Teaching ‘Excellence’ and Pedagogic Stratification in Higher Education

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Penny Jane Burke
Jacqueline Stevenson
Pauline Whelan



This paper discusses how dominant discourses of neoliberalism intersect with teaching and learning practices, and considers the implications of this for both widening participation goals and for social equity agendas in higher education. Drawing on the concept of ‘pedagogic stratification’, we examine the discourses of ‘teaching excellence’ as these are enacted in interviews with senior academics across 11 universities in England. We describe how the pervasive discourses of neoliberalism prioritise market-oriented objectives, inciting university leaders to evidence ‘world-class’ teaching through rigid assessment frameworks. Engaging a Foucauldian analysis, we discuss how a discourse of ‘teaching excellence’ can function as a ‘regime of truth’ that operates to discipline (institutional and individual) practices and subjectivities, restricting conceptions of teaching, and limiting opportunities for critical pedagogies. We argue that the neoliberal discourses of teaching excellence identified in our analysis resonate across an increasingly globalised and marketised international higher education landscape and are enacted in tension with widening participation and equity goals, not only in England but also more widely.

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Burke, P. J., Stevenson, J., & Whelan, P. (2015). Teaching ‘Excellence’ and Pedagogic Stratification in Higher Education. Access: Critical Explorations of Equity in Higher Education, 2(2), 29–43. Retrieved from https://novaojs.newcastle.edu.au/ceehe/index.php/iswp/article/view/32
Research Paper