Rethinking Higher Education: Challenging the Values of Market and Performance Criteria

28 June 2019
NCVO, Society Building, 8 All Saints Street, London N1 9RL

The purpose, function and value of higher education (in the UK and elsewhere) is under intense and public scrutiny. Within the UK concerns circle around whether:

  • Politicians and policy makers have become too focused on instrumentally evaluating HE and those working within it through the introduction of consumerist metrics such as the NSS, REF and TEF, while critiquing so called ‘mickey mouse’ degrees and what is presented as the loss of ‘free speech’.
  • University leadership is focused on succeeding within these imposed performance management and metrics, and seeking global expansion, greater links with business, and prioritising employability agendas.
  • Equality and diversity issues are addressed via strategies such as Athena SWAN, but questions are being asked about whether they address a full range of inequalities, minimise the issues and cover over more fundamental structural issues in the sector.
  • As a result university staff are over worked and stressed, struggling to maintain collegiate cultures and a sustainable work-life balance, academic freedom and agency and the integrity of their teaching and research practice.
  • While its students are too burdened by debt and pressure - something that disproportionately affects students from ‘non-traditional’ historically excluded social groups and in post-92 universities - and increasingly encouraged to see their education within consumerist and instrumental logics.

Higher education is not a singular mode of institution and its staff and students not a singular group. People’s experiences of the pressures and trends in higher education will vary greatly depending on the stage of their career/studies; the sector of higher education they are based in and their social background, and their relationship to wider socio-economic and political structures of power.

This free workshop aims to contribute to the critical perspectives emerging from the different contexts of higher education to consider how things look across HE, how they might be challenged, as well as the responses needed. We will draw from our critical social science skills to make the case for rethinking higher education as a social good.  In doing so it is important that a prominent voice is given to those at the sharp end of some of these developments, both in terms of understanding their experiences and also ensuring they are central in resistant practices that can help re-shape alternatives for the future.

Workshop Schedule and Format




Introductions (Context Setting) and Housekeeping


Roundtable 1: Who/What is Higher Education Currently Not Working For?
Gargi Bhattacharyya, Alison Wilde, Jessica Gagnon


Group Discussion




Roundtable 2: How Do We Change Things and What is the Role of Sociology in That Process?
Res Sisters (Nicola Ingram and Tori Cann), Aura Lounasmaa


Tea and Coffee


Group Discussion


Feedback from Group Discussion