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Higher Education As a Public Good

Critical Perspectives on Theory, Policy and Practice

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Edited By Ourania Filippakou and Gareth Williams

Higher education is likely to involve the majority of people at some time in their lives in the twenty-first century. The main drivers of expansion in the previous century were a belief that widening access promotes social equity and the advance of knowledge as the main factor underpinning economic success for individuals and societies. However, universal higher education in rapidly changing economies raises many questions that have been inadequately treated by previous authors. This volume focuses on the question of whether it is appropriate and inevitable that higher education systems are becoming so large and so diverse that the only realistic way they can be analysed is as aggregates of market-like transactions. Most of the authors are not satisfied with this conclusion, but they recognise, from several disciplinary perspectives, that it is no longer possible to take it for granted that higher education is intrinsically a public good. Are there convincing alternatives?
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III. Transparency, Accountability and the Public Role of Higher Education

Regretting Performativity

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III.  Transparency, Accountability and the Public Role of Higher Education

PAUL STANDISH

In 1979, in a report to the Government of Quebec about the nature of its higher education provision, Jean-François Lyotard coined the term ‘performativity’ in order to capture what he diagnosed to be the character of universities, and so much else, in the postmodern condition, the phrase that famously gave his report its title. What Lyotard meant by that phrase is expressed most succinctly in the Report in the following terms: ‘The true goal of the system, the reason it programs itself like a computer, is the optimization of the global relationship between input and output—in other words, performativity’ (Lyotard, 1984, p. 11). Since then the term has become a handy catch-all for the many ways in which measures of efficient performance have come to dominate higher education institutions around the world, measures that play a key part in what we have come to call the culture of accountability. A quick look at the research literature on higher education will make it apparent how widespread complaints against peformativity have become, and there is nothing in what I want to say that wishes to take issue with such complaints: I am quite sure that higher education has been impoverished by performativity. But the complaints have now become tediously familiar, and somehow or other it is time to move on. To be fair to Lyotard, it is also important to recognise that...

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