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