Archive for the 'Education' Category

Book Review: The Soul of a University

The soul of a university FC

The Soul of a University by Chris Brink

The Soul of a University by Chris Brink, reviewed by Professor Mark Shucksmith OBE, Newcastle University

What is the soul of a university? What has been universities’ enduring value through the centuries and what should be their purpose today? Chris Brink’s new book “The Soul of a University. Why excellence is not enough,” is highly topical as debates continue about who should pay for higher education – students who benefit individually, or societies which benefit collectively. The worry that universities’ public value has been written out of English policy by recent legislation has prompted the establishment of an independent Civic University Commission, chaired by Lord Kerslake.

Chris Brink was, until recently, Vice-Chancellor of Newcastle University, where he pioneered a vision of a world-class civic university, based on twin principles of excellence and purpose, arguing that a ‘good university’ must be good as in virtuous as well as being good as in excellent. His challenge (from Boethius of Dacia c.1270) is “to know the true, to do the good, and to delight in both.”

“…an inspirational tour de force which puts Chris’ model of the civic university into its historical, philosophical and political context”

The book is an inspirational tour de force which puts Chris’ model of the civic university into its historical, philosophical and political context, adding depth and force, while revealing him to be quite the renaissance man. After being taken through Plato, Aristotle, G.H.Hardy, Alan Turing, Raphael, Michael Young, Kate Fox, and many many more, I was delighted when the search for quality led ultimately to one of my favourite books of the 1970s – Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – and Arête. This leads to a powerful and sustained argument against linearism: “a lazy preference for the apparent certainty of one dimension rather than the multidimensional complexities of the truth,” and this linearism is epitomised by university rankings.

Indeed the main target of the book is our infatuation with rankings, which are viewed as a perfect manifestation of the post-truth society. “Rankings work well for people who prefer certainty to truth: they should not work well for academics.” Despite this, “universities reacted to rankings like a baby given a rattle. They waved them around and made a noise.” This infatuation, he argues, has led universities to cede academic freedom and institutional autonomy, under pressure to revert to a conformist ‘standard model’ of a university aloof from society and turned in on itself, even if they wished to tread a different path. “Universities have simply given away the power to determine their own destiny. Ironically we have given it away, not to government…, nor to big business…, but to nothing more substantial than a one-size-fits-all caricature of what universities are supposed to be like. The greatest danger of loss of institutional autonomy now comes, not from the state, not from big business, not from globalisation, but from our own vanity.”

The book takes aim at several other targets, including meritocracy and ‘the English habit’ of turning difference into hierarchy, but perhaps most telling for those who work in universities is his insight into REF, TEF and other manifestations of the audit culture which not only create work but also destroy trust and collegiality. “The pursuit of good intentions often seems to lead to a regime of regulation, monitoring and compliance… and we all go and sit on committees for no better reason than to keep a watchful eye on our colleagues.”

“…universities are in danger of losing their way, and society is in danger of losing something precious.”

As is evident from these extracts, the book is beautifully written, full of humour, insight and memorable turns of phrase. But its message is powerful and angry – universities are in danger of losing their way, and society is in danger of losing something precious. As Chris Brink says, it is up to us to demonstrate that the world can still benefit from wandering scholars.

The soul of a university FCThe soul of a university by Chris Brink is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for £11.99.

Find out more about impact, influence and engagement at Policy Press here.

Policy Press newsletter subscribers receive a 35% discount – sign up here.

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Bristol University Press and Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

The soul of a university: prologue

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Chris Brink

by Chris Brink

The soul of a university: Why excellence is not enough is out now from Bristol University Press

“Aristotle characterised the soul as ‘the essential what-ness’ of a living body. On this definition, and if we accept the university as a living body, the question of the soul of the university is a question about its essence.

Universities are among the most durable institutions society ever invented. You can trace the idea of a university back to Greek philosophers, or Chinese sages, or Islamic madrassas. Even just its European manifestation goes back almost a thousand years. Somehow, despite their wide variety, there is something recognisable about a university. We feel that if a time machine dropped us into a university of say 500 years ago, we would recognise it, and not feel out of place there. Likewise, we hope that if the time machine brought us forward in time to the year 2500, we would still find universities recognisable, and flourishing.

Such durability must be a consequence of the unchanging essence, the soul, of a university. And while we might dispute details and offer different formulations, there can be little doubt that the essence of a university has to do with the exercise of reason. Reason exercised, in particular, in the pursuit of knowledge and the search for truth. When we engage in learning and scholarship we do so in a certain way, and we try to inculcate that way in our students. We follow the way of rationality. This is not to say that universities do not adapt. They do. They may be maddeningly slow, and they may wander off into detours and dead ends, but they are not ignorant of what happens in society, because professors are people, and students even more so. So when we say there is something unchanging about the university – that there is an identifiable essence that characterises it – this is not an indictment of resistance to change. It is an affirmation of enduring value.

“The very essence of a university, it seems, is under threat.”

