February 2022
Higher education, conflict and crisis: The ‘publicness’ of the national university in Lebanon
Speaker: Helen Murray, University of Sussex
Discussant: Jee Rubin, University of Cambridge
Moderator: Zeina Al Azmeh, University of Cambridge

For a long time, higher education has been absent from research and policy priorities in the field of education, conflict and peacebuilding.  This is now changing but it remains within an economic paradigm that focuses almost exclusively on questions of access and human capital, marginalising the political significance of universities in contexts of conflict and post-conflict recovery.  At the same time, there is an under-theorisation of the political dimensions of universities, including the question of what makes a university ‘public’ in a political democratic sense.  Overlooked in theory, disregarded in policymaking, and largely ignored in research and practice, this paper makes the case for re-centring the ‘publicness’ of universities in societies affected by conflict.
Following the history of the national university in Lebanon over a period of 60 years, through periods of social and political transformation, protracted civil war and post-war neoliberal reconstruction, it sheds light on the evolving ‘publicness’ of Lebanon’s only public university. This longue durée perspective points to both the democratic significance and precarity of the Lebanese University in a society divided by war, highlighting the ways in which its publicness has been continually constructed and contested in the face of relentless political and economic neglect by the state. 
Drawing on narrative research interviews with current and former university students, faculty and administrators, conducted between 2017 and 2019, along with extracts from newspaper archives stretching back over 50 years, the evolving publicness of the Lebanese University is discussed in a dialogue with political theory.  From Mahdi Amel’s (1968) observation that the Lebanese University was an arena for clashing hegemonic and counter-hegemonic interests to Bonnie Honig’s (2017) argument that ‘Public Things’ are vital objects for societal conflict, this paper goes beyond economistic and instrumentalist understandings of what makes a university ‘public’ to consider the publicness of universities. The suffix ‘ness’ denotes a spectrum – that universities can be more or less public, their publicness is not fixed but fragile, closely relating to wider conditions and struggles for democracy.
Helen Murray is a Research Fellow at the Centre for International Education, University of Sussex. She works with the Political Economy of Education Research Network (PEER), a 3-year collaboration between the Universities of Cape Town, Nazarbayev, Sussex and Ulster, aiming to strengthen critical political economy analyses of education systems in societies affected by conflict.  In 2021 she completed her ESRC-funded PhD on the topic of ‘Universities, Conflict and the Public Sphere: Trajectories of the Public University in Lebanon’.  Prior to this, Helen worked for 15 years on issues of education justice, conflict and development. Her particular interest in higher education was ignited by experiences of studying and later working at Birzeit University in Palestine, where she coordinated the Right to Education Campaign between 2004-2006.  She has subsequently worked for a range of local and international organisations in policy, programming and research roles, most recently the Open Society Foundations, where she was engaged with OSF’s education and higher education work.  

Register here
1:00-3:00Cambridge, online
March 2022
Globalisation, Culture and
Higher Education

Speakers: Susan L Robertson, Mariano Rosenzvaig & Elizabeth Maber
Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, UK

In this presentation we ask: what does it mean to take ‘the cultural turn’ seriously, and in our case, to engage it in research on globalisation and higher education?  We argue that this involves adding a cultural lens to engage with, rather than depart from, an analysis of the global political economy of higher education. This means problematising both globalisation and culture as concepts to provide clarity about the philosophical and knowledge claims being made. Our presentation is developed in two ways. We begin by firstly laying out our theoretical thinking and approach before, secondly,  exploring how these conceptual resources help research three global higher education dynamics: globally competitive universities, global market making, and world class universities. We conclude by reflecting on what researchers might learn from a cultural turn, and what it means substantively, theoretically, and methodologically.

Register here
12:00-2:00Cambridge, online

Archived events

Higher Education, Violent Modernities and the ‘Global Present’: The Paradox of Politics and New Populist Imaginaries in HE
Project PI Jo-Anne Dillabough will be on the Keynote panel at ECER 2021. The conference theme is ‘Education and Society: expectations, prescriptions, reconciliations’. At the EERA Panel, the ECER 2021 Keynote Speakers – Jo-Anne Dillabough (University of Cambridge), Phillipp Gonon (University of Zurich), and Lorenzo Bonoli (Swiss Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training), Kirsti Klette (University of Oslo), Laura Lundy (Queen’s University Belfast), Anne Rohstock (University of Tübingen), and Ninni Wahlström (Linnaeus University) – will discuss with each other and also enter into dialogue with the audience.

