Questions of authorship to guide curriculum development of a Higher Education Studies course connecting international contexts

While I was working on how to respond to the possibilities of a Higher Education Studies course, that brings together the often disparate islands of teaching and learning, research, policy for agents across diverse international contexts, I was fortunate enough to get an opportunity to present at the colleagial space of Society for Research into Higher Education (SRHE) conference,
Higher Education rising to the challenge: Balancing expectations of students, society and stakeholders’, in 2017.

I began the talk foregrounding my positionality and interest in decoloniality, and critical notions of authorship, agency, assessment and interpretation  – which I touch on elsewhere on this website – and about the attempt to work towards a course that would operate from Northern Ireland, with its marginal/ central positioning in Ireland/ the UK/ EU, and in particular the willingness of many academics here to engage with legacies of conflict in their research and teaching. I spoke about how I hoped this would offer fruitful spaces of exploration and critical work, to which I hoped to add from my own lived experiences and expertise from South African Higher Education Studies, to create conducive environments to connect with participants of such courses.

I also touched on my own historical melancholia and ethical doubt, where I see value in processes of redress, and equity on a grand scale, my concern about the complicity of education at the macro-level; balanced with hope for the potential of connection, growth, access, strength in the global South to challenge and transcend machinations of domination.

My concern? An approach of operative criticism when questioning: how can I take responsibility for the ways in which the text, authorship, and reception/ readership of such a course operates, and the significance for the influences and tensions of other authors, texts, and readers-assessors of this programme at micro-and macro-curriculum level?

While I am of course concerned with the external referents and politics of representation with the micro-level curriculum, attempting to ensure

  • it is heterogeneous, representative of varied perspectives, lived experiences, communities etc;
  • and that the work students do and our negotiations also refer and relate to their actual practice in HE, their biographies, aspirations; their students, philosophies of teaching and learning etc;
  • that the exchange between us relates to genres, conventions, other texts of HES, critical campus studies, educational development of staff and students, and other portfolios reports etc of engagement as appropriate to an HES course
  • and my own role as peer, assessors, supporters etc – those internal referents of the course specific to the discourses of this field;

The questions I discuss here at really at the level of concern with how these operate – how they figure – their significance.

Is the author, the proper noun of the institution, its geopolitical location in a developing/ed context? The academic as figure – agent, provocateur, labourer, public intellectual, academic activist, worker…? Is the text, about a curriculum-led orientation; the discourses its trades on and agenda it drives; the ways it operates and is co-opted beyond itself…..

I have framed four central questions of authorship to guide me as a wrangle and wrestle my way into forming, establishing a course which I believe may create ethical and pragmatically productive spaces for those within HEIs – to grow, learn, reflect yes, to research, challenge, transform, connect.

Before I go into these, it is important to explain why I turn to ‘authorship’ when it is an area considered passé in continental philosophy and contemporary ‘western’ criticism for some time, has provided a valid and poignant ethical reference point to challenge the ways in which the programme is being designed, coordinated and sustained. Politics of representation? Yes. Political correctness for its own sake? No. This is more about the crisis of legitimation in addition to the violence of delegitmation, and hopefully heralding a more conscious, critical space for such education.

The return or re-assertion of situating the author, as the actual author and as the figure of the author, has for some time been seen in those ‘margin’ to the mainstream – many feminist approaches, postcolonial émigré consciousness and exile-as-witness perspectives, and the more recent decolonising arguments in their varying emphasis. For those critical of neo-liberalist agendas, what is of value here is how these concepts, are co-opted and delegitimised by Capital, for instance.

I would argue that the ways in which these are constructed and positioned in helpful in dis-entangling influences and interests at macro- and micro-level of the curriculum.

Who is the author of a curriculum of HES offered from the EU/ UK/NI to various participants as readers in various international/ developing contexts?

What is the mediating text of the micro-level curriculum between them? How does it enable the authoring of their own curricula for their students?

Is the participant, academic staff or staff working with educational concerns at HEIs, positioned as co-author or co-constructors, or are they the texts being acted upon,  with their institutional interests authoring a curriculum to school them in their interests? Are the readers assessors, evaluators, ultimate legitimisers? Would they be the various institutional authorities, their QA mechanisms, or the global agenda of the north on the south once again?

Is the text of the course – Development? Individual career Advancement? Pedagogical Innovation? Epistemic access or heteronomical disruption? Are these at the level of the individual participant, for their students, for their institutions or their communities? Or for bums on seats?

The spectre of authorship – what history, inheritance, claim, origin, power and position has authority?

What is the sub-text of the course?

What are some of the tensions inherent to de/legitimising knowledge in Higher Education Studies?

  • Mastery of central topics / idea in disciplines (theories of learning for instance) or a discourse-interest of pertinent concerns?
  • Anxieties to establish a discipline – which referents give us credibility as a science? Theories ontological frameworks disciplinary traditions.
  • How do we learn from other practice-led spaces (if ED DeV is a central concern and the critical formation of HE practices and policies) such as the the arts – where practice and dynamism of the prof comm of practice is often subsumed by academic discourse and interests, of gatekeeping?
  • And when out participants do author texts, which qualifiers and referenents do we privedge over others (published literature in journals; which journals from which geopolitical locations; which disciplines;blogs; lived experience; student feedback; statistical significance or the diverse experiences; portfolios, reports, musing; observations of practice…
  • What knowledge is local? Indigenous? Eurocentric? How might the participants, as authors of their own texts, be enabled to negotiate this question of deligetimising knowledges in ways that creates opportunities for them to become open to praxis? Heteronomy? The positioning of knowledge?

But then how is that received by those wanting skills, increasing of capacity, benevolence for those less fortunate – a helping hand –  as part of development studies for developing contexts, or new lecturers to be quality assured rather than the research-productive old guard to be challenged in terms of their reproduction of conditions for exclusion and assimilation?

Are educational development courses aimed at or for ‘support’, delegitimised in similar ways to many working in this area as not academic, practice-based and professional… how then to have participants start at a level positioned as such, and move more expansively to HES as a field of study in which they are insiders, agents, contributors?

Policing, development management – the same formative and summative purposes at play in assessment and evaluation of courses, play out here too.

I added teacher intentionality and student experience here to indicate the tensions at micro-level within the course – my own critical orientation and objectives for connecting those across the global South, learning from peers, connecting us across borders; seeing development as not individual but challenging of mechanisms… and the participants desires, expectations, perceptions, interests, aims, processed, institutional contexts = and the ways these feed into how development is positioned..

This all points to the possibilities of agency – my concern – in co-constructing the curricula. But is this naïve? Many would argue that the ‘market’ for such a course is not just the academics but their institutions and national agencies, or funders, all with agendas which constrain/ enable such agency and its relation to co-construction. Even my agency to co-construct…

‘What about the UK professional framework?’ ‘The HEA?’ ’Market intelligence?’….

And how much of that relates to ethical responsibility in terms of global challenges, such as equality, digital capability, sustainable development?

And the more thorny issue – for whom, what and how is research in Higher Education Studies? Whose interests does such research serve?

[Note about the images selected from my slides: I had a bit of fun challenging myself to have the entire presentation fit into my old business cards, which has recently been ‘retired’ for new institutional branding. A playful tribute to the urban legend of Max Ernst fitting an entire exhibition in a match box]


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