Higher education as self-formation

  • Wednesday, 29 Nov 2017 18:00 - 19:15
  • Jeffrey Hall, UCL Institute of Education

Higher education can be understood as a process of self-formation – a process of self-cultivation, immersed in complex knowledge, that enables the student to become more capable and more autonomous and self-determining.

Here, the self-forming individual in education brings into practical form the idea of freedom to be and to do that is central to the human condition.

There are many perspectives on higher education that connect with this notion of self-formation – from human capital theory that sees education as an investment in future employment and earnings, and sociologists that understand it as a means of advancing social position, to JH Newman and Basil Bernstein who focus on how learned knowledge shapes people’s values and capabilities, through to German notions of ‘Bildung’ and Confucian ideas of self-cultivation that understand individual education as enmeshed in society.

In this lecture, Professor Marginson will reconcile these contrasting approaches and develop an argument for a ‘socially-nested’ form of self-formation that embeds individual life paths in the common good.

The lecture will draw on a sweep of ideas from the fields of education and social science, including the late work of Michel Foucault on the formation of autonomous human subjects, Amartya Sen’s forms of freedom and idea of capability, and Vygotsky’s positioning of individual development in social and cultural context.

Professor Marginson will also remark on the apparent paradox of today’s high participation higher education systems: while they have made self-formation more democratic and educated human capabilities more widespread, the opportunities to use those capabilities seem to be shrinking as societies (i.e. social formation, as distinct from self-formation) become more unequal.

Simon Marginson

Simon Marginson

Simon Marginson is Professor of Higher Education at the University of Oxford, Director of the ESRC/OFSRE Centre for Global Higher Education (CGHE), Joint Editor-in-Chief of Higher Education, and Lead Researcher with Higher School of Economics in Moscow. Simon’s research is focused primarily on global and international higher education, the contributions of higher education and higher education as a public and common good, and higher education and social inequality. At Oxford he leads the MSc (Education) subject on ‘Global higher education’. His recent books include Higher Education in Federal Countries, edited with Martin Carnoy, Isak Froumin and Oleg Leshukov (Sage, 2018) and High Participation Systems of Higher Education, edited with Brendan Cantwell and Anna Smolentseva (Oxford University Press, 2018).

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