Tag Archives: Higher Education

Geographies of higher education: activism, philanthropy and marketisation

By Natalie Tebbett, Loughborough University

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Cecil Rhodes Building. Image Credit: Flickr user Jonathan/Flickr.com

Over the last month, many English newspapers have reported on the Rhodes Must Fall In Oxford campaign (see also Shaw) – a protest movement petitioning for the removal of the statue of Cecil Rhodes from the frontage of Oriel College, University of Oxford. Campaigners for the removal of the statue argue that its continued presence ‘is an open glorification of the racist and bloody project of British colonialism’ (Petitioning Oriel College, Oxford University 2016). The original Rhodes Must Fall protest movement, which began 9 March 2015 at the University of Cape Town, describes itself as ‘a collective movement of students and staff members mobilising for direct action against the reality of institutional racism at the University of Cape Town’ (Rhodes Must Fall n.d).

At the University of Oxford, protesters have said ‘that the colonialism, racism and patriarchy this statue is seeped in has no place in our university – which for many of us is also our home. The removal of this statue would be a welcome first step in the University’s attempt to redress the ways in which it has been an active beneficiary of the empire’ (Petitioning Oriel College, the University of Oxford 2016). Despite the Rhodes Must Fall In Oxford campaign, The Guardian reported this week that the statue is to remain after the governing body of Oriel College was warned that a proposed gift of £100m may be cancelled, with other expected donations also thought to be in jeopardy. In a statement, Oriel College said that it ‘does not share Cecil Rhodes’s values or condone his racist views or actions’ (Oriel College 2015).

The protest movement, though not successful in getting the statue removed, has raised concerns about black and minority ethnic ‘representation and experience’ of academics and students, which the University and Oriel College agree must improve. The number of recent news stories discussing the Rhodes Must Fall In Oxford campaign highlights the complex geographies of the university as a space for free speech and activism, but also an oppressive environment that can incite institutional racism. The impact and strategic culture of philanthropic donations to higher education institutions is also explored (see Warren et al. 2014).

Two articles in Area reflect the increasing interest in the geographies of the university and higher education. In Sam Halvorsen’s paper, he discusses his own experience with Occupy London and the impact this had on his classroom teaching. For example, Halvorsen brought his ‘activism into the university by teaching and presenting seminars to students and staff…, gathering support in the process’ (p. 467). Sarah Hall (2015) also examines the geographies of higher education but from an economic geography perspective, with specific focus on the ‘spatiality of marketisation through the…introduction of undergraduate student fees’ (p. 451). Hall’s paper also contributes to wider debates in geography about the internationalisation of higher education. Both articles highlight the complex interplay of economic, political and social processes operating at institutional and much broader higher education scales.

The Rhodes Must Fall In Oxford campaign gives an important insight into some of the geographies of higher education spaces; for example: free speech, activism, institutional racism and black and minority ethnic under-representation. These debates, especially those that address race equality and diversity, will continue to unfold and be discussed particularly with the development of a higher education Race Equality Charter.

References

books_icon Hall, S. (2015) Geographies of marketisation in English higher education: territorial and relational markets and the case of undergraduate student fees. Area, 47(4), 451-458 (free to access).

books_icon Halvorsen, S. (2015) Militant research against-and-beyond itself: critical perspectives from the university and Occupy London. Area, 47(4), 466-472 (open access).

60-world2 Oriel College (2015) Statement by Oriel College about the issues raised by the Rhodes Must Fall In Oxford petition. Available at: http://www.oriel.ox.ac.uk/content/statement-oriel-college-about-issues-raised-rhodes-must-fall-oxford-petition [Access date 02 February 2016].

60-world2 Petitioning Oriel College, Oxford University (2016) Petitioning Oriel College, Oxford University web-site. Available at: https://www.change.org/p/oriel-college-oxford-university-oriel-college-oxford-university-remove-the-cecil-rhodes-statue [Access date 02 February 2016].

60-world2 Rawlinson, K. (2016) Cecil Rhodes statue to remain at Oxford after ‘overwhelming support’. The Guardian 29 January 2016. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/jan/28/cecil-rhodes-statue-will-not-be-removed–oxford-university [Access date 2 Feb 2016].

