Caring and Higher Education

This blog post is part of the Gonski Institute for Education’s open access annotated bibliography (OAAB) series, a project led by Dr Sally Baker. OAABs offer a snapshot of some of the available literature on a particular topic. The literature is curated by a collective of scholars who share an interest in equity in education. These resources are intended to be shared with the international community of researchers, students, educators and practitioners. The literature has been organised thematically according to patterns that have emerged from a deep and sustained engagement with the various fields.

Caring is a fundamental component of human relations and connectedness. The significance of care in education is a relatively well-established conversation in the scholarly literature on primary schooling, less so in the work that describes high school, and relatively invisible in the tertiary contexts. Where discussions about care do exist in the university context, they are primarily (and rightly) concerned with defining what a caring higher education teacher does (Barrow, 2015; Trout & Basford, 2016; Trout, 2018), or the needs and experiences of care-giving students (Brooks, 2012; Moreau & Kerner, 2015; Moreau, 2016) and academics (Pillay, 2009; Amsler & Motta, 2017). From a disciplinary perspective, the majority of the literature that attends to care as part of higher education relates to the work of teacher educators (Sumison, 2000; Huber, 2010; Chantelier & Rudolph, 2018; Trout, 2018), which aligns with the focus on care as part of teaching in compulsory education contexts. Two other significant intersectional themes that emerge from a review of this literature are the focus on the gendered nature of caring, with many scholars noting the dominance of ideas of care as feminised (Acker, 1995; Sumison, 2000; Moreau & Kerner, 2015; Lu, 2018), others have noted the diversity in terms of cultural dimensions of what it means to care in higher education contexts (Mariskind, 2014; Trout, 2018). There has not, to date, been a comprehensive study of what constitutes care, including perceptions from students, staff and the institution), in higher education.

A dominant theme across the small body of work that has focused on care in the context of higher education is the challenges posed by the neoliberal, competitive logics that drive contemporary work (study, teaching, research, practice) in the academy, resulting in what Bosanquet (2017) describes as a situation of ‘undercare’. For students, the push towards individualised approaches means that university structures dominantly require students to self-diagnose issues and find appropriate supports, and where the support is offered, it’s often by people with pastoral roles rather than academic advisors (Tett et al., 2017); consequently, this often results in more articulate and confident students being the ones who seek support. For ‘at-risk’ students, support is largely offered only once they have been identified in the system as a result of poor results. Tett et al.’s (2017) exploration of students’ perceptions of care suggest that many students do not perceive their needs as being a priority for their lecturers, with several noting anxiety about asking for help because of their awareness of the time pressure that their lecturers face. Tellingly, a student-participant in Tett et al.’s study claimed that developing a relationship with a lecturer was a matter of ‘good luck’, and thus abnormal.

For staff, the conditions of new managerialist models of higher education — characterised by increasing hyper-competitiveness, and reduced resources and job stability — have created and sustain the ‘undercaring’ system that they are abused by and complicit in. O’Brien (2010) points to challenges of intensified workload of academics, casualisation, personal life and own caring needs, especially when the caring is often one-sided (teachers caring for, rarely the one cared for): “Teachers might feel more cared for if institutions were more caring; if they were seen as more than interchangeable workers in the academy’s market economy” (p.114). Moreover, as Lynch (2010) compellingly argues, carelessness in modern higher education is considered ‘morally worthy’. All staff who have limits (imposed or decided) on their capacity to work (and care by association) are disadvantaged with idealised neo-entrepreneurial subjectivities: “Women and men who cannot work unpaid hours are likely to be severely disadvantaged within the academy” (2010, 58), which Walker & Gleaves (2016) characterise as ‘caring as less than’, in the ways that it subordinates and disadvantages those higher education teachers who dare to care. Similarly, Mariskind (2014) argues that, “When universities foster individualism and competition between staff, it can be difficult for a caring community to thrive, especially if care is based on a shared responsibility to ensure that all people can live fulfilling lives” (p.309). Further consensus comes from Barnacle & Dall’Alba (2017), who argue that a key problem with dominant student engagement strategies is the need to forego the personal for the public, meaning “there is an expectation personal values be set aside or surrendered in favour of values that support a performativity agenda” (p.9). This privileging of performativity erodes possibilities for open-ness and risk. It seems that within care will only be recognised when it is professionalised. However, for many university educators, the competitive logics that privilege individualistic success (in the guise of successful grant applications, publications, citations, metrics of productivity); sadly, Lynch’s lament from 2010, that “to be a successful academic is to be unencumbered by caring” (p.63), still holds true nearly a decade later.



Acker, S. (1995). Carry on caring: the work of women teachers, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 16, 21-36.

Amsler, S. & Motta, S. (2017). The marketised university and the politics of motherhood, Gender and Education, 31(1), 82–99.

Baker, S.; Ramsay, G.; Irwin, E. & Miles, L. (2018). ‘Hot’, ‘Cold’ and ‘Warm’ Supports: Towards Theorising Where Refugee Students Go for Assistance at University, Teaching in Higher Education, 23(1), 1–16.

