The Third University

I attended something very interesting this afternoon. On the day of the UCU strike in higher education a small group of people in Leicester sent out some messages inviting people to attend “Leicester’s third university”. We were asked to

Come contribute to the alternative to the privatised hegemony that is higher education. Let us enlighten each other, break down the walls of elitism, profit and inequality. Our education is not a product to be sold and a critical mind is not worthless, we are all artists, we are all humanity! Let us remember to QUESTION EVERYTHING!

Improbably the venue for this endeavour was Coffee Republic on Granby Street. So I went along…

 

I should say that I’ve been interested in radical critiques of educational practice and process for a while. I read Deschooling Society about ten years ago and it really excited me. Some of the essential arguments of this text and others like it seem more and more true the more I work as an educator. Essentially these radical educational critiques argue that much education serves only to certify people and that this process of certification actually works against the possibility of them actually learning something. Furthermore the hierarchical systems of mainstream education in which TEACHER is professional and STUDENT is vessel to be filled up serve only to reinforce hierarchies and entrench the existing social order.

 

The problem however is what you can do with this critique. It is easy to rubbish the existing system (man!) but not so easy to come up with an alternative. Lots of supposedly left wing or emancipatory educational experiences end up reproducing the worst of the mainstream educational system but with a different curriculum. Telling people the “truth” and smashing their “false consciousness” is all very well but it often ends up with them feeling either confused, stupid or vindicated and all of these feelings are essentially the opposite of learning.

 

So I was really interested to see what the third university collective had planned. What transpired was that they didn’t have a lot planned. The approach needed to emerge from the participants – no one was going to tell us what to do. This was both good and bad. There were (as one participants t-shirt read) “no more heroes”, but there was also no real direction. We didn’t have a hierarchy to tell us what to do (hooray!) but we didn’t have a hierarchy to tell us what to do (what do we do?).

 

But, conversation happened. Was this about setting up an alternative educational experience or was it about a critique of the current state of higher education? Were we looking for radical content or radical curriculum? What do we mean by radical? Do we want lectures or is the sage on the stage oppressive by its very nature? Would debates be better or is that just polarising and confrontational? What about non-hierarchical problem-based learning, is that just hippy nonsense?

 

The process of discussing and deciding was educational, but if the third university idea is to progress it needs to get beyond endlessly debating what it is about. My thought would be that we (if indeed there is a we) should experiment and try out lots of different sessions. Let’s hear prominent Marxists lecture us on their brilliance. Let’s watch politicians rip lumps off each other in debate, but lets also try some other things. After we’ve done a bit lets see if we keep learning, if people keep coming and if we have a better idea about what the third university can be.

 

My suggestion would be that people pitch some suggestions for sessions and we try and put a few on. I’ll have a go at pitching something and see if anyone is interested. If they are I’ll try and make it happen.

 

Is that a way forward or have I just oppressed everyone?

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