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Preface Part I: 'We're All Game Changers Now' (redirected from Preface: 'We're All Game Changers Now')

Page history last edited by Gary Hall 7 years, 3 months ago

There are at least two reasons it is important to experiment, critically, with the institution of the university at this particular moment in its history.

First Reason

In a chapter on ‘The Rise of the Global University’ in his 2009 book, Nice Work If You Can Get It, Andrew Ross predicts it is only a matter of time before we see the beginnings of a global university on the ‘model of the global corporation’ such as News Corporation, Time Warner, Coca-cola, Elsevier and Pearson.  He proceeds to present a somewhat gloomy vision of the future for universities if, in their drive to be ever more business-like and profit-orientated, they continue to follow the corporate model:

In this labor-intensive industry (the majority of education costs go to teaching labor), the instructional budget is where an employer will seek to minimize costs first, usually by introducing distance learning or by hiring offshore instructors at large salary discounts. Expatriate employees – assigned to set up an offshore facility, train locals, and provide credibility for the brand – will be a fiscal liability to be offloaded at the first opportunity. If the satellite campus is located in the same industrial park as Fortune 500 firms, then it will almost certainly be invited to produce customized research for these companies, again at discount prices. It will only be a matter of time before an administrator decides that it will be cost-effective to move some domestic research operations to the overseas branch to save money...

As far as the domestic record goes, higher education institutions have followed much the same trail as subcontracting in industry – first, the outsourcing of all non-academic campus personnel, then the casualization of routine instruction, followed by the creation of a permatemps class on short-term contracts, and the preservation of an ever-smaller core of tenure-track full-timers, crucial to the brand prestige of the collegiate name. Downward salary pressure and eroded job security are the inevitable upshot.

(Andrew Ross, ‘The Rise of the Global University’, Nice Work If You Can Get It: Life and Labor In Precarious Times (New York and London: New York University Press, 2009), p.202-203)

As Ross’s account of the US domestic situation suggests, we should take care not to console ourselves too quickly with the thought that such globalised corporate scenarios belong to an as yet still distant future. In fact just one year after the publication of Nice Work If You Can Get It, an article in the US Chronicle of Higher Education detailed how the Director of business law and ethics studies at the University of Housten was outsourcing the grading of undergraduate papers to Virtual-TA, a service of a company called EduMetry Inc. whose employees are mostly in Asia:

The goal of the service is to relieve professors and teaching assistants of a traditional and sometimes tiresome task—and even, the company says, to do it better than TA's [teaching assistants] can. The graders working for EduMetry, based in a Virginia suburb of Washington, are concentrated in India, Singapore, and Malaysia, along with some in the United States and elsewhere. They do their work online and communicate with professors via e-mail... The company argues that professors freed from grading papers can spend more time teaching and doing research.

(Audrey Williams June, ‘Some Papers Are Uploaded to Bangalore to Be Graded’, Chronicle of Higher Education, April 4, 2010)

Even closer to home, the UK's University of Warwick and Australia's Monash University announced in February 2012 that they had formed a partnership aimed at enabling both institutions to compete in the ‘globalised higher education market’. Ed Byrne, Monash's vice-chancellor and former director of private healthcare firm Bupa, was quoted in the Times Higher Education as saying that, thanks to globalisation and technological change, higher education ‘is really going to become a global marketplace’, a process which will ‘alter the traditional university model’ (John Morgan, ‘Warwick and Monash Team up for Global Strategy’, Times Higher Education, February 2, 2012, pp. 6-7). The same article has Byrne echoing an airline analogy used by his Warwick counterpart, Nigel Thrift, to emphasize the potential of such global university partnerships: ‘in the Star Alliance that includes Lufthansa and United Airlines, independent brands had realised that “to cover the globe” they “needed to come together to form a different type of partnership”.’ Hence the reason the ‘two vice-chancellors believe that global “university systems” will be needed to respond to future demands in education and research.’
What, though, if we are unhappy with the way universities today, in their drive to be ever more business-like and profit-orientated, are following closely the corporate model, complete with distance learning, outsourcing, off-shoring, global ‘university systems’ and all, and yet at the same time have no desire to return to the paternalistic and class-bound ideas that previously dominated the university, replete with all the hierarchies and exclusions around differences of class, race, gender, ethnicity and so forth they imply? What, to echo Cardinal Newman’s question from the 19th century by Cardinal Newman, is our idea of the university?

