PLANK zine contribution: learning, exchange, and play

In September 2015, Hollie Mackenzie, Dr Iain MacKenzie and I hosted the first iteration of Learning, Exchange, and Play at an event hosted and organised by PLANK (Politically Led Art & Networked Knowledges) at King's College London. I blogged about this previously following the subsequent release of the first LEP film, LEP I, here. 

Following this event, the team at PLANK sought contributions for a zine based around the day's events, which was launched/released in June 2017. In it contains a short piece by myself, Hollie, and Iain discussing and reflecting on some of the ideas and practices in this first version of LEP. You can download our short contribution here.

The full reference is:

MacKenzie, Iain, Mackenzie, Hollie, and Heaney, Conor, 'Learning, Exchange, and Play: Practicing a Deleuzian Pedagogy', PLANK Zine, Issue 1: Techniques of Art and Protest, 2017,  41-45

If you want to find out more about PLANK, and the other activities and events they're involved with, you can check out their blog here: 


publication (article): the teaching excellence framework: perpetual pedagogical control in postwelfare capitalism

Myself and Hollie Mackenzie have just had a paper published in Compass: A Journal of Learning and Teaching in a special issue on the Teaching Excellence Framework (which I have blogged about previously), which the Conservative government are seeking to introduce into the tertiary education sector, and which would see the creation of new university league tables centred around teaching-based metrics. 

The abstract for the paper is as-follows:

In this paper, we argue that Success as a Knowledge Economy, and the Teaching Excellence Framework, will constitute a set of mechanisms of perpetual pedagogical control in which the market will become a regulator of pedagogical possibilities. Rather than supporting pedagogical exploration, or creating conditions for the empowerment of students and teachers, such policies support the precarisation and casualisation of both. We develop these claims through a reading of these policies alongside Gilles Deleuze’s Postscript on the Societies of Control, and situating it in the context of what Gary Hall has termed postwelfare capitalism. We conclude by reaching out to others in the tertiary education sector and beyond to ask if this really is the direction we wish to take this sector in the UK.

The full reference is as-follows:

Heaney, Conor and Mackenzie, Hollie, 'The Teaching Excellence Framework: Perpetual Pedagogical Control in Postwelfare Capitalism', Compass: A Journal of Learning and Teaching, 10 (2), 2017

You can download the paper here. The journal itself is Open Access, and you can download all the other articles from this edition here.

learning, exchange, and play II

On 15th and 16th January 2016 - as part of the 'Transforming Moments: Dissonance, Liminality, and Action as Learning Experiences' conference at the University of Kent, Canterbury - myself & Hollie Mackenzie constructed a second iteration of the 'Learning, Exchange, and Play' space. We worked with Ben Cook from Anti/Type Films who directed and produced this excellent short-film on the experience. We invited participants into a classroom configured as a space of encounters.

This film was premiered at the conference 'Undisciplined Environments: International Conference of the European Network of Political Ecology (ENTITLE)' at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) (Stockholm) in March 2015, as part of the panel 'The Affective in Political Ecologies: Arts as Ways to Cultivate Resistances'.

The 'Learning, Exchange, and Play' Series is a series of experimental films produced as part of an ongoing campaign which seeks to open up the space for creative, alternative, and non-instrumentalised pedagogical stylistics in the face of the neoliberal homogenisation of teaching possibilities in contemporary education. 

free education series: (i) on the TEF

On 6th November 2015, the Government released a new Green Paper, comedically or mockingly entitled Fulfilling Our Potential: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice. This Green Paper was open for public consultation until 15th January 2016. In other words, this consultation was pushed out and pulled back in again during what is simultaneously one of the busiest periods of the academic year, and one of time wheres terms end, and people take time off, for an extended period. It would be no wonder, therefore, if you had never heard of it.

The policy push being made here will come as no surprise to those who follow policy trajectories in UK Higher Education. This trajectory, not unlike many others, is one of an intensification of marketisation (in this case, the continual embrace of the shift from publicly funded universities to ones financed through debt) and quantification (the reduction and flattening of qualitative differences between types of research and different types of teaching to quantitative data – the increasing hegemony of the “league table”). In this short post I will just point to three preliminary problems, with the hope on to developing on these problems as actionable points .

