EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

Higher education and transnational academic hierarchies: anthropological work in/on the academic periphery
Location U7-14
Date and Start Time 21 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 2


  • Ivo Syndicus (Maynooth University) email
  • Mariya Ivancheva (University College Dublin) email

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Short Abstract

This panel seeks to explore trends, changes, and reforms in higher education sectors outside the traditional centres of transnational academic hierarchies, and our own movement and roles as anthropologists in various capacities along these hierarchies.

Long Abstract

An increasing body of work addresses the ongoing 'corporatisation' and 'commodification' of universities, and higher education sector reforms more broadly. Mostly, however, this work refers to contexts that may be considered as the traditional centres for models of higher education, and home to the world's leading and most prestigious universities. We seek to bring together work relating to contemporary trends and changes in higher education from the perspective of more 'peripheral' locations in the global university landscape, including our own movement as anthropologists between these locations. We ask, preferably ethnographically:

• How are recent trends in higher education in, for example, the US, Europe, or Australia, experienced and responded to in higher education sectors elsewhere?

• How is the translation of putatively global trends, emanating from the world's traditional academic powerhouses, into local sector reforms challenged and resisted, or perhaps met with alternative trajectories altogether? 

• How does the legacy of colonialism, and potentially lasting links of bilateral cooperation or political antagonism, make itself visible in contemporary changes in higher education sectors and the day to day of academic activities in post-colonial settings?

• What are our own roles or experiences as anthropologists moving between such different settings, be that as ethnographic fieldworkers, scholars, research students, or academic consultants?

• What is our own predicament in the global flow of academic labour along such lines, including in terms of navigating a potentially fraught relation between building a personal academic career and inadvertently reinforcing imperial hierarchies of academic practice and knowledge production?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Resisting reforms, reimagining citizenship: university student movements in Jordan, 2007-2016

Author: Daniele Cantini (University of Halle - Wittenberg)  email

Short Abstract

The paper discusses the university as an institution enabling the possibility of critique. I introduce the reforms promoted in the past decade, then what I consider the most significant movement resisting them, the national campaign for students rights, Thabahtoona (“you have slaughtered us”)

Long Abstract

Drawing on more than a decade of ethnographic research on the University of Jordan, the biggest and oldest university in the country, the paper discusses some of the ways in which the university as an institution becomes a crucial space for enabling the critique of existing orders, at different levels. While I discuss them at length in my book "Youth and Education in the Middle East", here I concentrate on the reforms that have been introduced in the past years - partial privatization of the public university, changes in admission criteria, resulting in exclusion of many strata of the society - and on movements resisting them.

The university in Jordan has a relatively long history as a space in which opposition forces have some possibilities of expressing themselves. In this paper I do not focus on political opposition nor on the resurgence of violence on campuses, despite the relevance of these phenomena, but on what I consider the most interesting attempt at using the language of the institution to resist and subvert the reforms. The national campaign for students rights, thabahtoona (literally "you have slaughtered us"), have been a vocal advocate for the dignity of the students, and the freedom and autonomy of the university. Its importance is not limited to its struggle within the university, but it is important at the citizenship awareness level since it discusses the place of a proper education as a fundamental right, seeking to transcend identity politics.

De-/Re-colonizing higher education in Pakistan

Author: Aaron Mulvany (Habib University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores recent efforts to introduce the liberal arts to higher education in Pakistan and argues that its success or failure depends upon successfully localizing the model to the Pakistani context.

Long Abstract

There is a renaissance in higher education under way in Pakistan, in the most literal sense of the word. Long ago relegated to technical and vocational career-oriented education, in the last five years various initiatives have begun introducing (neo-)western liberal arts education to Pakistan. But these efforts face obstacles: structurally in the form of the Higher Education Commission, which sets the regulatory environment within which higher education operates, and culturally in the form of deeply embedded prejudices about what kinds of knowledge is valuable or productive and growing fears of westernization and the loss of cultural identity. In the face of these obstacles, the liberal arts approach is legitimized, in part, through a blending of hyper local and international branding. That is to say, efforts to introduce the liberal arts model to Pakistan are most robust within those institutions with strong connections to influential family names or those best able to create strong international links, particularly with institutions in the United States. Equally if not even more important is the ability of these institutions to create a model that utilizes the strengths of a genuinely liberal education while remaining legible to local market forces.

Trends and tensions at a rural Japanese national university

Author: Anthony Rausch (Hirosaki University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper offers an Asian perspective (rural Japan). The case exemplifies the tension of contemporary academic demands of a large university versus characteristics of peripherality, reflected by being sited in Asia as well as peripheral in terms of its relationship to academic trends within Japan.

Long Abstract

This paper offers an Asian perspective, at a national university in rural Japan. The contemporary academic demands of any large university versus the character of 'peripherality' that Hirosaki University exemplifies is multi-dimensional, reflecting 'global peripherality' by virtue of being sited in Asia as well as 'national peripherality' in terms of its relationship to the academic trends within Japan.