60-world2 Rhods Must Fall (2016) Rhods Must Fall. Available at: http://rhodesmustfall.co.za/ [Access date 02 February 2016].

books_icon Warren, A. P., Hoyler, M., and Bell, M. (2014) Strategic cultures of philanthropy: English universities and the changing geographies of giving. Geoforum, 55, 133-142

What happened to the American geography department?

By Benjamin Sacks

Today, Dartmouth College remains the only Ivy League institution to maintain a distinct geography department. (c) 2015 Wikimedia  Commons.

Today, Dartmouth College remains the only Ivy League institution to maintain a distinct geography department. (c) 2015 Wikimedia Commons.

Tim Hall et al.’s recent Area examination of the changing fortunes and distribution of British geography departments identified both shifts in scope and funding. The geography department was ‘neither stable historically nor universal in nature’, and has been subject to merging, reclassification, separation, and redistribution since the mid-1990s (p.58). This problem however is also the discipline’s trump card: inherently interdisciplinary, geography can stand on its own and be classified with other related disciplines without significantly threatening its future. The United Kingdom continues to dominate geographic research and study, leading most recognised international league tables (e.g., QS World University; THES). The 2013 ESRC-RGS-AHRC report into Britain’s standing within academic geography trumpeted the country’s extraordinary impact in primary (field) research, geographical theory, and GIS development, despite the fact that the number of free-standing geography departments dropped from 47 (1995) to 33 (2013). In sum, geography’s preeminent position in British higher research and education is guaranteed as long as further fiscal cuts are not implemented. Hall et al also noted other, mostly Commonwealth countries, where geography research and education has expanded or diversified since the end of the twentieth century.

The situation is unfortunately vastly different in the United States. Despite longstanding efforts by the National Geographic Society and the American Geographical Society to expand geography education at the secondary- and university-levels respectively, geography remains a little-studied or even -understood discipline. At present it remains the only major academic field not to receive national education funding. As recently as 2010 the National Assessment Governing Board admitted the failure of American geography education. ‘The consequence’, they conceded, was ‘widespread ignorance of our own country and of its place’ in the world. World events change the situation little. This time last year, Kyle Dropp (Dartmouth), Joshua Kertzer (Harvard), and Thomas Zeitzoff (Princeton) surveyed 2,066 Americans on their knowledge of Ukraine and the Russian Federation. Eighty-four per cent could not identify Ukraine on a world map. The average answer, calculated from all guesses, suggested that Ukraine was located somewhere in Western Europe and the Mediterranean – over 1,800 miles from its actual position. Distressingly, they uncovered a direct inverse correlation between knowledge and support for US military intervention. The less likely participants were able to accurately identify Ukraine’s geographical position, the more likely they wanted Washington to intervene on Kiev’s behalf.

In 1900, nearly all major American colleges and universities maintained active (even thriving) geography departments. Today, only one Ivy League university – Dartmouth – still hosts an independent department, and few programmes still exist at private universities. The situation at flagship public universities has fared somewhat better, largely thanks to their role as ‘land-grant’ institutions. The University of California at Berkeley and Los Angeles, and the University of Wisconsin at Madison stand out as particularly internationally competitive programmes. This dilemma is all the more worrying when one considers the importance and impact of United States’ foreign policy.

What accounted for this seismic change, particularly given the rapid expansion of international affairs programmes at the undergraduate and postgraduate level? In 1987 Neil Smith, then at Rutgers, examined the collapse of Harvard’s geography department following the end of the Second World War. Echoing Jean Gottmann’s declaration that the closure of the Harvard department was ‘a terrible blow’ from which American geography ‘has never completely recovered’, Smith recounted how Harvard president James Conant declared that ‘geography is not a university subject’, ignoring both British investment in the discipline and competing American universities own departments (159). Geographers on both sides of the Atlantic criticised Harvard’s decision, adding that the university had neglected the programme for at least a generation, crippling its scholarly output and the careers of its faculty even as knowledge of international studies, lands, and peoples rapidly expanded in importance. Other American private institutions soon followed Harvard’s decision to terminate the department. Yale’s programme dragged on – near death – until 1967; Pennsylvania incorporated theirs with Wharton Business School, only to close the department in 1963. Columbia’s department – easily the most prodigious of the Ivy League – finally ended in 1986 due to a lack of popularity and funding. The collapse of Columbia’s department evidenced the American geography education’s cyclical crisis: lack of investment in primary-level geography education led to little undergraduate or postgraduate interest in geography, which in turn led to calls for programme closures.