Having said that, it must be recognised that at present universities are confronted with a societal change so fundamental it is hard to know how it will turn out. The very essence of a university, it seems, is under threat. Throughout the history of universities, the exercise of reason, the pursuit of knowledge and the search for truth have enjoyed the respect and support of society. But no longer. Or at least no longer to the extent to which universities have always taken such respect for granted. It is hard to think of any earlier time when the very concept of truth itself has been undermined and constrained as at present.

Towards the end of 2016, the Oxford English Dictionary selected ‘post-truth’ as its word of the year. In a post-truth world, appearance matters more than reality, and what people can be led to believe takes precedence above what they ought to know.

With hindsight we can see the signs. In the penultimate chapter of his 1997 book Truth: A History and a Guide for the Perplexed, the historian Felipe Fernández-Armesto traces what he calls ‘the death of conviction’, and the role of intellectuals in its demise. Deconstruction, postmodernism, relativism: the intellectual whiteanting of truth is well documented. Since the millennium, the decline of truth has accelerated. Iraq was invaded on the grounds of weapons of mass destruction, which were not found. The financial crisis of 2007–8 destroyed trust in the probity of banks and the veracity of governments. The widening inequality gap led to the rage of the Occupy movement. And, increasingly, a disenchanted electorate refused to vote as they were supposed to, turning to unexpected charismatics stronger on promise than on experience.

In the UK, the leader of a political party signed a pledge, on camera, against any increase in student fees, and then, as part of a coalition government, voted to triple them. Another party elected as leader a man with no clear expertise but a messianic message, and although 80% of his parliamentary colleagues initially declared that they had no confidence in him, the electorate gave him an extra 30 seats in parliament. A former secretary of state for education declared that the people have had enough of experts. A new prime minister called a general election in the confident expectation of significantly increasing the government’s majority, and lost it. The United States of America elected as president a billionaire with no experience whatsoever of government, but an instinctive mastery of social media and an oceanic reservoir of self-belief as an exponent of the art of the deal. France swept aside both the established left and the established right, and elected a president who had never fought an election, and a party which had not existed a year before.

At the same time, we see a new isolationism taking shape. Three decades after the wall came down in Berlin, new walls, physical or metaphysical, are being constructed. Scotland threatens to leave the United Kingdom, Catalonia may leave Spain, and England voted to leave the European Union. A post-referendum secretary of state re-affirmed the government’s intention of bringing immigration into the UK down from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands, starting with a clampdown on international students. A prime minister declared that ‘If you see yourself as a citizen of the world you are a citizen of nowhere. You do not understand the concept of citizenship.’

Both the post-truth and isolationist developments are contrary to the idea of a university. Universities are where experts come from. The search for truth is what makes an expert. Truth knows no boundaries and no national identity. Universities, for hundreds of years, have welcomed anybody, regardless of national or cultural identity, who has the ability to contribute to, or the potential to benefit from, an environment concerned with  knowledge and understanding. That is why universities have always been international entities, ever since medieval wandering scholars commuted between Bologna and Paris and Oxford. The post-truth conception of the world undermines the idea of a university, and the new isolationism constrains it.

It may be argued that the current developments are just a new manifestation of the old tension between logic and rhetoric. But that would be to flatter the post-truth Twitterati. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle were all fairly scathing about the sophists, but they took rhetoric seriously, and no sophist would have openly flouted logic, though they were adept at twisting it. It used to be the case that public figures who contradicted themselves were held up to ridicule. Reductio ad absurdum has long been a powerful weapon for destroying the credibility of an opponent. But no longer. The Trumpeters have discovered that contradicting yourself is a way of validating any opinion. In the post-truth world of social media you can always refer back to the currently convenient half of your previous contradiction, and trust to the short attention span of your audience to forget the other half.

Any thought of a response must begin with an admission. As academics, we have been complacent in watching the new posttruth spirit develop, complicit in facilitating it, and compliant in accommodating its consequences. Which is odd. How can we say that we strive for knowledge when we disdain truth?

There are two key questions we should always ask about our academic work. The first is: what are we good at? The second is: what are we good for? The first question is about excellence: who is expert at what? The second question is about purpose: how do we respond to the needs and demands of society? Both questions are important and legitimate. We have been complicit in a relentless focus on the first question, and complacent in the face of a growing revolt about our lack of focus on the second.

“The UK and US like to boast about the world-class excellence of their top academics, counting their Nobel prizes like their Olympic gold medals.”

Inequality is about the distance between the haves and the have-nots. In the UK and the US the economic distance between the top and the bottom is greater now than it has ever been. This is worth taking note of, because there is a strong argument that social ills proliferate in direct correlation with economic inequality. The greater the distance between the rich and the poor, the more social problems the state will face. The same, I hold, is true for educational inequality. The UK and US like to boast about the world-class excellence of their top academics, counting their Nobel prizes like their Olympic gold medals. At the same time, just as the rich are stratospherically above the poor, and the super-athletes are on another plane than the obese masses, the star academics float above an underclass of barely literate and largely innumerate people who, we now know, are very angry. They have been fed a sugary diet of appearances rather than a healthy dose of truth, to the extent that they cannot recognise the difference any more. They do not understand the experts, nor do they interact with them. Whatever lingering vestiges of respect there might have been for clever people has been eroded by a lack of evidence that their work benefits everybody. There has not been a clear educational trickledown effect, just as there has not been an economic trickle-down effect. The knowledge gap, like the wealth gap, has become too large to endure.

