Thursday, May 23, 2019

Rajani Naidoo

Rajani Naidoo

Rajani Naidoo is Professor and Director of the International Centre for Higher Education Management, University of Bath and a graduate of the Universities of Cambridge, London and Kwa-Zulu Natal. She researches transformations in global political economy and higher education change with a focus on competition and markets, new forms of imperialism and the contribution of universities to global wellbeing. She has delivered keynotes in a wide range of countries and presented the 2016 Annual Worldviews lecture in Canada. She has acted as expert advisor to international bodies and has been involved in major research programmes relating to social justice, public goods and the academic profession. She was previously Honorary Secretary of the Society for Research in Higher Education and sits on the research and development steering committee of the European Foundation for Management Development. Editorial Board Membership includes the British Journal of Sociology of Education and the International Journal of Sociology of Education. She co-edits a book series on Global Higher Education (Palgrave) and African Higher Education Dynamics (African Minds).

Beyond the Competition Fetish: The Contribution of Higher Education to Social Justice

The contribution of higher education to social justice is fundamental to enhancing equity and sustaining peaceful societies. At the same time, contemporary education reform worldwide appears to be locked in a competition fetish which in general negates social justice initiatives. This presentation outlines the varieties of competition including traditional forms of academic competition, excellence contests sponsored by governments, market competition and status wars intensified by rankings. It focusses on the extent to which the varieties of competition displace, mediate or counteract policies and practices associated with education for social justice and foreclose alternative means of educational reform. In particular the race for world class status concentrates resources in elite universities which recruit socially advantaged students while the institutions that recruit the majority of disadvantaged students are penalised both financially and in terms of reputation. The presentation concludes by suggesting how the most corrosive effects of competition can be mediated by more visionary and joined-up policy which sustains excellence in teaching wherever it is present while at the same time supporting and rewarding diverse education missions. It also argues for rigorous and courageous teaching which is responsive to the reality of the living conditions of the majority of students. These are students living in financially precarious situations who are physically exhausted, time-poor and with little formal preparation to succeed in higher education. The challenge for us is to apply and adapt important principles from the era of elite higher education such as criticality to contemporary conditions in higher education. In these ways, we can move away from an obsession with world class universities to building world class systems of higher education that have the potential to make a genuine contribution to social justice.
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