Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Interview - You Can Take This Job ... and Reimagine It: News

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Interview - You Can Take This Job ... and Reimagine It: News

Article excerpt

Chris Parr speaks to two scholars who hit the road to document a 'silent revolution' in education.

For many early career academics, feeling run-down, overworked, underpaid and pressured to perform is all part of the job - something to be tolerated in the hope that a fruitful and rewarding university career awaits.

But two disillusioned young scholars recently decided instead to abandon their fledgling academic careers to pursue the true meaning of higher education by embarking on a round-the-world trip, visiting institutions that approach university life rather differently from traditional institutions in the UK, and making a documentary film about it.

From 2010 to 2012, Udi Mandel worked in the department of anthropology and archaeology at the University of Bristol as a temporary lecturer. When he was offered the opportunity to stay longer, he declined.

His travelling partner, Kelly Teamey, had been lecturing in education and international development at the University of Bath for four years before handing in her notice to embark on the voyage.

"One of the reasons we left our jobs was a growing discontent with what was happening in UK academia," says Mandel, who obtained a PhD in social anthropology from Goldsmiths, University of London in 2004.

"It's an increasingly stifling environment to work in. We wanted to learn from other countries and from institutions that approach higher education in a different way."

For Teamey, who completed a doctorate in education research at King's College London in 2007, it was the "feeling of exploitation" that convinced her to quit.

"As early career academics, there is a huge amount of work and pressure placed on us. It leaves you trying to combine study with research and lecturing, while being put under pressure to publish, and the expectation that you'll bring in funding. Teaching seems increasingly marginalised, whereas in many of the places we are visiting it is really valued."

The husband and wife team have been on the road for 10 months, visiting institutions in Canada, Mexico, Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, Australia and India. They will conclude their tour with visits to institutions in the UK, continental Europe and the US.

They hope that the film of their journey will capture the "silent revolution" that they believe is happening in higher education, and highlight the alternative approaches to tertiary learning that are being taken by "social and ecological movements and indigenous communities around the world".

Cooperative knowledge economies

One of the universities they have visited is the Universidad de la Tierra (University of the Earth) in Oaxaca, Mexico, which has no compulsory learning activities for students and no institutional hierarchy. All "learners" and "teachers" work together in seminars to further their education.

"It's only been going for a few years, and has dissolved the boundaries between teachers and students," Mandel explains.

"It's run by a guy called Gustavo Esteva, who calls himself a 'deprofessionalised academic'. His institution really goes against the grain of what you might expect in more established universities."

"He doesn't see his knowledge as any more valuable than anyone else's," Teamey continues. "Anyone over 18 can attend - the only criteria are that you can read and write. …

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