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The gatherings of a ‘smart’ university

Ben Williamson has written a great post here on the concept and realities of a smart, quantified and data driven university.

The post outlines the increasingly overt positioning of universities as conduits for data collection, analysis and exploitation. The datafication of universities as the ‘smart university’ or ‘intelligent campus’ provides a clear pathway for the encroachment of commercial companies and commercial imperatives in to higher education that are surfaced in such processes as unbundling of education. While unbundling and outsourcing in higher education may be contested, this paragraph really highlighted the risks associated with these trends:

The super-fast, ultra-smart, semi-automated university is not inevitable. The HE data gaze is already under threat from emerging agendas to ‘disquantify’ higher education through alternative qualitative data and responsible metrics. Large-scale infrastructures, however, are hard to change once they have been built. The glossy idea of a smart university or intelligent campus is easy to criticize, but hard to resist once it has become the central operating system for the sector.

And this is the key point as data infrastructures are built and expected (by finders, policy-makers, senior management, rankings and hence, students) so the potential alternative realities of an institution of higher education becomes harder to realise. The lines of flight towards these ‘disquantified’ other don’t get to launch.

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