University audit and the patriarchy strikes back

Written by Heather. Posted in News

Last week Heather from CelebYouth took part in a Roundtable panel, at the University of East London, on the audit processes that are taking over UK universities. There were four speakers two male and two female. Unfortunately the Times Higher Education, in reporting on the event, only mentioned the men. In response, we’re publishing summaries of what Heather and Miriam David had to say about the proposed Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) and the existing Research Excellence Framework (REF).

Miriam David is Professor Emerita of Sociology of Education at the UCL Institute of Education. She argued that the TEF represents part of a much broader dynamic of movement from social democracy to global neoliberalism. She argued that over the last 50 years, the existence of feminist critiques of higher education and the knowledge economy have been seen as empowering for those involved, despite research evidence of continuing patriarchy, sexism and misogyny, and what Miriam called, drawing on US scholarship, a culture of “toxic masculinity”. In statistical terms there are overall more female than male undergraduate students but no attention is paid to this in terms of curricular or extra-curricular issues, including the culture of ‘laddism’ or neo-patriarchy or misogyny. She argued that the TEF extends individualism and the separation of research and teaching. It undermines the kinds of collaborative research which comes out of teaching. Teaching and research have not historically been seen as separate, the shift has been slow and implicit with a deleterious effect on teaching. The TEF proposals also extend growing inequalities between universities in both teaching and research. This is particularly true for “widening participation”. The TEF is reflective of a broader culture committed to patriarchy and “toxic masculinity”, because no attention has been paid to how all of this differently affects men and women. Miriam concluded arguing that we need to find a way to transform Higher Education, and the world, into a more caring culture.
Heather Mendick works as a freelance academic, having previously been employed in Education at Brunel, Goldsmiths, London Metropolitan and Lancaster Universities. She is a founding convenor of the ‘Alternative Academia Network’. Heather based her talk on her own positioning as someone who used to be an employed academic, but who has left academia, or rather, as she corrected herself, has now become a ‘differently-employed’ academic. She suggested that institutionalization is a kind of addiction. She described how, since leaving university employment and becoming freelance, she has become much more involved in politics, indicating a synergy between these two shifts. She argued that institutions, including through metrics and performance measures like the TEF and REF, shape and structure our lives and impact on the individuals within them to the extent that their perceptions of time, shape, space and possibility are entirely altered. Citing Deborah Talbot, she argued that employment at universities resembles a kind of Stockholm syndrome, whereby someone develops empathy with and seeks validation for and through their captor. She ended by saying that we need to think about and act against the ways in which we are captured, trapped and limited by the brutality of universities and other institutions.
Editor John Gill responded: “I wasn’t at the event so I can’t give a personal view on the news judgement Jack made about what to report, but I can say with complete confidence that there is no ‘misogyny’ from any of my reporting team. News judgements will always be that – judgements – and while others may disagree with them, it’s inevitable that we will pick particular lines of argument from a debate to report on, and this often mean that only some of the participants are quoted.”
This summary was written by Rhiannon Firth. Rhiannon is Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Cass School of Education and Communities at the University of East London. Her research focuses on utopian social change and critical pedagogy.

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