University of Exeter’s ongoing Education Strategy Review. As you will see I am quite critical of both the format of the Review and the context in which it is conducted. In the age of neo-liberalism and climate change it is my belief that the role of the university as a space of critique and the public use of reason must again be fought for by teacher-academics and students alike. I encourage comment and discussion here, and for colleagues and students to contribute their own thoughts to the Review here.



An Alternative Education Strategy for the University of Exeter

Submission to the Exeter Education Strategy Review 2013-19

1. The present format, structure and objectives of the Education Strategy Review, with its pre-defined thematic problematic, is designed to prevent the emergence of really authentic questions regarding the fate of education in the neo-liberal university. It should be opened up to a properly critical discussion of why we teach, and why we learn. That is, to the question of what, if anything, is (still) possible within university?

2. The authentic question for teacher-academics today, the moment of the triumph of the neo-liberal projects of privatization and marketization of education, is: “What is the idea of the university now?”. It is no longer clear that this ‘idea’ is invested in particular bricks and mortar, a place called the ‘university’, which reproduces itself on the basis of the extraction of a rent from the future, taken from debt-bonded students. The university is in permanent crisis. The emergence of the knowledge commons, of open access publication and knowledge production questions its very future viability. This is the proper context for a review of education.

3. The dominant discourse, which represents education at the University of Exeter as an ‘experience’, also limits a priori the manner in which we articulate our pedagogy. Learning is not, and never can be, a process of the production of abstract equivalence. There is no ‘experience’ of education, only the multitude of transformational encounters with ideas. The commodification of experience is, by definition, ‘anti-learning’.

4. The attempt to solidify themes for an Education Strategy around common ‘characteristics’, ‘attributes’ and ‘values’ is an attempt to solidify particular ideological categories as expressive of learning, which are in actuality antagonistic to it. They are an attempt to close down the multitude of possible meanings of learning and the pursuit of knowledge.

5. Where made concrete, i.e. in the document Towards a New Education Strategy these themes are little better than empty signifiers ready to be filled with almost any ideological content. What, for example, is the merit in being a ‘game changer’? Which game is to be changed? Is ‘excellence’ a value in any meaningful sense? Excellence at, or for, what? The absence of a referent for such concepts is the very essence of ideology, and their non-contextual use the very antithesis of critical knowledge.

6. Measurement is not learning. Learning abolishes measurement.

7. We need to move beyond the tired binary of ‘education’ versus ‘research’. In the digital age these boundaries are blurring. We should promote this process. A future education strategy should promote the idea of Student as Producer. It is time to negate a model of learning as a commodity purchased from a factory, what Professor Neary calls the model of the Student as Consumer. Today it is again necessary to rebuild from scratch the idea of the production of knowledge for the common good, and of the student as an agent in producing that knowledge.

8. In an age of social and environmental crisis, the classroom must become a site for the production of real knowledge. That is knowledge that is not just of, but for; knowledge that is disseminated and activated in public for the common good.

9. Against the privileging of individual research in the production of commodity forms of research for the satisfaction of abstract metrics, we as teacher-academics-students should take back the time of pleasure that can be experienced in teaching both in and far beyond the classroom. We must take back our own subjective agency and the creative joy time of our teaching-lives, that is of kairological time, against our submission to metric, chronological, time of the university-machine. We must create a counter-space in which it will be possible to devise our own educational strategy.

Dr Timothy Cooper

One thought on “Do we need an Alternative Education Strategy?

  1. andrea

    These few lines are my comments on your education proposal. The first half aims to emphasise the research for the common good and its value (not in an epistemological way though), in opposition to the current profit-value education system. It then traces, partially speculatively, the consequences of this shift in values. The second part is a critique for the absence of analysis of existing obstacles, such as the administrative structure. In this sense, it is a pragmatic critique that proposes some, and demands for more, practical suggestions.

    The classroom should be the place for the production of original knowledge for the common good, rather than being the mere place of re-production of knowledge of the capitalist ideology. But, what is the common good? How can it be defined? The research for definitions of the common good would be the very first task of the new education system. Only from there, could the production of knowledge for the common good start. In that, the historian and humanities disciplines would play a fundamental role in asking and answering questions on the common good, due to their trained critical method of enquiry.

    The shift from a profit-value education system to a system that aims to produce knowledge for the common good would mean deep changes in all the departments. Humanities departments would be given recognition as scouts for the research of the common good and therefore, the production of new knowledge. On the contrary, the shift of values would end those subjects, such as marketing, whose aim is the re-production of the capitalist ideology. This shift would also free all those subjects that are now working under the ruling word of profit-production unfortunately the case of many sciences toady.

    The paper is an inspiring critique on the current capitalist education system. As much inspiring as the paper is, it remains, nevertheless, a critique with little or no chance of actual consequence. What this paper does not account for is the analysis of present material conditions. And this is a major absence. Depicting potential scenarios without organising the bridge to get there is a mere idealistic construction that brings no change. These changes need to be brought about by thinking in a practical way, dictated by the conditions one lives in.

    In the university case, there is an administrative system- a power system- that stands solidly between any possible change and us. If we are to bring any change to this system, we need to take account of it and organise ourselves to oppose it. What is your action plan to change this system? The so called counter-spaces, for example, are a good starting point but need not be seen as simple abstractions of the mind. They must be translated into physical areas, like classrooms, where students and academics alike unite and think of new changes. The university offers us a lot of potential spaces: classrooms, labs, cafeterias, halls, gardens, etc. We need to search, find and use those counter-spaces to organise ourselves until we are strong enough to actually oppose the system. Only then, we will be able to dictate our conditions and fulfil our dreams of knowledge for the common good.

    An example of counter-spaces would be meetings between students, academics and people from outside the university, such as locals or guest speakers. These meetings would reinforce the relationship between the “insiders” of the university and the society itself, breaking down existing divisions. It would also represent a way to create alternative knowledge for the common good, outside the university and free from its constraints. Other examples would be online forums that transcend the limits of one university and can link together groups that are far away.

    In conclusion, students and academics alike should research for, and focus on, the meaning of common good. The shift from profit-value to common good in the education system would determine changes in all the faculties in a pragmatic way. If we are to attain any result however, practical thinking and organisation will be necessary.

Leave a Reply