  • The insidious instrumentalism of which this Green Paper forms a part is one which has been met, as far as I have seen, with overwhelming negativity and scepticism. As if the Research Excellence Framework (REF) (which increasingly governs how academics conduct their work) wasn’t enough of a blow to ‘academic freedom’ (whatever that might mean), the proposed introduction of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) looks set to ensure that that blow is even harder.
Problem One: Does it matter that so many in Higher Education appear to be against this move? Will the Government listen to this overwhelming negative industry response to the proposed TEF? If not – which, we might venture to speculate, is likely - what else can we do?  
  • The influence of the REF on institutional practices cannot be underestimated. Its effect is widespread, influencing research culture, research content, heightening individual accountability, putting a constant premium on reputation and its maintenance, influenced hiring practices, and so on. Not that the University was without some of these insidious and hyper-competitive elements beforehand, but they were hardly features which needed exacerbation.
Problem Two: What sort of internal atmospheres do these policy drives help create in the University? The increased corporatisation of the University is not surprising: high level scientific, military, and pharmaceutical research is central the functioning and perpetuation of today’s version of capitalism, and the academy is absolutely central to the perpetuation of these hegemonies. Despite this centrality, academics have less and less of a voice in their own working conditions (and, again, this is not to romanticise previous conditions). What resources can those in higher education mobilise to resist these drives towards increased hyper-competitiveness and instead build co-operative, collaborative, and accessible atmospheres?
  • What insidious and hyper-competitive tendencies might the TEF exacerbate? It is difficult to predict. But we have some clues. TEF accreditation, unlike the REF’s, will not be connected with research funding. Instead, TEF accreditation will be linked to what prices institutions will be able to charge their “service users” (….). Higher TEF “scores” for institutions looks set to mean higher fees: class privilege will, this is to say, remain intensely at the heart of tertiary education. (Note, these fees rises are, apparently, set to be capped at inflation, at the highest. But in addition to this, the language of ‘deregulation’ is omnipresent in the Green Paper.)

Problem Three: Pedagogical Homogenisation: While couched in a language of “incentives to innovate” in teaching practices, in essence such transformation will most likely produce a “drive to standardisation”. That is, the tendency will be one of pedagogical homogenisation around what ever “best practice” happens to be. One needn’t look very deep into this Green Paper to see the purposes of TEF have nothing to do with making University education more enriching and challenging. Their central purposes are productivity growth and the accumulation of human capital (“employability” “transferable skills” and so forth…), which were crucial in the development of the REF and in the infamous Browne Review (2010) which formed the basis for the Conservative-Liberal Democrat trebling of tuition fee caps.

One of the key effects of the TEF will be to drive a further wedge between “teacher” and “student”, to render this relationship increasingly governed by market accountability and impersonal instrumentalism. In other words, one of its key effects will be to solidify the marketisation and impersonalisation of the teacher/student relationship.

Responses to the TEF are beginning and mounting. The Second Convention on Higher Education, for example, are seeking to write an Alternative White Paper. The Campaign for the Public University have also spoken out against it (links to relevant articles are below).

This post is extremely preliminary and will be followed by a number of further posts on this theme (hence titling this "free education series"). If you have any information on campaigns which seek to resist the REF and/or TEF, or anything even tangentially related, then please get in touch (my contact details are at the bottom of the page). 

Further Reading

Click here to see the Government's Green paper. 

John Morgan in Times Higher Education, 'TEF: ‘poorly designed’ system will harm reputations, MPs warn"

Dorothy Bishop in Times Higher Education, 'Clarity of purpose in the TEF and the REF'

The Second Convention on Higher Education's page

John Holmwood, Campaign for the Public University, 'Slouching Towards the Market' [Part 1]

John Holmwood, Campaign for the Public University, 'Slouching Towards the Market' [Part 2]

John Holmwood in Times Higher Education, 'We need a genuine alternative to the higher education Green Paper'

In addition, two of my own papers (see here and here) directly intersect with this current policy climate in UK Higher Education, what this means in terms of how we treat "knowledge" today, as well as how all of this might relate to resistance. 

learning, exchange, and play I

On 18th September 2015 - as part of the 'Techniques of Art and Protest' conference hosted by the PLANK Research Network - myself, Hollie Mackenzie & Dr Iain MacKenzie hosted a workshop entitled Learning, Exchange, and Play: Practicing a Deleuzian Pedagogy. In this workshop, we invited participants into a classroom configured as a space of encounters.

We also worked with Ben Cook from Anti/Type who directed, produced, and scored this excellent short film on the experience.

This space - a first iteration of a larger project on philosophy, experimental pedagogy, politics, and art - would not have been possible without the wonderful people behind The Dark Would at the University of Warwick.