A positive example, however, remains: the United States Military Academy at West Point continues to require its students to undertake courses in environmental, human, and scientific (engineering) geography, a tradition established with the introduction of French geographical and engineering methodology at the Academy’s founding in 1802.

books_icon Tim Hall, Phil Toms, Mark McGuinness, Charlotte Parker, and Neil Roberts, ‘Where’s the Geography department? The changing administrative place of Geography in UK higher education‘, Area 47.1 (2015): 56-64.

books_icon Roger M Downs, ‘The NAEP Geography Report 2010: What Will We Do Next?‘ Journal of Geography 111.1 (Jan., 2011): 39-40.

books_icon Kyle Dropp, Joshua D Kertzer, and Thomas Zeitzoff, ‘The less Americans know about Ukraine’s location, the more they want U.S. to intervene’The Washington Post, 7 April 2014.

books_icon ‘Geography Framework for the 2014 National Assessment of Educational Progress’, National Assessment Governing Board, accessed 8 April 2015.

books_icon Neil Smith, ‘“Academic War over the Field of Geography”: The Elimination of Geography at Harvard, 1947-1951‘, Annals of the Association of American Geographers 77.2 (Jun., 1987): 155-72.

Finding Geography’s place?

By Neil Roberts, Plymouth University and Tim Hall, University of Winchester

Despite UK geography’s high international research standing and continued success in attracting students, it is becoming less easy to identify geography and geographers within its universities.  A principal reason for the reduced disciplinary visibility is that only around half of all geographers are now located in traditional Departments. As we show in a current paper in Area, the proportion of single-discipline Geography departments in the UK declined from 55% to 37% between 1995 and 2010, largely at the expense of multidisciplinary “Schools”.

The naming of departments and what processes of change these new titles reflect are a concern way beyond geography. Eric Jaffe recently wrote about the case of Psychology departments in the US in the Association for Psychological Science’s Observer magazine. In many cases these departmental name changes were an attempt to address Psychology’s image problem or to more clearly convey the nature of the discipline and the work of faculty. However, Julie Winkler, the President of the Association of American Geographers, in her regular AAG Newsletter column reflected on concerns that changes in department names can also weaken disciplinary identity.

While this trend has affected many disciplines, it is having particular consequences for Geography because the discipline straddles the divide between the social and natural sciences.  As a result, Geography is now paired up administratively with sharply contrasting subjects in different universities in the UK. Pairings are most common with environmental and earth sciences, but sociology, archaeology and politics are also frequent subject partners.  A similar divide applies to higher-level administration, with Geography split between Science and Social Science faculties (figure 1). These changes create new opportunities for cross-disciplinary dialogue, but they also risk cutting off some human geographers from fellow social scientists, and isolating some physical geographers from their natural science bedfellows.

Word cloud analysis of faculties within which geography units are located in the UK

Figure 1: Word cloud analysis of faculties within which geography units are located in the UK

The weakening of Geography’s administrative autonomy has doubtless made it easier for University senior managers to re-allocate geographers between REF sub-panels, or to re-brand environmental scientists as geographers for undergraduate teaching programmes (or vice-versa).   On the other hand, thus far there have been only limited moves in the UK towards splitting the discipline in two, as is the case in Sweden and the Netherlands where human and physical geographers are found in separate departments, a fragmentation trend that is currently affecting in several Australian Universities.  None the less, any weakening of disciplinary identity and loyalty will only make it harder to defend Geography’s integrity as a discipline in the UK in the coming years.

