Executive Editor: Dr Lesley Gourlay, UCL Institute of Education
Guest Editor: Professor Jacqueline Stevenson, Sheffield Hallam University
Across the globe, contemporary higher education policy discourses are increasingly driven by world league tables, market competition, and the dominance of prestige culture, with notions of ‘excellence’ framing institutional' practices. A major critique emerging across the research literature is that the HE sector worldwide is being profoundly reshaped by neoliberalism, which is driven by economic imperatives to develop ‘global, entrepreneurial, corporate, commercialised universities’ (Morley, 2011, p.224). Whilst this is an increasingly international phenomenon it is, however, being felt particularly sharply in the UK. In November 2015, the UK Government Department for Business and Skills published a Green Paper for consultation entitled ‘Fulfilling our Potential: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice’, igniting controversy about its potential effects on the English higher education sector. The essence of the paper is the proposal to introduce the assessment of teaching at the level of HEIs, via a ‘Teaching Excellence Framework’ which would allow institutions to increase fees, depending on the results of the exercise. This set of initiatives has been accompanied by a rhetoric of ‘placing students at the centre’ of higher education, with an espoused emphasis on student social mobility and ‘choice’.
As such, the paper and its ethos may appear benign, or even progressive, appearing to hold universities to account and defend the interests of students by rewarding a formal demonstration of teaching ‘quality’. However, the content and methodology of the proposals have been roundly critiqued by academic and student groups for underscoring a marketised model of higher education, by further entrenching the highly problematic notion of the student as fee-paying ‘customer’ seeking value for money, engaged in a purely financial transaction with the university for private gain in terms of employability as an economic individual. The degree - and to an extent the graduate – is cast as a pure product, with universities forced to act as competitors fighting for market share. The end result – it is argued – will be accelerated reproduction of social privilege, with ‘elite’ institutions enabled to charge ever-higher fees in a context of prohibitive student debt, restricting opportunities to a privileged minority. The paper has also been criticized for seeking to relax access to the sector by for-profit providers, whilst undermining the independence of higher education quality assurance with a proposed ‘Office for Students’.
Although this is a UK-based initiative, it reflects a broader move in higher education internationally: Neoliberal imperatives have led to the marketisation of higher education across the globe, with league tables, branding, and competition for students framing such moves. As such our focus on excellence, prestige and teaching-performance league tables is of relevance in a range of educational contexts.
This Special Issue invites contributors to explore and offer critical perspectives on this theme, and particularly welcomes papers that critically engage with this issue from a wide range of theoretical perspectives and international contexts. Contributors might consider critical examination of some of these themes:
- The potential ramifications of such policy changes on student social mobility and fair access to higher education.
- Critical perspectives on discourses of ‘excellence’ or associated concepts such as academic prestige, in higher education pedagogic contexts.
- The metrics by which ‘Teaching Excellence’, or associated concepts such as teacher performance more broadly, might be measured and their relationship to teaching and the ‘employability’ agenda.
- How such a move might affect scholarship, disciplinarity and the way that knowledge is conceptualized in higher education and beyond.
- The possible effects on the role of the university in society, either in immediate terms or taking a broader historical perspective.
- How various stakeholders might respond as a sector with critique and alternative future directions.
- The resultant research agendas for higher education scholars.
We would also welcome papers from the perspective of students.
Expressions of interest and extended abstracts to be submitted via email: Friday, 6th May 2016
Successful authors will be invited to submit full papers for peer review, following the journal’s normal procedures: Monday, 30th May 2016
First full article submission deadline: Friday, 28th October 2016
Final article submission deadline for revised/resubmitted articles: Friday, 27th January 2017
Anticipated publication date: Summer 2017
Submission of extended abstracts:
Please send extended abstracts (500 – 1000 words) by email with subject field titled ‘Teaching in Higher Education Special Issue 2017 – Extended Abstract’ by 6 May 2016 to firstname.lastname@example.org.