Jargon poses no real threat, finds new study

February 25, 2010

The academy has long fretted over the use of government buzzwords and business jargon when discussing the rarefied world of higher education.

But it seems they can now stop worrying about the effect this has on university life.

A study found that government policy documents were littered with references to the "commodification" of higher education. But it concluded that they also often opposed the marketisation of universities.

In a doctorate completed at the Institute of Education, Darryll Bravenboer, head of employer-led curriculum development at Middlesex University, looked at texts including government White Papers and Quality Assurance Agency documents. He found that "descriptions that position higher education as a commodity are generally in a dynamic relationship with other types of descriptions".

For example, the Schwartz report on fair admissions to higher education, conducted by Steven Schwartz, the former vice-chancellor of Brunel University, describes higher education as a "commodity", but also makes clear that institutions should have the freedom and autonomy to decide what this concept means, Dr Bravenboer said.

"While a superficial reading of the Schwartz report could quite reasonably conclude that it operated to reinforce the idea that higher education is a commodity, I have found that official texts operate in a more complex and strategic way," he said.

"Even where a text explicitly uses the language of the market and commodification, it may primarily be operating to resist it."

hannah.fearn@tsleducation.com.

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