Philosophy and Policy of Higher Education

The OCSLD MA module “Philosophy and Policy of Higher Education” (P70010) is an alternate compulsory for the named award MA Ed (Higher Education). This module’s innovative activity-based syllabus has developed from a long strand of transformative research and practice-based work around learning and teaching policy development over the past 25 years. The module is aimed at people who may take up or have recently entered into new leadership roles in higher education. This may be in institutions on the academic or professional services side; in government and third-sector organisations; or businesses serving the higher education sector.

Higher education is an essentially epistemic project: it is about how knowledge is created, curated and communicated in communities and cultures. This makes higher education not only a place of learning and teaching but a powerful signalling device to the wider society about general political directions and headings. This is why higher education is so much in the news these days. It is not just about education education, education any more, it is about getting a whole government elected, bringing prosperity to society, wealth to the economy and reducing the burden on the taxpayer, open borders, controlled migration and safe spaces. Something like that. No pressure.

In this module we do not just read about philosophy and policy we practice it based on our current professional context. Most participants on the course are employed in and around higher education. Advisers in secondary schools, heads of academic departments, student union employee, learning materials developers, teachers in new HE providers, consultants in higher education. We start with philosophy, reading Plato’s Symposium. This introduces us to the “encomium”.

An Encomium is a kind of rhetoric in which the subject is spoken about in positive terms. Policy is rhetoric. It always starts with an encomium. You will give a short encomium to some aspect of higher education that you think is a pretty good thing for individuals and society. This might be located in your context. Recent examples of such pieces include: “Teach more HE in FE…”; “New providers are better placed to serve employers higher skills needs…”; “Social learning through YouTube can engender critical thinking…”.

Then we look at frameworks for evaluation. We read the current Higher Education Act and reports that underpinned its drafting including the white paper that preceded the bill. From your encomium you will then, as a group develop an evaluative framework based on ideas introduced through the course and current reading in policy.

Finally you write a brief policy implementation report/recommendation. This might be addressed to your institution or to the nation, but however you focus your piece you need to consider both the local as well as the wider impact of actually doing it.

Along the way from the symposium to policy plans we will consider the compulsive and sometimes transgressive propositions offered by higher education as a classic “fourth estate” institution of society. We look at multiple ways of knowing and introduce the hypothesis that ways of knowing are as important and as differentiating components of one’s identity as the legally protected, embodied characteristics such as race and sex; or other articles of belief or religion. That is, higher education powerfully affects us as individuals, as workers in higher education and as members of society. As participation approaches 50% of the adult population what does this wide conception of higher education mean for the world.

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About the author

George Roberts

George has been at Oxford Brookes since 2000 and joined OCSLD in June 2006 as an Educational Developer (e-Learning). In his previous role he advised the Head of e-Learning and the Senior Management Team of the University on policy for off-campus e-learning and e-learning partnerships.

He leads the MA Education (Higher Education) and teaches on the Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching in Higher Education (PCTHE) as well as conducting Course Design Intensives (CDIs) and other educational development activities: workshops and consultancies.

He leads the organisation of the annual Brookes Learning and Teaching Conference (BLTC) and is Managing Editor of the Higher Education Journal of Learning and Teaching.

George is a visiting Lecturer at Cranfield University and a Visiting Fellow of Edge Hill University.

He wrote his doctorate (July 2011) at the University of Southampton on biographical narratives of adult users of a community IT centre on a large social housing estate.

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