The central thesis of this book is that universities should pay attention to the question of what they are good for with the same rigour and determination as they pursue the question of what they are good at. This is not entirely a new idea. I quote a somewhat obscure medieval scholar called Boethius of Dacia as saying that the supreme good open to man is to know the true and pursue the good – and to take delight in both. You can read his own words on this topic in the Epilogue, and you can trace his idea back to Aristotle.

We have not been paying sufficient attention to parity between the two guiding questions about the true and the good. We have self-indulgently been focusing on the former. Some have done so by undermining the very idea of truth. Among the remainder, who have no problem with truth, there is a school of thought that the search for truth is an end in itself – that advancing the frontiers of knowledge will suffice as a response to the question about societal benefit. We may call this the ‘invisible hand’ argument: that knowledge will always, in the fullness of time, through the workings of an invisible hand, bring benefit to society. Many of us accept this maxim as true, but some of us feel that it cannot be the whole truth. The pursuit of knowledge for its own sake is necessary, but not sufficient, for addressing the needs and demands of civil society. Its benefits are unpredictable in nature and slow in coming.

In global society space has shrunk and time has accelerated to the extent that responsiveness to the challenges facing us cannot wait for the workings of the invisible hand in the knowledge economy. Universities need to engage with the challenges faced by civil society, global and local. We should do so with a proper understanding of when the pursuit of knowledge should be challenge-led rather than curiosity-driven, and how these two methodologies differ from and interact with each other. The societal benefit of having experts should be made manifest. We have not been clear about the feedback loop between excellence and relevance.

In expounding my thesis, I have found it necessary to introduce some new ideas and debunk some common assumptions. ‘Applied research’, for example, is almost exactly what I am not talking about when I speak of ‘challenge-led research’. Applied research is a solution looking for a problem, challenge-led research is the opposite. I also have severe concerns about the fashionable idea of ‘merit’, and the accompanying socio-political construct of a meritocracy. A meritocracy, I argue, is much the same as an aristocracy, except that those at the top have higher self-esteem. Third, I am somewhat impatient with bogus quantification, and the deferential respect commonly paid to any conclusion arising from the application of a formula. We are prone to confusing accuracy of calculation with legitimacy of conclusion. This tendency is well illustrated by the current craze for university rankings. It takes only a little scrutiny to realise that these rankings are normative at least as much as they are substantive. They create a reality more than reflect a reality. Any competent arithmetician could easily find a perfectly plausible formula and a decent data set that will deliver pretty much any ranking you want.

“Rankings are a perfect manifestation of the post-truth society. “

Rankings are a perfect manifestation of the post-truth society. They give the appearance of certainty and avoid the complexities of truth. In response to a question about quality they offer a single number, which is your university’s position on their ranking. And they get away with it, on the apparently unimpeachable grounds that the result was obtained by a mathematical calculation.

Behind almost any discussion about universities is the question of quality. What makes a ‘good university’? This question, which occupies not only academics but millions of parents and prospective students, is of course only a proxy for a more fundamental question: what do we mean by ‘good’? Following Boethius of Dacia, I hold that ‘good’ has at least two dimensions: good as in excellent, and good as in virtuous. On the latter, less explored axis, quality is inseparable from equality. Likewise, equality is inseparable from diversity, which leads me to conclude that quality needs diversity.

I have now said what my book is for. If you ask, on the other hand, what my book is against, it is the poverty of linearism. ‘Linear’ just means ‘as if on a straight line’, which is how ordinary numbers are arranged. A straight line is the simplest representation of one-dimensionality. When we assign everything a number we have enforced a situation where, of any two things, one of them has a higher number than the other, and so is presumed to be better. Linearism, then, is a lazy preference for the apparent certainty of one dimension rather than the multidimensional complexities of truth. A ranking, of universities or anything else, is a numbered list, which is a one-dimensional representation of whatever reality we started with. The problem is not that it is done, but that it is so easily and uncritically accepted as a true representation of reality, rather than a preferential ordering. I can easily rank apples above oranges; that will tell you something about my preferences but nothing about fruit.

The antidote to one-dimensionality is more dimensions. I advocate an academic landscape, the two axes of which are excellence and purpose. The excellence axis is our response to the question of what we are good at; the axis of societal purpose is our response to the question of what we are good for. As in any landscape, the two axes are conveniently thought of as being orthogonal: at right angles to each other. Such a conceptualisation is half metaphorical and half practical. Metaphorically, I argue, we should envisage the good as orthogonal to the true. In practical terms, what this means is that challenge-led research cuts across disciplinary research (for which we use words like ‘cross-disciplinary’), and the idea of knowledge in service of society cuts across the idea of knowledge for its own sake.

One advantage of the landscape metaphor is that we are not trapped by another common assumption, which is that academic debate presents itself as a series of binary oppositions. It is not the case that we are talking of excellence versus purpose; the good versus the true. Instead, we can talk of excellence and purpose, knowing the true and pursuing the good. We can delight in both, because each can reinforce the other.

