22 SES 07 D, Higher Education Reforms
Within the context of heightened perceptions of risk within the higher education sector worldwide, responsibility for outcomes is increasingly required not only of universities but, also, of individual academics. In turn, contracts have become a key form of governance for institutions in mediating and modulating this risk and responsibility. This paper explores the links between the spread of contracts and processes of responsibilisaiton.
The spread of contracts in education, like other social services, has fostered some interest in their emerging role as a distinctive means of governance in higher education in the form of contractualism. Yeatman, for example, views the spread of contracts as ushering in a new contractualism or ‘ethos of contractualism’ that has the potential to produce ‘contractual personhood’ which accommodates ‘within individuality both what we have called voice and the various kinds of dependency individuals have with regard to each other’ (Yeatman, 1997, p. 51).
However, while much writing around the use of contracts in higher education has focused on market-based, competitive neoliberal conceptions of contractualism, this paper argues that there are, in fact, two largely antagonistic versions of contractualism. The first of these is market contractualism, which exists as an extension of the logic of business and markets. The second is relationalcontractualism, in which contracts serve as tools not only for supporting the autonomy and individuality of agents but also to foster mutual accountability in relational spaces. It is argued that these two modes of contractualism co-exist within universities, in tension, and the article draws on two Australian exemplars to highlight how these tensions play out but also to highlight the potential for contractualism to create spaces for shared goals and projects and shared risks resulting from the ways in which responsibility and individual agency are negotiated.
The focus of this paper is on the now extensive development of contractual relations (Rawolle, 2013; Rawolle, Rowlands, & Blackmore, 2015) that govern arrangements between universities and the state, between universities and academics, between universities, between universities and industry, between universities, between universities and students, and between students and academics. In order to advance this argument we draw specifically on Anna Yeatman’s outline of three broad principles which underpin the use of contracts in contractualism (Rawolle, Rowlands & Blackmore 2015; Yeatman, 1998), highlighted in two specific exemplars drawn from the Australian higher education sector.
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