About the authors: Neil Roberts is Professor of Physical Geography at Plymouth University and Tim Hall is Professor of Interdisciplinary Social Studies/Head of Applied Social Studies at the University of Winchester. Neil and Tim’s Area paper was co-authored with Phillip Toms, Charlotte Parker (both University of Gloucestershire) and Mark McGuinness (Bath Spa University).

books_icon Hall, T., Toms, P., McGuinness, M., Parker, C. and Roberts, N. (2015), Where’s the Geography department? The changing administrative place of Geography in UK higher education. Area. doi: 10.1111/area.12154

 Jaffe J  2011 Identity Shift Observer, Association for Psychological Science

 Winkler J 2014 ‘What’s in a Name? The Renaming and Rebranding of Geography Departments’ AAG News

 

 

How to educate about sustainable cities?

By Yvonne Rydin, Bartlett School of Planning, University College London

Image credit: UCL Media Services - University College London.

Image credit: UCL Media Services – University College London.

It is the time of year for A-level and GCSE results to be announced. Geography students at both levels will have learnt about sustainable cities and case studies will have featured prominently in their studies. The BBC Bitesize website, for example, provides a profile of Masdar City in Abu Dhabi as an exemplar of how cities can be developed to have a lower carbon footprint, zero waste generation, prioritise pedestrian movement in the city centre, and so on.

The idea is clear – there are concrete examples of ‘best practice’ that students can learn about. As educational programme moves into the graduate and postgraduate levels, this learning is increasingly linked to potential professional practice – learning about best practice in order to implement more of it in the real world.

But in our article in Area, we raise some fundamental questions about this approach. We see an important tension between, on the one hand, the desire to teach skills and knowledge that is mobile and able to travel and, on the other, the realisation that implementing sustainability can only occur in specific sites and will inevitably be shaped by local features. Higher education institutions have a strong commercial and perhaps ideological imperative to emphasise the global transferability of their knowledge; we draw associations here with the policy mobilities literature that analyses the way that policy ideas circulate around the world.

But pedagogy should recognise that local implementation will always involve the re-use of knowledge in new contexts, not its simple transfer. Do universities currently stress this enough, problematising rather than recycling the idea of best practice? We also raise the question of whether students are sufficiently involved in the overt co-production of sustainable city knowledge by reflecting on how it is reframed in new contexts. Should they perhaps confront the results of research ‘back home’ or on fieldtrips more directly with the learning in the classroom, querying where principles-based learning does not work actually in practice?

Finally we urge the prioritisation of education over the marketing of qualifications although we recognise that the harsh financial realities facing many universities makes this seem somewhat idealistic. But if sustainable cities are to become a reality, perhaps one should be allowed to dream.

About the authors: Yvonne Rydin is a Professor of Planning, Environment and Public Policy at the The Bartlett School of Planning, University College London. Yvonne co-authored her Area paper with Dr Susan Moore, who is a lecturer at the Bartlett School of Planning, and Brian Garcia who is a PhD candidate at the same institution. 

 Moore, S., Rydin, Y. and Garcia, B. (2014), Sustainable city education: the pedagogical challenge of mobile knowledge and situated learning. Area. doi: 10.1111/area.12127

60-world2 BBC Bitesize Case Study: Masdar City in Abu Dhabi

Accommodating Students: recent trends and the University of the Channel Islands

by Fiona Ferbrache

Queen Margaret University Accommodation

Queen Margaret University Accommodation

Like many Channel Islanders, I attended university in the UK as there is no such establishment in the islands. Proposals are in place, however, to realise ‘The University of the Channel Islands in Guernsey’ – an institution that would eventually host up to 2,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students (from across the globe).

Accommodating students can be challenging anywhere, but the issues are often intensified on an island where space and land are at a premium.  While there has been much positive feedback for the proposals, concerns have been raised over where students would live, and what impact they might have on the existing community. In a radio broadcast, Susan Jackson (Executive Project Director) commented: “we will be very careful about preserving Guernsey as it is now” and “we aim to insert ourselves delicately in all around existing structures”.  These intentions differ to current trends of UK studentification, identified by Smith & Hubbard (2014), but I argue that this might be a key marketing perspective for the Islands’ University.

Providing an overview of student housing markets since the 1990s, Smith and Hubbard identify a shift from the integration of students within socially mixed neighbourhoods, to concentrations of student accommodation in purpose-built blocks, often on the margins of other social groups. This trend towards segregated living has had considerable consequences on social relations between students and longer-term residents.