On the metaphor of an academic landscape each university could determine for itself its desired coordinates. What subjects do you wish to be good at? And what contribution do you wish to make to the challenges facing civil society? Given your circumstances, location, history, opportunities and responsibilities, where would you like to be located on the axis of excellence, and where on the axis of societal relevance? And how do these two ambitions interact, and mutually reinforce each other?

In the same way as we all strive to be a ‘world-class’ university on the axis of excellence, we can all strive to be a ‘civic’ university on the axis of societal purpose. ‘Civic’ is nicely ambiguous: it can refer to your interaction with your city or region, but it can also refer to your responsibility to civil society – local, national or global. Just as a world-class university knows what it is good at, and has the evidence to back it up, a civic university is one that knows what it is good for, and has the evidence to back it up.

“Locating ourselves on an academic landscape means we can compete when competition will suffice and collaborate where joint action is necessary.”

For better or for worse, the good-at axis has developed as a competitive one – a fact the rankers have clearly perceived and ruthlessly exploited. The good-for axis, however, is intrinsically a collaborative one. Tackling climate change, or clean energy, or antimicrobial resistance, or obesity, or inequality, or extremism, or any other grand challenge facing global society, is unlikely to be the work of some lone genius. It will be the work of committed teams with various forms of expertise, interacting on different fronts. Locating ourselves on an academic landscape means we can compete when competition will suffice and collaborate where joint action is necessary.

And so, in summary, this book is one of advocacy. It is a set of academic considerations regarding the soul of a university. In a post-truth society we need to keep up the search for truth and understanding, but we need to do so with a better understanding of why we are doing it, and a clear commitment that academic excellence must respond to the challenges facing civil society. In an increasingly fractured world, we need to combat isolationism with the simple truth that your problem will no longer stop at my border, nor mine at yours. It is up to us to demonstrate that the world can still benefit from wandering scholars.

 

The soul of a university FCThe soul of a university by Chris Brink is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for £11.99.

Find out more about impact, influence and engagement at Policy Press here.

Policy Press newsletter subscribers receive a 35% discount – sign up here.

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Bristol University Press and Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

The role of co-production in research and practice

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Aksel Ersoy

Aksel Ersoy, editor of The impact of co-production, discusses the debate around the ways public engagement can go beyond a simple consultation and how it can be ‘relevant’ in the academia.

“This topic is particularly essential for those who seek economic justification for universities’ actions and research agenda as opposed to academics working especially in the Arts and Humanities divisions.

As a response to this challenge, the mechanisms for measuring and embedding ‘community-oriented impact’ have begun to take hold through the Research Excellence Framework (REF) and bodies designed to support universities in their public engagement strategies such as the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE), The Wellcome Trust, Catalyst Public Engagement Beacons, and embedded university public engagement departments in the UK. New funding streams have opened-up like the Research Council UK (RCUK) Connected Communities programme, designed to promote collaborative endeavours and co-production between academics, artists, public service providers and a range of community groups.

“It not only encourages participants to engage with politics indirectly, but also puts human empathy, spirit and value back into research”

One of the main reasons why we are witnessing new forms of understanding and acting that are being invented within the UK is related to the ambiguous nature of the impact agenda and how it makes academics to act in more prescribed ways. While performance indicators are highly problematic in the context of uncertainties and public cuts, there is a general consensus amongst practitioners and academics that we should pay more attention to governance practices that are engaged in reformulating power structures.

Within this framework, co-production remains as an experiment for communities, universities as well as public authorities as it provides inclusive and practical guidance by facilitating learning. The term is now being cast as a new methodology in which communities can be engaged in policy development, delivery and research. It not only encourages participants to engage with politics indirectly, but also puts human empathy, spirit and value back into research. However, the question of who is advocating this is still a question mark. Commercial consultants, professional associations, client groups, chief executives, think tanks are all a part of this process.

More importantly, the concept is very essential as it can contribute to the creation of alternative urban visions which would stimulate longer term transformations while contributing to sustainable urban development. Although universities are one part of these discussions, their role is getting more prominent as they can be seen as a bridge between citizens, public institutions and community organisations.

The Bristol Method, which came out of the European Green Capital Partnership Award in 2015, is an excellent example for this kind of setting. The Bristol Green Capital Partnership module that has been established as a result of the Award is seen as a vehicle that would lead to drive change towards becoming a more sustainable city over the next decades.

“Discussions on coproduction reveal that we still have not reached a consensus on the difference between coproduction of research and coproduction of public services.”

The coproduction discourse has replaced long tradition of partnership and contractualism, and it is interested in exploring how new arrangements can be established in new ways in new times. Individuals and groups have turned to co-production owing to the fact that it is presented as offering an efficient solution to a range of political tensions associated within the complex social, political and economic orders of advanced liberal societies and it is functioning as a particular form of regulation. Moreover there is a need to move towards exploring more democratic involvement which not only generate change in policy processes but also empower community-oriented practices.

