Conference Theme

Conference Theme

The changing shape of higher education: Can excellence and inclusion cohabit?

Higher education is increasingly subject to competing demands, often appearing to come from very different, seemingly incompatible world views. The idea of the “knowledge economy” has emerged as a dominant way of framing the work of universities, represented in global league tables that privilege a particular view of excellence and its purpose. In many parts of the world, governments are reorganising their higher education systems to support the growth of “elite” institutions, whilst a growing number of private providers widen further the type of teaching provision available. There is thus a clear trend towards increasing stratification in many university systems whilst privileging economic ends over social ones.

Those of us engaged in higher education research are challenged by such developments, and may wish to ask difficult questions in observing the changing shape of higher education: Are these changes inevitable? Are they happening everywhere and in the same way? Is higher education becoming increasingly a means of social reproduction?

We ask how we can avoid the disbenefits of current trends. What role can other beliefs and values play in challenging what are fast becoming unquestioned norms. Is it acceptable to let markets decide who gets access to what educational opportunity? Is there space for diversity and inclusion in an increasingly stratified system? To what extent can institutions develop and maintain a distinctive mission? How can higher education research contribute to understanding and managing stratification?

In a post-truth and post-Brexit world where economic and social norms are being tested to breaking point, this conference will seek to champion the breadth and depth of knowledge of which higher education research is so rightly proud. It will celebrate the diversity of theories, methods and approaches that characterise it, bringing them to bear on current higher education and future trends. The conference will take a comparative approach both at national and international level, seeking to show through comparison that there are choices that can be made.

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