In the case of Guernsey, there seems little inclination (or scope to build at the margins) to construct purpose-built student accommodation.  Hence, it seems likely that students and existing populations will have to reside more closely. Although Smith and Hubbard note that students appear to like living apart, the opportunities for students to live among Islanders could be employed as a key marketing strategy for the University of the Channel Islands.  Rather than a life apart, it might be an opportunity for students to interact with longer-term residents through daily encounters, and to the benefit of both groups.

 60-world2 BBC Radio Guernsey: Plans for a Channel Island University in Guernsey

60-world2  Channel Island ‘well equipped’ for university students

60-world2  The University of the Channel Islands in Guernsey – Vision statement 

books_icon  Smith, D. P. & Hubbard, P. 2014 The segregation of educated youth and dynamic geographies of studentification. Area. DOI: 10.1111/area.1205

Filling University Places: The Demand for Contextual Data

By Jen Turner

By Ralph Daily from Birmingham, United States (Graduated!) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsFollowing on from my colleague Fiona Ferbrache’s previous posting on funding in higher education, it is clear that the future of Universities is a hot press topic this week.  Today, the BBC reported how recent findings from research by the the Social Mobility Commission has made some significant claims that the UK’s top universities have become less socially representative in the past decade. The report, Higher Education: The fair access challenge, focuses on 24 leading universities, members of the Russell Group universities, which are among the most competitive to get into. It illustrates how the proportion of students from state schools who started a full-time course in one of the top 24 universities fell slightly between 2002-3 and 2011-12.

A separate measure of how many students came from disadvantaged backgrounds also saw a fall of 0.9 percentage points, the  report said. The government said applications from poor youngsters were at a record high. Led by former Labour minister, Alan Milburn, the commission found that in contrast to the overall university sector, which has become more “socially representative” since 2002-3, these most selective universities have become more “socially exclusive”. It argues that although the estimated number of state school pupils entering these universities increased by 1,464 over the period, there was still a slight fall in the overall proportion. Although some universities in the group had managed to increase their percentage of students from state schools, including Edinburgh (by 4.6 percentage points), Oxford (by 2.3) and Cambridge (by 0.3), Durham saw a fall of 9.9 percentage points in their state-educated students and Newcastle and Warwick each had drops of around 4.5.

The commission also pointed out that the intake of the most selective universities was more socially advantaged than would be expected given the social background of those with the necessary A-level grades to get a place. One possible explanation, the report says, is that many students who have the right grades simply do not apply to the most selective institutions.

Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said getting a university education should be based on ability, not where you come from. “To ensure worries about finance are not putting off students we have increased grants to help with living costs, introduced a more progressive student loans system, and extended help to part-time students. We are committed to improving social mobility, and are pleased that this year the level of university applications from the most disadvantaged 18-year-olds are at their highest proportion ever.” Chief executive of Universities UK Nicola Dandridge said: “Widening participation requires ‘a genuine national effort’ with sustained support from schools, colleges and universities, as well as continued investment by government.”

These issues are just a small example of much wider discourse surrounding the contemporary university system. Furthermore, it is interesting to question how these emerging demographic patterns might influence individual subjects within the university context.  An excellent position paper addressing similar themes is provided by Kevin Stannard in his 2003 Area commentary. Stannard particularly notes the demands for geography departments to take account of changing pedagogic patterns in GCSE and A-Level teaching, as well as the need to consider how students fund themselves and how the proliferation of certain types of media should be considered in drawing up course plans for current students. In view of the Social Mobility Commission’s findings, there is a clear call for universities to be set clear statistical targets for progress on widening participation which should be a top priority. And it calls for universities to make greater use of contextual data when offering places. This means that they might make a lower offer to a pupil from a state school who shows academic promise. It seems that geography departments across the UK will likely now have to move beyond considering how students learn and what they demand for their money, into further debates surrounding the type of students that they now find within their lecture halls.

books_icon

Kevin Stannard (2003) Earth to academia: on the need to reconnect university and school geographyArea, 35(3) 316–322.

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Hannah Richardson, Top universities ‘have become less representative’, BBC News (ONLINE), 17 June 2013

Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers Content Alert: Volume 37, Issue 1 (January 2012)

The latest issue of Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers is available on Wiley Online Library.

Click past the break to view the full table of contents.

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