Can we think about the student as a public?

Tues 10th December, 4.00-5.30pm, Glamorgan Building, Room 0.85
The event features Carl Cederstrom(Cardiff Business School), Mike Marinetto (Cardiff Business School) and Sam Dallyn (Swansea University).  Here’s what they have to say:
The Humboldtian educational ideal of the modern university based around an intellectual based learning experience cannot be ignored. Indeed, this has been brought into sharp relief by the marketization of higher education in the UK: there is a growing awareness in the university sector, particularly in research-­‐intensive universities, that fee-­‐paying students are entitled to a worthwhile learning experience. This awareness has been further reinforced with the growth of consumer scrutiny in the higher education sector, principally through the introduction of the National Student Survey (hereafter, NSS) in 2005. However, the learning experience of students in modern UK universities remains an area of deep concern for institutions, especially those research-­‐led ‘Russell-­‐League’ universities (see The Russell Group, 2010: 21). The objective of this presentation is to explore whether it is possible to improve the learning experience. The default panacea, of the UK higher education sector, for improving student learning has revolved around a twin strategy: to treat the student body and their educational needs in consumerist terms through an obsession with student feedback scores, and to use managerial-­‐style methods in an attempt to ‘improve’ the metrics of employability.
We, in this presentation, reject these strategies. Rather, we are interested in the idea of ‘student as a public’. The creation of a learning environment depends on connecting with the student body not necessarily as learners or as collaborators in research. Rather it depends upon engaging with the student body as a public. The idea here is partly inspired by Walter Benjamin’s 1930s essay, ‘Author as Producer’. For Benjamin what matters is the democratisation of the relationship between intellectual and public – or breaking down the barriers between the two, as the former reflects upon the concerns of the latter: ‘… the difference between author and public, maintained artificially by the bourgeois press, is beginning to disappear.’ (Benjamin, 1970: 87). But how in our teaching contact with students, might we break down the professional barriers between student and academic in order to treat students less as consumers of academic education and more as an active public? Here, Walter Benjamin offers some useful insights and possible solutions. The key point here is Benjamin’s openness to the intellectual possibilities of popular culture. Our argument in this presentation will draw partly on Benjamin, but also the recent work on critical pedagogy of Henry Giroux, to argue that recasting popular culture critically offers distinct pedagogical outlets and possibilities.

University Strike Day Today

University Strike Action from Around the UK today….

The University in Turmoil: Occupations, Strikes and the Search for More

by Maïa Pal

The tipping point for Britain’s university system could be very near. The list of problems it faces is long: fees, cuts, privatisation, pressure to change curricula to ever-more-narrow ideas of employability. There has been large-scale (mis)management of the student loan budget meaning a hole of £570m, and last week saw the privatisation of the student loan book with £890m of loans sold for £160m. Workloads are increasing, as is casualisation of staff through zero-hour contracts, and there is high disparity in pay between senior and other staff.


Teach-Out Tent at the LSE



Confronting the PVC at Sussex


Student Occupation at the University of Edinburgh




Edinburgh University students in occupation in support of education workers’ strike

Posted on 2 Dec 2013 by 

Over 40 students at the University of Edinburgh are holding a sit-in protest in the office of the University’s Finance Director, demanding the University increase staff pay.

University staff are set to go on strike tomorrow (Tuesday) in a dispute over pay following a 4 year pay freeze, amounting to a 15% pay cut in real terms.

One of the occupiers, Kirsty Haigh, who is also Vice-President of Edinburgh University Students’ Association said “Edinburgh University – and the university sector generally – has plenty of money. We see this every day with millions going on vanity projects and senior managers pay. We are calling on the University to see sense and give staff the pay they deserve.”

“University staff have had a real term pay cut of 15% and this is not acceptable. While the Principal earns £227,000 staff have been forced out on strike to demand the wage they deserve. We demand that the University listens to the trade unions and increases staff pay.”

Last week, the Students’ Association sent a letter to all staff “actively encouraging them to take strike action”. The letter stated that “in the short term this will indeed affect our education, but the long term benefits are significantly vaster. It is critical that students and staff struggle collectively.”

Tomorrow’s strikes follow an earlier day of walk-outs on the 31st of October, which saw the National Union of Students and Students’ Associations across Scotland coming out to show support for their staff, resisting what they said were attempts by management to ‘divide and rule’.

The occupation follows on from similar actions at Birmingham and Sussex Universities protesting the outsourcing of staff and course closures.


The Finance Director’s office is in Charles Stewart House on Chambers Street.

The students are demanding the University:
– Uses its weight and influence to argue for real-terms increases in university staff pay.
– Reduces the pay ratio between the lowest paid and the highest paid staff in the university to 10:1.
– Commits not to sanction participants of the occupation.

Roberto Unger’s Speech at the IPPR, November 2013

Suppose I defend alternatives distant from the present arrangements. You may say, they are interesting but utopian.

