24th and 25th April 2012, Whittlebury Hall, Northamptonshire, UK

The Open University’s Centre for Inclusion and Curriculum is pleased to announce details of its 2012 conference.

A full call for papers will follow shortly.

Introduction

At a time when prevailing neo-liberal policy aims to position higher education as an economic venture and students as customers, discourses of inclusion are vital. Terms such as access, widening participation, equality and diversity, and lifelong learning commonly feature in discourses of inclusion related to higher education. The shifting meanings and fluid uses of these terms serve are as an indication of the increasing tensions between neo-liberal economic forces and the role of higher education in modern society.

Researchers and theorists, policy-makers and practitioners all have a voice in the diverse range of discourses of inclusion and much is still to be learned and understood from a sharing of their perspectives and experiences. As higher education systems across the world adapt to accommodate the needs of modern neoliberal society this international conference brings together these voices to consider the nature of inclusion.

This international conference will examine and debate scholarly issues associated with inclusion and the commoditisation of higher education. It will map international perspectives of educational inclusion, report on important research findings, and develop new collaboration and joint working for the future.

Conference themes

Papers are sought from researchers and practitioners whose work relates to inclusion – work should be of scholarly nature intended to contribute to the state-of-the-art. A range of papers are sought including work based on empirical research, analysis of national data-sets and small-scale case studies. All papers will be subject to an academic peer review process.

Inclusive policy and practice

Governments support higher education in order to produce a skilled workforce and increase economic competitiveness. Can we provide learning for its own sake and still meet policy agendas? In what ways are meanings and understandings associated with “higher education” and “inclusion” shifting and changing? To what extent are the forces causing change sensitive to local contexts and circumstances? Additionally, concerns about standards have led to some resistance within the sector towards the introduction of greater flexibility in delivery modes, new curriculum content, innovative assessment of courses, increased levels of student support and use of new technologies. Is this resistance warranted? What do we mean by standards in higher education and who decides what they are and whether they are achieved?

Student experiences and circumstances

The massification of higher education, changing economic circumstances and an aging population have created a diverse student population that fall within, between and outside different notions of inclusion.  Whilst we think of students varying in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation there is also diversity in terms of personal circumstances, geography, career stage, perception of higher education, its purpose, and prior experience.

How do experiences within and beyond the academy shape students’ experiences of higher education? How do notions of success, attainment, personal development and employability feature in the lives of students? How is lifelong learning and the life course integrated into inclusive practice?

Practice beyond the UK

Recent publication of the Higher Education White Paper in the UK has signalled significant changes to the future landscape of higher education. As institutions and organisations adapt and respond to these changes there is much to be learnt from the experiences of overseas institutions and colleagues. This conference is committed to providing a platform for international research/activity and will be dedicating a conference strand to non-UK based work which addresses “inclusive policy and practice” and “students and their experiences”. Recognising the challenges faced with attending a UK conference, special arrangements are being prepared for international presenters which will mean they could be eligible to have a paper included in the conference but not have to attend the UK conference location. This arrangement are only available to international authors and unfortunately cannot be extended to colleagues based in the UK. For more details please email the conference organisers.

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