Discussions on coproduction reveal that we still have not reached a consensus on the difference between coproduction of research and coproduction of public services. In fact, there is a constant iteration between these two different but connected arenas. While coproduction of services remains as the successor of the long tradition of partnership and contractualism, and it has been used to explore how public services are delivered in new ways in new times, coproduction of research raises concerns about inclusion and uses different ways with which to leverage experiences of people or institutions in diverse constituencies. It raises the question of how we do what we do. It offers an opportunity to explore process-oriented research without pre-supposing the outcomes of those engagements. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to think that there is no difference of substance amongst the groups or networks of people who are studying coproduction of research.

Coproduction brings in hard questions that we need to be grappling with in terms of us shifting our thinking. It’s a transformation of experience into policy or a transformation of research into action and change. However, instead of intellectualising the concept, it should be celebrated without asking how change happens. This would stop academics finding community organisations to identify what to work on in response to a funding opportunity and encourage engagement and collaboration as a core part of knowledge practices at universities. Otherwise, there might be a danger of doing it wrong.”

The impact of co-production [FC].jpg

The impact of co-production edited by Aksel Ersoy is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for £21.59.

Find out more about impact, influence and engagement at Policy Press here.

Policy Press newsletter subscribers receive a 35% discount – sign up here.

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Why the UCU strikes are bound to be insufficient to ensure equality

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Jan Deckers, Newcastle University

Jan Deckers, contributor to Justice and fairness in the city, talks about the UCU strikes, currently underway.

“Members of UCU, the University and College Union are on strike over a proposed change in the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), or pension scheme. The crux of this proposal is a transition from a Defined Benefit to a Defined Contribution scheme, where it will be much less clear what benefits employees will receive when they retire. Whilst employers would reduce their contributions from 18% of salary before tax to just 12%, employees would shoulder greater individual risk due to individual (rather than collective) portfolios being gambled on the stock market.

We are all in this together, right? The fight over pensions essentially pits the hierarchies of higher education institutions against those who are lower on the echelons of power, as the executive heads of UK universities and colleges make up Universities UK, a charity that, amongst other things, negotiates pensions with USS. Whilst not all vice-chancellors and principals are united in the push for changes in said pension scheme, the rift suggests a worrying trend as salaries of senior academics have increasingly been criticised as unfair.

In my work I consider how salaries ought to be allocated within large organisations, and I have provided my own organisation, Newcastle University, as an example. I argue that decisions about what people’s salaries, and therefore also their work pensions (or deferred payments), ought to be are best made by starting from an egalitarian baseline. Any changes from this baseline must be justified by reference to a number of criteria. These include: controllable effort; duties in relation to unpaid work; health care needs; morally significant debts; and historic unfairness.

Let us take each of these factors in turn. It is important to start from an egalitarian baseline where every employee is paid the same amount for each hour worked as, in the absence of countervailing evidence, treating people equally demands that we assume that they work equally hard. In practice, however, people’s commitments vary, which is where controllable effort comes in. Whilst it may be unfair to discriminate against those who may be naturally or culturally predisposed to be less committed, it seems fair to reward those who voluntarily work harder. A pat on the back in the form of a bonus payment can incentivise hard workers to keep up the good work or to work even harder.

Where governments fail, employers should also compensate for employees’ varying duties in relation to morally important unpaid work, for example for the many hours of care work that is predominantly carried out by women. Their health care needs are as important as everyone else’s. This is why employers must more generally vary payments so that those with complex or expensive health care needs that are insufficiently addressed by governments and insurance schemes can afford the health care that they deserve. Payments must also consider morally significant debts, for example, those that some employees may have accumulated to qualify for their jobs. Finally, payments must also take into account historic unfairness. Yes, some who have been overpaid in the past may justifiably be paid less in the future.

“…without explicit attention and careful calibration of these morally significant factors, the battle over pensions is likely to be dominated by the narrow self-interests of individuals and their institutions.”

There is no evidence that careful consideration of these criteria has altered decision-making in large organisations, and a dearth of evidence that they have been discussed in the academic literature, in spite of this neglect resulting in significant negative health impacts. My fear, however, is that without explicit attention and careful calibration of these morally significant factors, the battle over pensions is likely to be dominated by the narrow self-interests of individuals and their institutions.

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Credit:  Flickr: Nick Efford (CC BY 2.0)

Many of my colleagues know that there is something rotten in the state, but one does not need to become a comrade to know that the occasional handouts, usually around Christmas time, to poorly paid staff are not quite sufficient to trigger significant change for the better. Unless current discussions regarding this pension scheme engage in serious discussion about these criteria, it is my concern that especially those who will be the worst off may come to rely even more on charity, rather than on fairness, from those who wield power over them.

It might be argued that the fair pay and pension scheme that I have sketched here is not fair either as it falls foul of what I call the ‘brain drain’ objection. A charity such as Universities UK might seek to justify a less egalitarian scheme by appealing to some notion of the greater good or the lesser evil. If a more egalitarian scheme was implemented, it might lead to people with big brains leaving higher education, resulting in a loss in economic power and an even greater deficit in the pension scheme than that envisaged by Universities UK, which is based on a rather dire prediction. Whilst the ‘brain drain’ objection must be taken seriously, it is rather ironic that this prediction suggests that there is little confidence in the future of higher education in the UK, at a time when the managers of various institutions have awarded themselves significant pay rises for their efforts to secure this future.

