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Keynote Lecture | Michael Tomlinson: Re-imagining the economic purpose of higher education: towards changing conceptions of human capital, value and meaning in working life


Jul 18, 2024 from 06:00 to 07:15 (Europe/Berlin / UTC200)



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This talk explores how the value of Higher Education might be (re)articulated during times of recent economic and social change. At important societal junctures, the value of HE is brought into question, including its social and economic role. Much of the discourse is heavily informed by notions of performative value, often to the tune of neoliberal logics and imperatives. This is premised on a reified notion of value, constricting HE’s role to the satisficing increase in marginal productivity and meeting other technicist demands, whilst students are depicted as rational investors, consumers, and idealised future neoliberal subjects. These principles are equally pertinent to how academics are positioned in marketized and competitive institutional fields.  A different way of conceptualising both graduate and academic work is to use alternative framings of human capital and meaningful work that brings into play the agency and identity of future workers, including their role in the public sphere. This further entails a fundamental retooling in our understanding of higher education’s role in meeting economic goals and the labour market’s capacity for enabling the realisation of graduates’ potential for meaningful labour. This raises wider policy and practical implications for how universities and labour markets may better interact, and educators and students think about their future working lives.


// Michael Tomlinson is Professor at the Southampton Education School (University of Southampton) and Co-Director of the Leadership, Effective Education and Policy (LEEP) research centre. His research draws principally on sociological approaches to the education/work nexus and has substantive interests in higher education policy, labour markets, employability and marketisation. An ongoing theme in his research is the construction of identities and how policy and social changes impact on institutions and stakeholders. His work combines critical conceptual analysis with an interest in developing practical tools and resources that can aid future career progression. He has applied theories of capitals, credentialism, value and identity to address these issues.