At the university level, while activating international institutional relationships was seen as vital to the university in the past, the trend recently has been to strengthen the profile of the university through local community programs. This has been undertaken through a Center of Community (COC) initiative that positions research and educational objectives less with regard to international academic standards than in terms of local relevance. Secondly, at faculty/departmental levels, the trends are cost rationalization and reorganization/consolidation of resource allocations. This runs counter to educational expectations, where tensions regarding the English credit requirements reflect tensions emerging within a broader debate in Japan about the relative value of liberal arts courses versus more specific skills oriented concentrations, a common argument in light of corporatisation and commodification. Finally, at the individual (and personal) level as a social scientist/English teacher, I have organized educational objectives and course curriculums such that they serve dual purposes: inculcating fundamental communication skills that will be beneficial in Japanese and in any communicative context, but introduced and actualized through the English language course that I am required to teach.

Indian academics at Ethiopian universities: prospects in the academic periphery?

Author: Sophia Thubauville (Frobenius-Institut an der Goethe Universität)  email

Short Abstract

The expansion of the Ethiopian Higher Education System offers second quality Indian academics whose qualifications are not enough for jobs in the ‘traditional academic powerhouses’ prospects in the periphery.

Long Abstract

The paper wants to discuss the development of the Higher Education Sector in two 'peripheral locations' - India and Ethiopia - concerning the destination countries of the graduating academics. Top academics from both countries still leave preferably to the 'traditional academic powerhouses' US, Europe and Australia. Because of the loss of these highly qualified academics and the rapid development of the university sector in Ethiopia, a vacuum at the universities emerges which can only be filled by academics from outside. Indian commercial recruitment agencies have learned of the Ethiopian demand for academics and send hundreds of academics every year to the Northeast African country. By that way Ethiopia has become a chance for second quality academics from India as well as for retired academics that have no chance in other countries because of age limits. The paper finally addresses the question, if not only Ethiopia offers a chance for Indian academics, but if these academics can also be seen as a chance for the Ethiopian developing HEI sector.

How neoliberalism and Western norms of meritocracy have triggered gender inequality in the process of construction of academic excellence in Slovenia and other European countries

Author: Jasna Fakin Bajec (Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Science and Arts)  email

Short Abstract

This paper focuses on the processes of the construction of academic excellence and highlights (in)formal criteria for scientific quality in Slovenia and European countries that are involved in the GARCIA project: Gendering the Academy and Research: Combating Career Instability and Asymmetries.

Long Abstract

The problems that neoliberalism trigger in the contemporary society have also gradually impacted the scientific environment, shaped scientific work and profoundly changed the local and wider social context in which the research takes place. Capitalist logic has been introduced in the field of construction of academic excellence as well, which is based on the academic system grounded in Western norms of meritocracy. The main formal criteria for excellence have become "productivity, peer review, citation indexes, international referred publications and membership of editorial boards" (van den Brink, Benschop 2011). The measurement of the internationally comparable quality of researchers, research groups and research institutions and universities has brought about a shift in emphasis from the quality of research to the quantity of published articles in high-impact journals. Because of the international system of monitoring, the broader socio-cultural role of science and its intellectual agents in the local cultural environment has thus been accordingly reduced. Furthermore, in Slovenia crisis-related reforms from 2012 have profoundly reduced funding for research, and the struggle to obtain European projects has become a fundamental task of researchers. This is especially true for early career scientists, who have become "a tool for creating projects' proposals". As they do not have time for research and to publish obtained results, they are under the constant pressure of the norms of scientific evaluation. Moreover, such quantitative criteria also produce multiple inequalities between genders, where unpaid work/administrative work is more imposed on young female scientists.

The neo-liberal spirit of the Romanian education system: embedding competitiveness at the periphery of European Union

Author: Sorin Gog (Babes-Bolyai University)  email

Short Abstract

My paper explores the dramatic neo-liberal transformation of higher education system in Romania and analyzes the institutional mechanisms through which competitiveness has been designed as the main tool of stimulating public universities to become part of the top Western educational establishment.

Long Abstract

My paper explores the dramatic neo-liberal transformation of the higher education system in Romania and analyzes the institutional mechanisms through which competitiveness and research oriented teaching has been designed as the main tool of stimulating public universities to become part of the top Western educational establishment and to produce academic performance in accordance with EU standards. The genealogy of these recent transformations (2007-2012) is to be found in a series of presidential reports, think-tanks, national strategies and educational laws which advocated the implementation of a new type of academic governance based on a market logic in which academic workers are re-imagined as competitors whom the state rewards and penalizes in accordance with offer-demand tools of assessment. These reforms produced an environment in which the productivity of higher education institutions is aggregated at lower and lower institutional levels in order to enable a more exact representation of academic performance and legitimize a "meritocratic" mechanism of distributing budget funds. This also produced a new form of work management in universities based on scientometrics and recurrent and extensive evaluation of academics. Paradoxically this institutionalization of competitiveness and performance based allocation of financial resources went hand in hand with a significant decrease of funds allocated to higher education. My paper draws on ethnographical material related to the way these neo-liberal reforms lead to dispossession of time resources and precarization of academics, critical analysis of the ideology embedded in higher education policies and exploration of statistical data and distribution of resources based on ranking.