In all this, it must be emphasised that this lack of solidarity has a significant inter-generational component. However, not only younger academic colleagues stand to lose a lot. Now that many students in the UK have to pay tuition fees for which they enter into significant debt, these same students will lose out once again as they face the negative consequences of strike action, for example through class cancellations.

Justice and fairness in the city_for web [FC]

Justice and fairness in the city, edited by Simin Davoudi and Derek Bell was published in 2016 and is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for just £19.99. Jan’s chapter from the book is available to read free here.

Find out more about impact, influence and engagement at Policy Press here.

Policy Press newsletter subscribers receive a 35% discount – sign up here.

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Understanding the myths that new students hold about sexual violence and domestic abuse is key for prevention

jgbv_cover2_dw-1-smallWe have made Rachel Fenton and Cassandra Jones’ article – An exploratory study on the beliefs about gender-based violence held by incoming undergraduates in England –  from the Journal of Gender-Based Violence free for an extra month, until the end of February.

In the light of #metoo and similar campaigns, myths about sexual violence and domestic abuse must be explored. The following article, based on the above paper and published in The Conversation in December, begins to unravel these myths, why they are held and how they shape our perceptions of sexual violence.

“Sexual violence and domestic abuse are public health problems in society – and they are issues that also affect universities. One 2011 study reported that during their time at university, 25% of women students in the UK had experienced sexual assault, 7% were subject to a serious sexual assault and 68% were subject to physical or verbal sexual harassment on campus.

A new study that I’ve just published found that some students – both male and female – hold myths about sexual violence and domestic abuse when they arrive at university.

These include rape myths such as believing that the victim brought it on herself by her behaviour or her consumption of alcohol, that rape is about sexual desire that men cannot control, and that women lie about being raped when they regret sex or are caught cheating. For domestic abuse, myths include not believing that violence happens in young people’s relationships, and that controlling behaviour is just an expression of “love”.

Myths shape societal perceptions of sexual violence, and can lead to many victims blaming themselves for their own victimisation. They can prevent victims from disclosing their abuse for fear of not being believed or being blamed – leaving the perpetrators free to carry on abusing. Although it may seem counter-intuitive, women may also believe in rape myths because to do so protects them from the potential of being victimised themselves: if they can think that the victim brought it on herself then they can feel safe that it will not happen to them. Previous studies have shown that rape myths are quite widely believed across society.

While there is little evidence about domestic abuse in universities, research shows partner violence is a significant concern in teenage relationships. Young women of university age are also at high risk of becoming victims of sexual violence and domestic abuse. Such sexual violence can lead to unfulfilled academic potential and interruption of studies as well as mental health problems.

By understanding whether new students endorse sexual violence and domestic abuse myths – and which myths – it should be possible to tailor prevention efforts more precisely. This way universities can work with students more effectively in tackling sexual violence and domestic abuse and survivors can be supported to access the help they need.

What myths prevail

In our new research paper, my colleague Cassandra Jones and I looked at the extent to which 381 new undergraduates at one university endorsed different myths about rape. We also looked at how these beliefs were related to domestic abuse myths, and to the students’ readiness to help in tackling the issue. Roughly a third of the students we surveyed were men and two thirds were women.

Participants in our study were asked to mark how much they believe in certain rape myths on a scale of one to five, where one was “strongly disagree” and five “strongly agree”. We found that for some of the questions, a substantial minority of the students supported myths about rape. Overall, men endorsed these myths more than women did.

Around 27% of the students we surveyed agreed or strongly agreed with statements that equated rape with men’s “uncontrollable” desire for sex. Around 20% agreed or strongly agreed with statements that suggested women claim they’ve been raped if they regret sex or desire revenge. The pattern we found is the same as a large study of over 2,300 undergraduates in the US and a general population study of over 3,000 participants.

However, we also found that some myths, which are collectively characterised as “it wasn’t really rape”, were supported by very few people. For example, only 3% supported the statement that “if a girl doesn’t physically resist sex – even if protesting verbally – it really can’t be considered rape” and only 1% believed rape required a weapon.

Consistent with other research, we also found that men endorsed myths about domestic abuse more than women did. We also found the more the students in the study believed in rape myths, the more likely they were to believe in domestic abuse myths.

Prioritising prevention

Work I’ve been doing with my colleague Helen Mott aims to empower bystanders to intervene to prevent sexual violence and domestic abuse, and to create cultural change. One key component of such prevention programmes is tackling and reducing myths about sexual violence and domestic abuse.

We wanted to know whether myths had any bearing on the extent to which the undergraduates would be ready to help with work to prevent sexual violence and domestic abuse. Overall, we found an overwhelming majority of the students felt a responsibility to help. Women felt more responsibility to help than men and a slightly higher proportion of men than women felt sexual violence and domestic abuse was not a problem or not their concern. We also found that the more students held myths about sexual violence and domestic abuse, the more likely they were to think violence is not a problem and not their concern.

