New Languages and Landscapes of Higher Education

Peter Scott, Jim Gallacher, and Gareth Parry, eds
Published by Oxford University Press in 2017

Institutions of higher education have changed many of the world’s economies and societies. Entire societies have been influenced by changes in the availability of higher education to people who once did not have access to it, and many social movements have had their beginnings on college or university campuses. Globalization of economies and cultures continues to be influenced by institutions of higher education, while simultaneously influencing such institutions. These ideas provide the contexts for the book New Languages and Landscapes of Higher Education.

Editors Peter Scott, Jim Gallacher, and Gareth Parry wanted to bring attention to the language used in and of higher education. They emphasize that while the landscapes of higher education have changed significantly over time, the languages have not likewise changed. The lack of change in language has led to constraints in the way the language is used and perhaps even misused. Their objective “is to offer a first sketch of the new landscapes of twenty-first-century higher education and a first attempt to articulate the new languages needed to describe both its present realities and future potentialities” (2).

Peter Scott emphasizes the need for change in language in higher education due to the changing landscapes of higher education. Scott looks at the roles that education has played in social, economic and cultural forces. While the focus is on the changes within higher education in the United Kingdom, he does tie the landscape of the UK with continental Europe and the United States. Many developed countries have become what Scott refers to as “graduate societies” (59), ones that have a high percentage of people who have had exposure to higher education. A graduate society is, in part, a result of the movement at the end of the 20th century to create mass higher education systems, systems that have continued into the 21st century in either their original or adapted forms. Social changes have also been a radical change agent in the mass higher education systems. Therefore, the people influenced by mass higher education have made changes in many aspects of society, from politics to consumption habits.

Jim Gallacher and Gareth Parry focus on how this transition to mass higher education addresses both access to higher education and participation in it. Gallacher and Parry explain how Martin Trow’s 1973 analysis of the shift in society from an education system for the elite to a system of mass education is still the most helpful in understanding the changes of participation of students across the world in higher education. The elite systems of education, according to Trow, would not accommodate the growing population of higher education in the long term. Mass higher education systems were predicted to become significant because they could meet the needs of middle-class students. The changes in the approach to learning occurred in the mass education systems and included a shift in the curriculum, class sizes, and interaction of the student with the professor.

While Trow suggested that there would be a move toward a lifelong-learning system in higher education, Gallacher and Parry have not seen this part of Trow’s analysis come to fruition. Instead, they have perceived a continued emphasis on education leading to a credential. Gallacher and Parry conclude that, with Trow still being the dominant explanation of mass education, new language needs to be developed for the changes in higher education and to provide an alternative framework of understanding the role of higher education in society today.

Monica McLean and Paul Ashwin define good-quality higher education teaching, explain how this teaching could be achieved, and describe how to assess it. Researchers from both Europe and Australia have worked to influence policy and practice with their research. The direction that they have tried to shape undergraduate learning is toward a greater focus on student learning and on the suggestion of several principles important for educators to know to assist student-learning outcomes. This student-centered teaching is thus focused on the students’ conception of learning: “Conceptions of learning are represented on a continuum of increasing sophistication, from ‘a quantitative increase in knowledge’ to ‘an interpretive process aimed at understanding reality” (86). McLean and Ashwin suggest that evaluation is often overly simplified and fails to capture the complexity of the intellectual, social, and emotional educational outcomes of the learning process. McLean and Ashwin express that generic aspects of student learning are not adequate in apprehending relevant content knowledge for students. A professor needs to understand the complex aspects of the topic and be able to present them through an evidence-informed curriculum, which requires new language to communicate this information. These new languages of learning are needed for the opportunity of created equality in student access to knowledge.

Claire Callender addresses the changing cost of higher education and then the role of the student and the taxpayer in higher education. The most politicized question and most contested aspect of higher education is who pays for it. The trend in many countries is to move the cost of higher education from the taxpayer to the student. The primary two costs for the student are tuition and the cost of living while studying. Callender asserts that the social benefits of providing higher education to the citizens of society include reduced poverty, reduced criminal activity, and improved positive social reform and that the cost of higher education should be shared between the student and the government. The political decision that must be made is which paying party receives the highest ratio of the cost. The costs of higher education continue to rise as expansion and growth in the education systems respond to increased demand. The unpredictable revenue streams of governments can affect the ratio of shared cost due to times of limited revenue. These times can create limitations in a government’s ability to pay off the cost of higher education. Thus higher education must continue to be a voice for the shared cost to be supported by governments to protect the equity of higher education for the society.

Research and knowledge production continues to be a growing demand for higher education in the global economy. Ulrike Felt addresses the shifts of research in higher education. There is a growing expectation that research is working toward the future with an increased demand for quicker results. Felt believes when looking at how these changes have occurred, one must look at the changes of the institution and those who are doing the research. The changes in research practice are complex due to the temporal inconsistencies of multiple procedures of research being conducted. The fact that these multiple research processes are coinciding can create challenges in communication. These tensions and the related dysfunctions need further addressing for the success of the research: “Looking at time and research through the lens of knowledge ecologies means that we have to develop a long-term cultivation perspective rather than a short-term exploitation perspective” (145).

Jonathan Adams discusses the unique role of universities to utilize new technologies that allow knowledge to be shared rapidly, such as research ideas, data, and outcomes. Technology has changed the landscape in which research is done in higher education, allowing for increased international collaboration among researchers who share similar objectives.

Open research drives the wider sharing of research outcomes, including data and analyses as well as publications. It has thrived in an increasingly connected world, and it benefits from technology that enables collaboration, publishing, and data storage at low cost. (166)

Therefore, expectations of contributors to funding university research are satisfied with the socio-economic impact and exceptional value of university research. The world has changed because information is shared and the landscape is a network of accessing research and using research openly.

Other contributors add to the conversation, as well. Jurgen Enders suggests that looking at changing the field dynamics in higher education to represent the global economy and allowing institutional theory to be further explored with this in mind will help higher education challenge the existing systems of understanding that do not allow for institutions of higher education to be involved globally. Jeroen Huisman affirms this limitation, explaining that governments often impose regulations that limit higher education. Huisman did emphasize that higher education contributes to these limitations as well, and gives the example of how the high number of part-time or temporary employmees in the higher education system makes it hard to distinguish who is genuinely part of the higher education landscape.

Gary Rhoads addresses the changing characteristics of the academic profession. Rhoades emphasizes the changing landscape of higher education as including academic capitalism globally and the rise of entrepreneurial universities: “So, then, our language for framing scholarship, public policy, and managerial practice must also change” (217). Simon Marginson discusses how higher education plays a unique role in the twenty-first century. Phillip Brown and Hugh Lauder discuss how higher education, the knowledge economy, and work are addressed by governments and their representatives.

When Scott, Gallacher, and Parry edited New Languages and Landscapes of Higher Education, they had the goal of creating language to make sense of contradictions and concepts to lead to better accounts of twenty-first-century educational landscapes. Dialogue needs to be continued to address the limitations of institutions of higher education. Communication of institutions with one another and with other constituents who have a vested interest in the research and learning outcomes of higher education brings to life new languages within new landscapes. The application of these insights serves as an advantage to societies and economies on a global and national scale.

Cite this article
Louis E. Burkwhat, “New Languages and Landscapes of Higher Education”, Christian Scholar’s Review, 48:1 , 101-104

Louis E. Burkwhat

Simpson University (CA)
Louis E. Burkwhat is the Director of Academic Success Center at Simpson University.