How unequal is free higher education system: case of Ukrainian rural schools

Author: Viktoriia Muliavka (National University Kyiv-Mohyla Academy)  email

Short Abstract

Based on the in-depth interview with teachers from rural schools, the research paper aims to describe the mechanisms of reproduction of educational inequality in Ukrainian context and problematize possible social consequences of current neo-liberal reforms for children from rural area.

Long Abstract

As the research of the impact of the economic and cultural capital on educational inequality shows, Ukrainian educational system is not able to provide equal access to the university, regardless of children's social background. Despite of the anti-discrimination ideas in legislation and in public discourse (with implementation of transparent mechanism of selection in 2004 - External Independent Testing), there are statistically significant differences in the results of EIT that defines chances to get higher education between children from rural area and their peers from urban schools (especially from elite ones). Based on the in-depth interviews with teachers from rural schools, mechanisms of reproduction of educational inequality are divided into four dimensions: economic capital of the school, economic capital of the family, cultural capital of the school and cultural capital of the family.

Current educational reforms of secondary and higher education in Ukraine not only won't improve situation with access to higher education for children from poor social background, but also will make it even more limited. Closing of unprofitable universities and schools in rural area, expending the years of studying at school and implementation on funding reallocation based on a competition with financial support only of those, who are more successful, will deepen educational inequality, making accesses to the mechanism of changing socio-economic position even more dependent from socio-economic background.

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A "periphery from within": accepting and resisting European trends in Latvian higher education

Author: Ieva Raubisko (University of Latvia)  email

Short Abstract

Based on an auto-ethnographic study of employment at a Latvian university, this paper focuses on Latvia as a "periphery from within" European higher education where global/ European trends and requirements may be altered or challenged, despite their formal recognition and partial implementation.

Long Abstract

Since 1999, Latvia has been a member of the Bologna Process which aims to develop a more coherent higher education in Europe. As an EU country, Latvia has also endorsed the EU priorities for higher education, such as raising the quality and relevance of education, connecting education with research and innovation, and creating efficient models of education governance and funding.

Yet recent attempts at reform by the Latvian Ministry of Education calling for the reduction and consolidation of higher education sector based on external quality assessments and introduction of free-market principles in university and student financing have met with fierce resistance from university boards and also some student groups.

This paper focuses on the peculiar concurrence and interface of new discourses and long-standing patterns and structures. It examines how the agendas originating in the world's centres of academic excellence, as well as EU higher education policies are fully endorsed on rhetorical level, yet stalled or only partially introduced on practical level. Liberalization and commodification of higher education is approached as an equivocal and paradoxical process whereby what is considered "good education" by local Western-educated academics cannot be provided not or not only because of neoliberal approach to education, but rather or also due to structural and idiosyncratic resistance to neoliberal reforms.

Reconfiguration of university ideals at the Europe's periphery: contemporary changes at the University of Helsinki

Author: Sonja Trifuljesko (University of Helsinki)  email

Short Abstract

The paper explores university changes from the Europe’s periphery - contemporary Finland. It focuses on the encounter of the ‘global HE script’ with particularities of the Finnish context, by analysing ethnographic accounts of the recent changes at the University of Helsinki and responses to them.

Long Abstract

With the Universities Act of 2009, Finnish universities, after more than three and a half centuries of existence, have been separated from the state. They have become 'independent legal personalities', able to make contracts and run their economic activities. Operational costs still remained covered by the Ministry of Education, though university budget has been gradually reduced ever since.

However, with the change of Finnish government in 2015, this process has been intensified. It is calculated that 106 million euros were cut solely from the University of Helsinki and that has been used as a justification for massive lay-offs. Austerity measures are implemented side by side with other internal changes. The University of Helsinki has altered its regulation in April 2015 (by giving more power to the rector), its administration is currently under complete reconstruction, and the same will happen soon with its faculties. Also, the degrees themselves are, at the moment, undergoing through a 'renovation', and the new degree programmes are planned to start functioning from the autumn 2017. This is also the time when the university expects to get its first fee-paying students.

All this radically challenges previously existing university ideals, and is, thus, met by an opposition. Based on the ethnographic fieldwork conducted between October 2014 and January 2016 at the University of Helsinki, I analyse the encounter of the 'global higher education script' with particularities of the Finnish context, by focusing on the main proponents and opponents of the university reform.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.