There are educational, health and legal reasons why universities should help address these issues. But doing research and prevention work around sexual violence means acknowledging the problem. Some universities fear they will be being singled out as having a problem with sexual violence, and that it might deter prospective students and parents and cause reputational damage. Yet the opposite is true. The more a university engages with tackling sexual violence, the more reason students have to trust that their university is genuinely concerned with their safety and support. I have been fortunate to work with universities and students who understand this.

The ConversationIt is not surprising that some new students will come into university holding preconceptions about some of the causes and responsibility for sexual violence and domestic abuse – students are products of society where such myths are endorsed and are not to be blamed for holding them. Our research shows which myths we must tackle in prevention programmes, and that universities must engage both women and men students in a positive way in their prevention efforts.

Rachel Fenton, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Exeter

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

jgbv_cover2_dw-1-smallAn exploratory study on the beliefs about gender-based violence held by incoming undergraduates in England’ from the Journal of Gender-Based Violence is free until the end of February.

It is part of a ‘Bystander research’ section of the issue that also includes ‘A campus LGBTQ community’s sexual violence and stalking experiences: the contribution of pro-abuse peer support‘ by Amanda Hall-Sanchez et al and ‘Bystander intervention from the victims’ perspective: experiences, impacts and justice needs of street harassment victims‘ by Bianca Fileborn.

 

 

How to start dismantling white privilege in higher education

Racism is still alive and well in US and UK academia, writes Kalwant Bhopal, author of White privilege. She argues that to dismantle it, there is a need for radical action from universities, which must start by acknowledging the existence of institutional racism and white privilege.

Originally published by the LSE British Politics and Policy blog on 28th November 2017. 

Kalwant Bhopal

Despite many claims to the contrary, racism is alive and well and robustly shaping the educational experiences of black and minority ethnic students in the United Kingdom and the United States. The evidence that this is happening in schools, when accessing elite (and non-elite) universities and later when applying for better paid or higher status jobs is scrutinised in my new book, White Privilege: The myth of a post-racial society. I argue that in neoliberal contexts, policy-making ensures covert and overt forms of racism, and exclusion continues to operate at all levels in society in which white identities are privileged. The talk may be all about a ‘post-racial society’, but in reality the status quo remains unchallenged.

Black and minority ethnic academics working in universities remain marginalised and regularly describe experiencing subtle, covert, and nuanced racism. At senior levels, they are less likely than their white colleagues to be professors or occupy decision-making roles. The white space of the academy perpetuates and reinforces white middle class privilege; consequently our higher education continues to be dominated by a white elite. I have researched educational inequalities for 30 years and it often feels like we are going around in circles: the more things change, the more they stay the same. A radical shift is needed from universities to acknowledge their long-standing role in privileging whiteness and implement change that addresses the inequalities this has fostered.

Credits: pxhere (CC0 Public Domain).

Higher education must firstly acknowledge institutional racism and white privilege; a failure to acknowledge racism results in a failure to act upon it. Institutional frameworks to facilitate change at local and national levels include universities monitoring racist incidents, identifying measures to address racism, and action plans with specific outcomes. Such action plans need to be characterised by their ‘clarity’; they need to demonstrate a clear link between identifying a problem, providing solutions, and measuring outcomes. Additionally, they need the ‘clarity’ we might associate with being ‘out in the open’, in which racism is publically acknowledged and addressed. Such clarity would ensure that it is the outcome of change that is assessed, rather than the rhetoric of what should happen.

Secondly, universities should be held to account for their lack of representation of black and minority ethnic groups in senior decision-making roles through monitoring and reviewing their staff profiles on a regular basis. A greater visibility of black and minority ethnic staff is needed in senior decision-making roles so that there is a specific recognition and valuing of diversity in staff representation. Unconscious bias training should be mandatory for all staff: at the very least, this training should be a requirement for individuals who are involved in promotion and recruitment panels. Simple measures such as the introduction of name-blind job applications to avoid the ample evidence that non-Eurocentric names are disadvantaged in recruitment processes are easy to implement and immediately signal a willingness to tackle issues of diversity. To support black and minority ethnic staff to reach their full potential, all universities should be expected to provide formal mentoring and training to staff who wish to progress in their careers.

Thirdly, universities must address the racial makeup of their student bodies. Oxford University was recently accused of ‘social apartheid’ for not admitting a single Black British student in nearly one in three of its colleges. Too often institutions that fail to recruit Black British students talk about their commitment to diversity by highlighting the numbers of international students they have recruited. These are discourses that demonstrate a lack of clarity. The value of international students for universities is closely tied to their greater economic contribution compared to home students. When the playing field is level, when white home students and black home students are paying the same fees, it seems remarkable that diversity is suddenly not accounted for.

Universities must be held accountable for failing to admit a diverse body of home students. I suggest a quota system should be introduced for selective universities, as well as elite universities, such as Oxbridge and the Russell Group in particular. The persistent failures of these publically-funded universities to address their inability to recruit the brightest students if they have the ‘wrong’ skin colour is, in the language of civil servants and policy-makers, not delivering value for money. Measures such as outreach programmes targeting poor areas, underperforming schools and underrepresented schools; offering support packages to pupils to develop their university applications; training for interviews; bursaries and scholarships to Oxbridge, are in no way about lowering standards. They are simple, necessary steps to move towards an inclusive approach for students from black and minority ethnic backgrounds who are not currently finding they have access to the same opportunities afforded their white, more wealthy, privately-schooled peers.

White privilege is awarded to those who are already privileged. This reinforces and perpetuates a system in which white elites are able to maintain and reinforce their position of power at all levels. Within a neoliberal context, policymaking is legitimised through a rhetoric that reinforces the benefits of neoliberalism as a universal value. I argue, however, that it reinforces whiteness and white privilege. It fails to acknowledge the role that race and inequality play in perpetuating advantage over disadvantage and that neoliberalism does not benefit all members of society equally.

Furthermore, to argue that the aftermath of the Macpherson report on institutional racism in the UK police has resulted in a post-racial society is utterly absurd (as I highlight with Martin Myers in a recent paper). Such discourses only serve to further marginalise black and minority ethnic communities. Racism exists at every level of society: it permeates our schools, our colleges and our universities. It is alive in all elements of society, our popular culture, our media and the social spaces that we occupy. We do not live in a post-racial society. What you look like – if you are black or from a minority ethnic group determines how you will be judged. Race acts as a marker of difference in a society poisoned by fear, insecurity, and instability. If we continue as we are, then whiteness and white privilege will continue to dominate in higher education institutions, with white groups doing whatever they can to protect and perpetuate their own positions of power.

 

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What makes for a strong Voluntary Sector Review paper? Eight points to consider

Rob Macmillan, Nick Acheson and Bernard Harris, editors of the international Voluntary Sector Review journal, present 8 tips for submitting a strong paper. 

Rob Macmillan, Nick Acheson and Bernard Harris

As editors of Voluntary Sector Review (VSR), we attract a wide range of international article submissions, covering the whole range of topics around voluntary and community action, non-profit organisations and civil society. We often reflect on what makes for a strong paper.

Full-length research articles in VSR, normally no longer than 8,000 words in length, may focus on empirical findings, methodological issues, scholarly or theoretical inquiry, and applied analysis of relevance to practitioners and decision makers. We welcome submissions from all parts of the globe, and encourage all of our authors to highlight the international implications of their work.

We know that the whole process of submitting a paper can be daunting and onerous for authors – something you’ve been working on for a while has finally been given over for an external judgement of its potential value. Preparing a good paper for submission is an art rather than a science, and through our experience as editors and authors we have drawn together a list of eight helpful points to consider before you submit your paper.

1. What is the paper about and why is it important?

Be very clear on what the paper is about, starting with a clear statement of the issue that it addresses, together with an explanation of why the issue is of interest to and important for readers of the journal. You need to provide good reasons for readers to read on and subsequently remember your article.

2. Critical understanding of the literature

Embed the issue the paper addresses in the relevant literature, with a critical understanding of the most important and influential previous articles and books in this area.

3. Intellectual, theoretical, policy or practice context

Make sure you set out clearly the intellectual, theoretical, policy or practice context that informs the article.

4. Methods

Where you are reporting empirical findings, make sure the research design, data collection methods and analysis techniques used are described in sufficient detail for readers to be able to understand how the study might be replicated, and on what basis the conclusions are being drawn. Where prior literature provides the basis for the article (in addition to or instead of empirical findings), explain how it was sourced, selected and reviewed.

5. Key findings

Set out the key findings relevant to the issue addressed in the article in a systematic way, relating them to earlier work covered in the literature review. Authors often try to say too much here, overloading their submission with empirical findings such that the point of the article is obscured in empirical detail.

6. Contribution to knowledge

Identify the extent and ways in which the findings and discussion contribute to new empirical knowledge about the issue or better theoretical understanding of the topic. There is a balance to be struck here: be confident in the conclusions you draw, but don’t overstate the case.

7. Implications for future research, policy or practice

Draw out the implications of the study for future research, policy or practice – in the country which is the primary focus of the article, but also more broadly where appropriate.

8. Argument, structure, and signposting

Finally, check to see whether there is a clear, well-signposted, structure and thread of argument running through the paper, so that readers can quickly gain a secure sense of the paper’s development from introduction to conclusion.

On receipt of a submission, we will always make an initial editorial judgement before we send a paper out for review, and we may ask you to revise the paper before doing so. We encourage reviewers to provide constructive feedback to authors in order to help improve papers, and we will provide guidance on how to proceed if the decision is one of ‘revise and resubmit’. The peer review process can be exacting but it is rigorous and invariably leads to better quality papers.

We would encourage you to get in touch if you have an idea for a paper but are not sure of its suitability. We’ll always aim to provide helpful guidance, though, of course, we cannot provide any guarantees of publication.

If you would like to submit a paper you can find the Journal’s aims and scope, and instructions for authors on the Voluntary Sector Review website. You will also find further information about submitting Policy and Practice articles, along with details of the relevant editors for these sections.

 

More about Voluntary Sector Review

To submit an article consult our instructions for authors.

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