Suppose I then propose policies close to what now exist. You are likely to respond, they are feasible but trivial.

In the present climate of thought around the world, almost everything that can be proposed by way of an alternative will appear to be either utopian or trivial. And thus our programmatic thinking is paralysed.

This false dilemma results from a misunderstanding of the nature of programmatic arguments. They are not about blueprints, they are about successions. They are not architecture, they are music.

(See his comments about education starting at about 25:50)

Buzzing with ideas

So, last Wednesday we had installment number one of the new education and utopia group. Chaired (in the loosest possible sense of the word) by Stuart Tannock and introduced most coherently by Esther Muddiman and David Frayne.  It was great to see such a diverse group in the room, and most of the session was spent discussing how things might shape up in future. I for one am really excited to see where this will go!

For those of you who were there from the start, you’ll remember two previous events to which Esther and David referred in their introductions, asking ‘how can we harness the energy of these two events into a more on-going project, moving beyond critique and embracing imagination and new ideas?’ So I thought it might be useful for you to all to know a little more about these two events.

The first one, which Dave mentioned, was envisioned to create a space where utopia might be something that could be discussed with pride, rather than the usual sort of ‘oh I know it’s utopian but….’ sort of manner. We (the organising group) all felt that there were elements of societal organisation which are decidedly dystopian, but equally that there are enclaves in contemporary society where we can escape these elements. With presentations ranging from the visual, rhetorical, auditory and filmic, the day was both entertaining and thought provoking. All of the talks were given by past and present PhD students from various departments.

Here is the information we distributed about the event at the time:


Utopia is back! Join us for an inter-departmental conversation about it.

 Drawing upon ideas and research surrounding architecture, education, ephemeral communities, community gardening projects, anti-ageing science, John Coltrane and much more, the symposium represents an endeavour to reject the practical, the possible and the so-called ‘post-ideological’ necessities of realpolitik and instead confront and problematise current theoretico-political doxa in order to pose the question, ‘is there is any escape from the market that we enjoy and suffer today?’

This symposium thus ultimately seeks to conceptualise whether there are, in fact, any lines of flight from, and alternative political imaginaries to, what is belatedly being recognised as the monomaniacal, and wholly unsustainable, modern paradigm of unlimited economic growth, which keeps us imprisoned in the atemporal kingdom of the instantaneous? As long as there is no such utopian project, there will only be one answer: profit will tell us what to do…

Join us in the morning for the symposium, where both contributors and attendees are invited to creatively explore, discuss and debate many different strands of utopian thought alongside the question in hand’.

The second event was organised along more traditional pedagogical lines; complete with a significant budget and well-established academics. The day sought to address the following questions, and invited discussion on the role of the university and its responsibility to the public.

‘What is the current state of the university? Has it been reduced to a bureaucratic machine that has killed thinking? Or is it a place where true intellectual engagement still exists?’


This event left me buzzing with ideas and concerns which I have been as yet unable to properly think through, yet alone identify solutions! Am I part of a system which perpetuates rather than addressing inequalities in society? What are we for, and how can we (un-established academic hopefuls) simultaneously tick the boxes for potential academic employers without engaging in the elitist and profit-driven publishing giants? Does it even matter? Would wider readership entailed through non-subscription based journals make academic research any more widely read?  I seem to have lost the pages I wrote on this at the time, but maybe I’ll put up a rantier blog on this in future, for now though it’s back to the PhD!

Head in the clouds, feet on the ground…

A huge thank you to everyone who came to our first meeting tonight – it was brilliant meeting you all and hearing about all of the interesting things already underfoot. I’m really excited about where this might go and how we can get there…

We will get something more substantial together over the next few days, but in the mean time I really like this article – Ron Barnett talking about ‘feasible utopias’ – which I think might be a useful navigational tool for future discussion/action.

What do you think?

The starting point for all resistance is education…

This edited collection by Mark Cote, Richard Day and Greig de Peuter may be of interest:

The book is called Utopian Pedagogy: Radical Experiments Against Neoliberal Globalisation.  These are big words for big ideas.  The authors rail against the inertia of conventional educational institutions, elaborating some of the alternative possibilites that are available to us in the present.  In particular, the book critiques the established ‘division of labour’ between intellectuals, as the observers and theorists of social change, and political actors, who struggle for change on the ground.  As well as being a theoretical project, the book also thus represents a call to arms.

Here is an extract from a review by theoblogger:

This is a demanding collection. Demanding not merely because it presents the reader with challenging concepts, but demanding also for any reader who has a university education because it forces the graduate to ask: what kind of knowledge have I acquired from all my learning? Does it serve merely to socialize me?

Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Russell Brand taking on Jeremy Paxman and talking revolution

This interview was shared, satirized and critiqued widely…has it succeeded in sparking fresh debate about inequalities and social justice? How can we relate it to ideas about education and social progress?

Here is Brand’s New Statesman article:

And here are a couple of critiques: