The Meaningful University:
Exploring Contemporary Complexities and Challenges
- and working towards what matters
Questions about the meaningfulness of higher education and academic practice are clearly a significant issue in contemporary higher education globally. In much current debate and scholarship on universities, academic work and higher education, questions are being raised about meaningfulness either directly or indirectly. One dominant narrative reflects a sense of loss of meaning in academic work. In this narrative meaningless might be when academics feel that the value of research is measured in simple output metrics, when the value and quality of an education is measured in graduate employment statistics or completion rates, or when educators sense that students only attend for credentialising purposes or are asked to evaluate their teaching so as to meet quality assurance standards. Meaningless might be when students feel disconnected from the curriculum and the teaching, or when they are positioned as consumers or even customers. Meaningless might be when academics are required to attend teaching development courses or other professional development merely so that boxes can be ticked. The examples are many and so are their effects. At the same time students and staff continue to encounter and work for the meaningful every day. Therefore, there has been a growing interest in how to resist the meaningless, in how to make the meaningless more meaningful, or in clearly articulating what the meaningful is and should be, and asserting the meaningful in practice, that is, in reclaiming the meaningful.
At this conference, we wish to create a space for discussing both what is experienced as meaningless and what is imbued with rich and sustaining meaningfulness in all the different practices within the contemporary university: in teaching and learning, research, outreach, academic development, administration, leadership, and so on. What is meaningful to some is less meaningful or devoid of meaning for others, which indicates that the meaningful is contested terrain. Struggles over the meaningfulness of higher education are articulated differently in different places. In Central and Eastern Europe this often focuses on the renewal of democratic society, whilst in much of the global South it is organized around the decolonization of higher education. We wish to explore contemporary complexities around the meaningful, how it is conceived, negated or sustained, and to turn our attention of what it means to work towards what matters (as collectives or individuals), how it can be done and what is required for it to happen.
We welcome philosophical and theoretical contributions, empirical research in its various forms, reflections of new and meaningful initiatives, artworks and performances, and more. Turning our attention to the meaningful, and seeking to (re)claim and (re)configure it, is not we believe a form of naïve or cruel optimism but, rather, what Barbara Stengel calls a critical pragmatic form of optimism, which articulates what needs to be improved and intelligently, carefully and perhaps creatively works towards that horizon.
Also be aware that the AIC-conference will be followed by a 2 days meeting in International Doctoral Education Research Network, IDERN, at Roskilde University - you can read more here.