Opening up critical spaces in an employer engagement discourse.

Harman, Kerry (2010) Opening up critical spaces in an employer engagement discourse. In: UALL Work Based Learning 2010, 13-14 July, Teesside University, UK. (Unpublished)

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Abstract

An Employer Engagement discourse is in widespread circulation in current government policy and recent government reports in the UK (e.g. Higher Ambitions: the future of universities in a knowledge economy, 2009; Stepping higher: Workforce development through employer-higher education partnership, 2008; Wedgwood, 2006). This discourse espouses the necessity of Higher Education institutions engaging with employers, both in research and teaching and learning provision, in order to produce a more productive workforce and a more productive nation. A number of government strategies have been implemented in order to encourage alignments between employers and HE institutions. One such strategy is the Strategic Development Funds (SDF) initiative currently being offered by HEFCE where funding is available to investigate various models of employer engagement including work based learning provision, accreditation of prior experiential learning and accreditation of employer’s in-house training courses. Not surprisingly, Strategic Development Funds have been actively taken up by universities offering work based learning programmes as they provide recognition of the workplace as an important site of learning and alternative models for organising the design, delivery and assessment of HE programmes. While many WBL programmes can be connected with a discourse of widening participation and social equity, an Employer Engagement discourse places emphasis on workforce development and organisational and national productivity. As an Employer Engagement discourse becomes increasingly widespread in HE in the UK the question explored in this paper is ‘how might spaces be opened up for being critical in this discourse’? In the first part of the paper I examine the widespread circulation of an Employer Engagement discourse in current government policy and reports. I argue that this discourse suggests an unproblematic alignment between employers, employees and academics. I then explore some of the tensions that the circulation of this discourse presents to academics working in the current teaching and learning context. In this section I draw on data obtained as a participant observer in an HE institution in the UK offering WBL programmes as well as data obtained from participating in a large research council funded project in Australia examining the significance of everyday learning at work. I contend that what counts as learning at work and the way workplace learning is counted (or assessed) is not necessarily the same for employers, employees and academics. Furthermore, these three stakeholders cannot be understood as cohesive and unified groups. Thus, work based learning provides an important research site for examining the contemporary intersections between the institution of work and the institution of learning and the alignments and contestations around the design, delivery and assessment of work based learning. It cannot be assumed that the interests of these three stakeholders are necessarily always in alignment and indeed it may be the recognition of differences both between and within these groups that contribute to productive intersections and the production of new knowledge.

Item Type:Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Research Areas:Institute for Work Based Learning
ID Code:7753
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Deposited On:26 Apr 2011 11:12
Last Modified:14 May 2014 10:25

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