In search of student time: Student temporality and the future university

Søren Smedegaard Ernst Bengtsen, Laura Louise Sarauw, Ourania Filippakou

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In this chapter, we set out to explore the notion of student time and temporality in the wake of recent policy reforms with a special focus on the national contexts of Denmark and the UK. Furthermore, to challenge the linear conceptions of time and progression that we find implicit in these reforms, we explore alternative ways of thinking and organising time in higher education. In addition to previous research on time and temporality in higher education (Gibbs et al. 2015; Shahjahan 2018; Ulriksen and Nejrup 2017), the chapter offers a comparative empirical exploration of how particular notions of time are currently fostered and cultivated in educational policies and institutions. A key finding emerging from this analysis is that the Bologna Process and related national reforms embrace a capitalist worldview, which is not limited to the economic system and has significant implications for the daily lives of students and teachers. For this reason, in the third and final part of the chapter, we aim to move the discussion beyond the widespread binary vocabulary of ‘functional time’ versus ‘lived time’ and discuss an imagined third way in the light of the current pandemic situation.
Firstly, we explore how recent higher education reforms in Denmark and the UK, particularly in England, have influenced the understandings of study and teaching time and student identity. We do so with focus on the Study Progress Reform initi- ated in Denmark in 2014 and the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) introduced in 2016 by the UK government. The two countries make an interesting comparison, since these reforms tap into two historically different academic traditions, namely, the Humboldtian (Denmark) and the Anglo-Saxon (England). Furthermore, England is an example of a marketised, neoliberal governance, while Denmark exemplifies what we see as a quasi-marketised, yet neoliberal, governance with no tuition fees and a generous public grant and loans scheme for the students. Regardless of these differences between the two countries in terms of university funding and governance, we argue that an institutional understanding of linear, functional, and instrumental time has become dominant. This temporally frames curricular planning and design, student and teacher mindsets, and understandings of progress and career trajectories in similar ways (Sarauw and Madsen 2016a, b; Nielsen and- Sarauw 2017). We argue that temporalities embedded within these higher education policies constitute a ‘closed ontology’ (Nørgård et al. 2019), which may limit stu- dents in developing creative and future-oriented forms of knowledge, competences, and skills.
Secondly, to challenge this ‘closed ontology’, we explore alternative ways of thinking and organising time in higher education and elsewhere. In doing so, we emphasise the notion of ‘lived time’ originally drawn from the philosophy of tem- porality by the French philosopher Henri Bergson (1998, 2001). Against this back- ground, we discuss a series of studies in current research arguing for time and temporality in higher education to be seen as an embodied, experienced, lived, and non-linear process (Gibbs et al. 2015; Barnett 2007). In this endeavour, we are inspired by the philosophical studies by Barnett (2004) and Biesta (2006) that open up for the possibility of a freer and unbridled approach to student learning. To the current literature in the field, we add an analysis that takes into account higher edu- cation policy and practices and how they are entangled and cannot be separated. Also, we aim to overcome the sometime binary analysis of functional and lived time and learning in higher education and argue that a complimentary perspective and approach is needed to move higher education curricula out of the gridlock. As part of imagining an alternative future for the post-pandemic university, we discuss pos- sible trajectories in relation to student time and temporality that are based on an ‘open ontology’ (Nørgård et al. 2019). We suggest that higher education practice, the more so in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic, has its strengths in learning for the unknown (Barnett 2004; Bengtsen and Barnett 2017). For the future university this will imply going beyond narrowly preset and predefined learning goals and outcomes.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe University Becoming : Perspectives from Philosophy and Social Theory
EditorsSøren Bengtsen, Sarah Robinson, Wesley Shumar, Amanda Fulford
Number of pages16
Publication date25 Jun 2021
Article number7
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jun 2021
Externally publishedYes
SeriesDebating Higher Education: Philosophical Perspectives

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