Higher education is becoming increasingly important in knowledge societies and, simultaneously, undergoing rapid and profound change. The present project explores contemporary transformations of higher education from below – through ethnographic studies of university departments. Conceptually, it is framed by theories of massification of higher education and of academic capitalism; through our fieldwork, we also strive to further develop and critically revise these theories. Multi-method ethnography makes it possible to study at the same time what actors do and what they claim (to be doing); and departments are both teaching/learning and research actually take place and therefore where changes and reforms are ultimately negotiated, resisted and implemented.

From the autumn semester 2011 till the autumn semester of 2012, research team members conduct ethnographic fieldwork in five departments that have been carefully selected to represent the diversity within Czech higher education (e.g. ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ as well as ‘pure’ and ‘applied’ subjects; metropolitan and regional as well as public and private institutions). We explore how the contemporary transformations of higher education play out in the concrete practices of higher education: teaching, learning, research and knowledge transfer. We attend and observe lessons, departmental meetings and laboratories as well as informal meetings and demonstrations, talking both to students and academics and reading learning materials, research outputs and institutional documents.

Research project funded by the Czech Science Foundation, 2011-2013

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