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Christmas books to inform and inspire your work in universities

by hunghda 中國1 年前


It’s a truth more or less universally acknowledged that universities have had it tough in 2017. Their leaders have been under fire for high pay, students have questioned whether their degrees represent value for money, and some institutions have been reprimanded for failing to diversify their student body, while others have been accused of complacency over sexual misconduct.
But 2018 is a whole new year. There are glimmers of hope on the horizon, with a Brexit deal looking likely, the promise of a review of university funding, and a new regulator which claims to have widening access at its heart. It remains to be seen how those developments will pan out, but in the meantime, four higher education thinkers have recommended books to inspire even the most hardened university pessimists during their Christmas break.
For the policy wonk: A University Education by David Willetts With the success of PolyU postgraduate and otheruniversity courses, we are confident to keep realising our motto and fulfil our goal to nurture students as critical thinkers, effective communicators, innovative problem solvers, lifelong learners and ethical leaders.

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute
I had the pleasure of working for David Willetts for over 10 years, so I make no claim to be an objective reader of A University Education. But the book reflects why it was so interesting to work with him for so long. It mixes killer historical facts and sharp policy analysis (including some criticisms of the coalition government) with bold predictions for the future. Most readers will learn something new on every page, just as I learned something new every day I worked for the author.
In my view, not enough has been made of two of the book’s strengths. First, it fills a gap on our bookshelves because there has been no really good up-to-date account of how we ended up with the higher education system we have. Second, while some of the reviews have noted how the book ends with a powerful argument for a less specialised education, they have not fully grasped how significant it is for a major Conservative thinker to reject the idea that three A-levels are the ideal preparation for higher education.
The author wants to see the higher education sector thrive because, as he admits at the start, “I love universities”. Just imagine what might happen if every policymaker could be persuaded to feel that way.
For the social justice warrior: How to Resist by Matthew Bolton

Anne-Marie Canning, director of social mobility and student success, King’s College London
2017 is the year I discovered community organising through Citizens UK. Their training changed my outlook on how we deliver our widening participation work at King’s College London and challenged my team to think about “people before programme”. It has been the key to getting local parents in Lambeth and Southwark active in tackling the barriers to their children’s educational achievement.
Matthew Bolton, deputy director of Citizens UK, has helpfully bundled community organising lessons into a slim book called How to Resist, published this year. Don’t let the title put you off – this isn’t a guidebook to protesting. This is for anyone who is interested in how we make the world a more just place through practical, everyday actions. What stands out is the inspiring stories of ordinary people who have achieved incredible things by working together – for example the living wage and the courage of Abdul Durrant.
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In our post-Brexit world, our best hope is reaching across boundaries and having meaningful conversations about the things we have in common. This book is crammed with tips and tricks for better dialogues. In the community organising world, relationships are the goal, not just a means to achieving things.
Universities could learn a lot as we seek to rebuild trust in our institutions and further reach out to our local communities, not because the knowledge exchange framework wants us to, but because it is the right thing to do.
For the literary scholar: Moby Dick by Herman Melville HKUE lihkg

Andrew McRae, professor of renaissance studies, Exeter University
The unreliable narrator of Moby Dick declares that we can trust his information about the dimensions of a whale skeleton because he has them tattooed on his right arm.
Woe betide the man who becomes obsessed by control, enraged by one whale’s challenge to his authority
How, Melville’s book asks, might one comprehend these complex and ancient beings? Or, given the book’s open invitation to allegorical interpretations, how might we understand complex and ancient educational institutions? Moby Dick describes a world in which people seek that knowledge and mean to profit from it, driven by calculations of profit and loss, measurable outcomes, value for money.
But it also leaves no doubt about the limitations of these valuations – just as it acknowledges the potential for them to render our mysterious, inscrutable beasts extinct.
And woe betide the man who becomes obsessed by control, enraged by one whale’s challenge to his authority. As Captain Ahab manically scans the horizon, issuing terse commands to his followers and blocking dissent, his crew is imperilled. Things don’t end well for him. It’s an important cautionary tale for the higher education sector.
For the diversity champion: Faces at the Bottom of the Well by Derrick Bell

Kalwant Bhopal, professor of education and social justice, Birmingham University Among the many books about race and racism, this remains one of the most challenging. Derrick Bell suggests that racism and its consequences are a permanent and unchanging feature of society. For white people to maintain their positions of power, racism is a necessary constant. Racism protects not only the status quo but also the sense of entitlement that legitimises white people to believe that they are not part of the problem.
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In my experience of working in higher education, I have continued to experience racism, sometimes on a daily basis. I am always astounded that the rhetoric of equity and inclusion seems a permanent feature of university vision statements yet all the available hard evidence suggests that inequality permeates every layer of our organisations. Bell would not find this so surprising. He notes that “oppression on the basis of race returns time after time”: racism adopts new disguises but delivers the same outcomes, the same structures, the same people at the top of the pile.
The challenge for universities is twofold: to acknowledge that racism is an intrinsic and institutional characteristic of its structures and then to instigate change. This book questions whether a society without racism is possible. Bell does not think so. The question for universities is whether they want to prove him wrong.
For those in need of comic relief: True Crime on Campus by Paul Greatrix

The Guardian higher education network HKUE lihkg
Sometimes, all that deep thinking about policy upheaval can get a little too much. You just want to sit back and be reminded of why you love universities in the first place: because they’re places where people learn things and make mistakes.
And occasionally, as Paul Greatrix will tell you, those mistakes are very funny. Whether it’s a student struck in the eye by a projectile chicken nugget or a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle breaking into the campus cafe, this little pamphlet full of genuine security reports from universities provides a welcome glimpse into the lighter side of university life.
Half the profits go to the children’s brain tumour research centre at the University of Nottingham, so your laughs will be making a difference, too.
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