What do we talk about when we talk about education?

This blog accompanies a video of Rob Smith’s professorial inaugural speech on 6th July 2022. The speech explores the challenges of, and possibilities around decolonising educational spaces within the context of the meritocratic, marketized Higher Education system of today.

Rob Smith
Professor of Education

In this inaugural speech I attempt to subvert the notion of the professorial chair, and to explore how decolonised HE space can be used to offer hope for the future. As a starting point, I suggest we have to try to make sense of history, personal and political – our own history of education, and how that fits with and relates to what we see going on today. I trace my own familial educational history through talking about the stool my grandfather used to carry with him to school and connect this to what being a professor might mean in the meritocratic and marketized educational structures we are in the grip of today.

This marketized system positions BCU at the lower end of an HE hierarchy. As such and as a university with around 50% of its students being from global majority backgrounds and low-income households, BCU sees itself as the University for Birmingham. That being the case, we need to ask critical questions about the educational experience we offer our students and to re-think our educational practice and purposes in the light of those questions. 

At BCU, we are fortunate in that we are in an environment where we can look at what it means to live and work in a diverse society. And it is our job, in my view, in this institution to recognise that that is what we are presented with as researchers, as practitioners and as teachers every day that we attend the campus. We need to use that resource to help us co-produce a diverse collective and educational space. If we want a mature, ethnically, racially, culturally diverse, egalitarian and equitable society, confident in who it is, we need to nurture those ideas in the educational spaces of classrooms and indeed in HE space today.

This will involve recognising in the everyday, opportunities and moments in which we can reclaim education as a human process of growth and development, rather than as the production of human capital for business and industry, or some kind of individualistic competitive climb onto a higher peak to sit on a grander chair.

What do we talk about when we talk about education?: professorial inaugural speech

You can watch Rob Smith's full inaugural speech on the link below:

Watch here

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