Second Reason

A second, and related reason it is important to experiment with the institution of the university at this particular moment in time concerns the central role it plays in global capitalism’s ‘knowledge economy’. Whereas in the past ‘the factory was a paradigmatic site of struggle between workers and capitalists’, it has been argued that in today’s cognitive capitalism it is the university that is a ‘key space of conflict, where the ownership of knowledge, the reproduction of the labour force, and the creation of social and cultural stratifications are all at stake. This is to say the university is not just another institution subject to sovereign and governmental controls, but a crucial site in which wider social struggles are won and lost’ (Edufactory collective, ‘EduFactory Discussion Prospectus’, Edufactory: Conflicts and Transformation of the University, 2007) - and all the more so post-2008 and the beginning of the so-called ‘global financial crisis’ and age of ‘austerity’. Some have even gone so far as to insist that, if anywhere, political revolt today is most likely to come from the middle-classes, in part due to the increasing cost of the education they need to sustain their social position in society where, according to the UK Office of National Statistics, 40% of the national wealth is owned by just 10% of the population,  and it is predicted the wages for low to middle income families will be the same in 2020 as they were in 2000 (The Resolution Foundation, Gaining From Growth: The Final Report of the Commission on Living Standards, October 31, 2012).  Interestingly, the UK Ministry of Defence was already referring to the role of what it called ‘The Middle Class Proletariat’ as far back as 2007:

The Middle Class Proletariat — The middle classes could become a revolutionary class, taking the role envisaged for the proletariat by Marx. The globalization of labour markets and reducing levels of national welfare provision and employment could reduce peoples’ attachment to particular states. The growing gap between themselves and a small number of highly visible super-rich individuals might fuel disillusion with meritocracy, while the growing urban under-classes are likely to pose an increasing threat to social order and stability, as the burden of acquired debt and the failure of pension provision begins to bite. Faced by these twin challenges, the world’s middle-classes might unite, using access to knowledge, resources and skills to shape transnational processes in their own class interest.

(UK Ministry of Defence report, The DCDC Global Strategic Trends Programme 2007-2036  (Third Edition), March 2007 p.96)

From this perspective, the university today is a key site of political struggle: not just in the UK at Middlesex, Leeds, Sussex, SOAS, Westminster and Goldsmiths, but internationally, with protests having taken place in recent years in California, Germany, Italy, Greece, Puerto Rico, Buenos Aires, Chile and Quebec among many other places. 



This is no doubt one reason why there have been so many experiments with rethinking the university over this period, with the list of such projects including the Occupy University, Worker's Punk University, Free Slow University of Warzaw, and the University for Strategic Optimism, to name but a few.  As Dougald Hine writes:


There’s something important coming together around networked technologies and new sociable collaboration spaces, that’s beginning to feel plausible as an alternative home for the spirit of the university. And it’s happening just as long-term strains within existing institutions, together with the acute effects of economic crisis, are prompting many people to look for such an alternative.
…. If a major disruption of our existing institutional forms is under way, then this is also a good time for a deeper enquiry into the promise at the heart of the university, the social good for which it has provided a home, and the ways in which this is (or isn’t) made available to people through both existing institutions and emerging alternatives.

(Dougald Hine, ‘The University Project: Five Reasons’, Dougald’s Blog, September 24, 2011)


Given our shared interest in the ability of new forms of networked technologies, open access digital publishing, collaborative web tools and sociable spaces to enhance educational activity, the ‘free’, horizontal, self-organised learning communities, or ‘universities’, that emerged in recent years with the student and anti-austerity protests and global Occupy movement have undoubtedly been one of the motivating impulses behind the writing of this book. Despite this, we have taken the decision not to write about these events themselves here. Not because we consider them uninteresting or unimportant with regard to thinking about how we might experiment with the institution of the university. Far from it. It is more that... (To continue reading, click here)


(Forward to Preface Part II

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