Student as Producer (4)

See an introduction to this series of notes here.

4. Neary, Michael (2012) Teaching politically: policy, pedagogy and the new European university. Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies, 10 (2). pp. 233-257.

In ‘Teaching Politically’, Neary is largely concerned with discussing the work of the Edu-Factory collective. Student as Producer is aligned with the work of Edu-Factory and discussed briefly as one of two “radical pedagogic projects” illustrative of “a movement to create a radical new model of higher education in Europe and beyond”. Here, I will focus only on what is written about Student as Producer.

Student as Producer is aligned with the work of the movement through “the way in which it seeks to ground its theoretical concepts with real practical action” and because it “demonstrates aspects of militant/co-research and self-education as a form of praxis.” (Neary 2012: 245)

Student as Producer is described as working on two levels:

  1. At one level it is a curriculum development model across all subjects areas at the University of Lincoln

  2. At another more foundational level it has the ambition of reinventing the European University as a radical political project

Neary summarises how Student as Producer was conceived and developed and describes it as a “programme” that

“has been developed with full consultation between academics and student groups. This programme is being embedded within the university‚Äôs infrastructure, including bureaucratic processes and procedures, strategies for educational technologies, the design of teaching and learning spaces as well as by intensifying levels of student engagement ( The programme is under a constant critical review to prevent it becoming another managerialist imperative and to avoid recuperation (Neary and Hagyard 2010)… The success of Student as Producer will be the extent to which it manages to transform the concept and practice of higher education.” (Neary 2012: 247)

Neary makes the claim that “the institutional form of the University of Lincoln is being transformed by re-engineering the relationship between teaching and research.” (ibid) To what extent this transformation is actually happening is of lesser interest to me than the underlying point in this paper, that the “institutional form” for “a radical new model of higher education in Europe and beyond” should be derived, first of all, from a political, pedagogical project that aims

“to enable students to see themselves as subjects rather than objects of history, as teachers, writers and performers, rather than recipients of knowledge, and be able to recognise themselves in a social world of their own design.” (ibid)

That is, the institutional form should not determine the design of curricula or the pedagogic relationship between teacher and student, but rather it should be an expression of it. This again reminds me of one of the concluding points made by Kasmir in her book about the “myth” of the Mondragon worker co-operative in Spain, that we should “be skeptical of models that make business forms rather than people the agents of social change.” (p.196) By contrast, I would argue that the neoliberal form of mainstream universities is being imposed on the design of curricula and choice of pedagogical methods as can be seen in the course design and validation processes, the procurement of technologies and use of data, the imposition of an ’employability’ agenda, and so on. Student as Producer is an attempt to counter this (in a later paper, Neary refers to it as “an impossible project”) and at the same time suggests that simply redesigning curricula and having students working alongside academics on research projects is insufficient to effect radical change. What is required is the emergence of an institutional form which adequately expresses the radical aspirations of academics and students who see themselves as subjects rather than objects of history: the worker co-operative, perhaps?