'Either we do this or we die. There is no alternative': learning from struggles for autonomous higher education

Amsler, Sarah (2015) 'Either we do this or we die. There is no alternative': learning from struggles for autonomous higher education. In: Universities in the Knowledge Economy: Transforming Higher Education in the Asia-Pacific Rim and Europe, 10–13 February 2015, University of Auckland, New Zealand.

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Item Type:Conference or Workshop contribution (Paper)
Item Status:Live Archive


This paper begins with a statement, made in 1933 by the African-American sociologist and educator W. E. B. Du Bois, on the importance of constructing radically alternative universities that might enable the ‘physical survival…spiritual freedom, and…social growth’ of black people in the face of entrenched racial dictatorship in the US at the time. It reflects on this militantly optimistic and utopic interpretation of ‘no alternative’ before introducing a number of other historical cases in which hegemonic definitions, forms, hierarchies, and practices of higher education have been negated as part of wider struggles for human dignity, economic and cognitive justice, and social change – and in which autonomous institutions and ‘infrastructures of resistance and creativity’ have been created. The paper then considers the extent to which contemporary movements in extreme neoliberal societies to defend the public university, on the one hand, and to create autonomous or parallel alternatives to it, on the other, may be considered part of this broader tradition. As the structural transformation of the modern university under regimes of neoliberal capitalism is well documented, I will concentrate on explicating the effects of this transformation on conditions of possibility for critiquing, imagining alternatives to, and ultimately building and defending humane and progressive opportunities for democratic higher learning. I will concretise this by discussing some of the major areas of work which are being developed in projects to develop programmes of free, co-operative higher education in the United Kingdom, and conclude with a provocation that divesting in the ideological promises of the neoliberal university, while painful and uncertain, can liberate our desire and will to learn and build better spaces for physical survival, spiritual freedom and social justice. My argument is that those working in universities have not-yet realised possibilities, but need to learn anew how to articulate, cultivate and fight for them.

Keywords:alternative education, autonomy, neoliberalism, democratic education, co-operative education, history of education
Subjects:L Social studies > L222 Democracy
X Education > X350 Academic studies in Adult Education
L Social studies > L370 Social Theory
Divisions:College of Social Science > School of Education
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ID Code:25551
Deposited On:06 Jan 2017 11:44

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