Watch Video
11.00-12.30Geneva, online
Education, Conflict & Crisis: From Critique to TransformationSpeaker: Mario Novelli, University of Sussex
Discussant: Jo-Anne Dillabough, University of Cambridge
Moderator: Susan Robertson, University of Cambridge

Whilst the current COVID19 pandemic has brought home to many citizens in the Global North the fragility of their existence, including a lack of resilience in education systems and exacerbation of widespread learning inequalities, in the Global South this is but one more crisis in a long list that has punctuated daily lives and educational journeys.  This seminar seeks to go beyond narrow understandings of education and its relationship to economy and society by critically exploring the complex ways that education systems and state education policies and practices are linked to war, peace and crises, not merely as victims but also as drivers and catalysts. In doing so I will seek to highlight that education systems and actors have agency – they are capable of producing conflict-ridden and crisis-prone systems as well as radically transforming them – and that policy and practice matters in the pursuit of more socially just and equitable educational systems and a fairer and better world. Drawing on evidence from a series of research projects, the session will critically reflect on the ways in which the relationship between education, conflict and crisis has been constructed, nationally and transnationally, as a field of research and practice. It will also highlight the ongoing need for critically informed research on the education/conflict /crisis relationship that can decouple itself from the hegemony of Global North funders, agencies and actors and the inherent biases and injustices within dominant lenses, priorities and perspectives.
Professor Mario Novelli is a Professor in the Political Economy of Education at the Centre for International Education, University of Sussex and Deans Distinguished Research Fellow (2021-2024) at the Faculty of Education, Monash University, Australia.

12:00 – 2:00 Cambridge, online

Higher education, violentmodernities and the ‘global present’: the paradox of politics and new populist imaginaries in HESpeaker: Jo-Anne Dillabough, University of Cambridge
Discussant: Lakshmi Bose, University of Cambridge
Moderator: Mariano Rosenzvaig, University of Cambridge

Higher Education constitutes a space that calls urgently for new understandings in the contemporary political moment.  One way of establishing such an understanding of HE is to consider more fully the work of political theorists in relation to questions of power in the modern nation-state, particularly as these impinge upon the rise of populism in the twenty-first century.  In this task, Dillabough argues that a productive conceptual approach is to be found in the recurring idea of political paradox in the political philosophy literature (e.g., Rousseau, Cavarero, 2008; 2021; Honig, 2007; Laclau, 2005; Mbembe, 2019; Mouffe, 2000a, Mouffe, 2000b), an idea which she utilize to explore the role of conflicted national politics, moralising state practices, and scientific rationalities in reconfiguring the governing rationales of HE.  Whilst Rousseau’s paradox of politics, as outlined in The Social Contract, is not of particular concern in this reflection, it provides a valuable medium for conceptualising HE as a ‘problem space’ for exploring its role in the emergence of populism in HE (Scott, 1997; 2004; Carr, 2019).

This discussion engages the work of political thinkers who have sought to understand the role of modern nation building, the changing features of modern power, violence and authority, and the rise of bureaucracy and technocratic rationalities as they impact upon political institutions – in this case, how they impact particularly upon HE.  It draws chiefly from Hannah Arendt, Bonnie Honig, Adriana Cavarero, Chantelle Mouffe, Etienne Balibar, Frederiche Nietzsche, Michel Foucault, Gurminder Bhambra, de Souza Santos and Achilles Mbembe, amongst others, to articulate the paradox that concerns us – to consider how and why populist strains of national and transnational governance may find a home in HE as a consequence of unresolved and contradictory political dilemmas and conflicts. Importantly, in this context, the paradox of politics in HE is not necessarily the naming of a discrete conflict between two political logics or the process of a mass movement seeking to overtake HE in the name of a popular constituency. Rather, it involves a highly complex set of forces – emerging out of the bureaucratic machinery of modernity and the fundamental paradox of liberalism itself – that positions the university as a testing ground for the tasks of politics and governance, particularly in relation to state crises, crises in knowledge making and in critique (see Kosselack, 1979) and geo-political conflicts and most importantly in forms of ‘horrorism’ that shape our modern landscape.

12:00-2:00Cambridge, online