Barnacle, R. & Dall’Alba, G. (2017). Committed to learn: student engagement and care in higher education, Higher Education Research & Development, 36(7), 1326–1338.

Barrow, M. (2015). Caring in Teaching: A Complicated Relationship, The Journal of Effective Teaching, 15(2), 45–59.

Beard, C.; Clegg, S. & Smith, K. (2007). Acknowledging the affective in higher education, British Educational Research Journal, 33(2): 235-252.

Bosanquet, A. (2017). Undercare in the academy. The Slow Academic [Online]:

Brooks, R. (2012). Student-parents and higher education:  a cross-national comparison, Journal of Educational Policy, 27(3): 423-439.

Chantelier, S. & Rudolph, S. (2018). Teacher responsibility: shifting care from student to (professional) self?, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 39(1), 1–15.

Ecclestone, K. & Hays, D. (2008). The dangerous rise of therapeutic education. Abingdon: Routledge.

Gilmore, S. & Anderson, V. (2016). The emotional turn in higher education: a psychoanalytic contribution, Teaching in Higher Education, 21(6): 686-699.

Heimans, J. & Timms, H. (2018). New Power: How Power Works in Our Hyperconnected World and How to Make it Work for You. Sydney: Pan Macmillan Australia

Hochschild, A. (1983). The managed heart: Commercialization of human feeling. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Huber, M. (2010). Caring for students: Pedagogy and professionalism in an age of anxiety, Emotion, Space and Society, 3, 71–79.

Kemmis, S. (2014). Praxis, Practice and Practice Architectures. In Kemmis, S., Wilkinson, J., Edwards-Groves, C., Hardy, I., Grootenboer, P., & Bristol, L. (Eds.). Changing practices, changing education, pp.25–41. Singapore: Springer.

Leathwood, C. & Hey, V. (2009). Gender/ed discourses and emotional sub-texts: theorising emotion in UK higher education, Teaching in Higher Education, 14(4): 429-440.

Lu, H. (2018). Caring teacher and sensitive student: is it a gender issue in the university context?, Gender and Education, 30(1), 74–91.

Lynch, K. (2010). Carelessness: A hidden doxa of higher education, Arts & Humanities in Higher Education, 9(1): 54-67.

Määttä, K. & Uusiautti, S. (2013). Pedagogical Love and Good Teacherhood. In Määttä, K. & Uusiautti, S. (Eds.). Many Faces of Love. Sense Publishers: Rotterdam

Mariskind, C. (2014). Teachers’ care in higher education: contesting gendered constructions, Gender and Education, 26(3), 306–320.

Moreau, M.P. (2016). Regulating the student body/ies: University policies and student parents, British Educational Research Journal, 42(5): 906-925.

Moreau, M.P. & Kerner, C. (2015). Care in academia: an exploration of student parents’ experiences, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 36(2): 215-233.

Noddings, N. (1984). Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics & Moral Education. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

O’Brien, L. (2010). Caring in the Ivory Tower, Teaching in Higher Education, 15(1), 109–115.

Pillay, V. (2009). Academic mothers finding rhyme and reason, Gender and Education, 21(5): 501-515.

Sumison, J. (2000). Caring and Empowerment: A teacher educator’s reflection on an ethical dilemma, Teaching in Higher Education, 5(2), 167–179.

Tett, L.; Cree, V.; Mullins, E. & Christie, H. (2017). Narratives of care amongst undergraduate students, Pastoral Care in Education, 35(3), 166–178.

Tronto, J. (1993). Moral Boundaries: A Political Argument for an Ethic of Care. New York: Routledge.

Tronto, J. (2010). Creating Caring Institutions: Politics, Plurality, and Purpose, Ethics and Social Welfare, 4(2), 158–171.

Tronto, J. (2013). Caring Democracy: Markets, Equality, and Justice. New York: New York University Press.

Trout, M. (2018). Embodying Care: Igniting a Critical Turn into a Teacher Educator’s Relational Practice, Studying Teacher Education, 14(1), 39–55.

Waghid, Y. (2019). Towards a Philosophy of Caring in Higher Education (Palgrave MacMillan)

Walker, C.; Gleaves, A. & Grey, J.  (2006). A study of the difficulties of cares and support in new university teachers’ work, Teachers and Teaching: theory and practice, 12(3), 347–363.

Walker, C. & Gleaves, A. (2016). Constructing the caring higher education teacher: A theoretical framework, Teaching and Teacher Education, 54, 65–76.

Walker-Greaves, C. (2019). Is Caring Pedagogy Really So Progressive? Exploring the Conceptual and Practical Impediments to Operationalizing Care in Higher Education. In P. Gibbs & A. Peterson (Eds.) Higher Education and Hope, pp.93–112. London: Palgrave Macmillan

Zembylas, M. (2017). Practicing an ethic of discomfort as an ethic of care in higher education teaching, CRISTAL: Critical Studies in Teaching & Learning, 5(1), 1–17.

Zembylas, M.; Bozalek, V. & Shefer, T. (2014). Tronto’s notion of privileged irresponsibility and the reconceptualisation of care: implications for critical pedagogies of emotion in higher education, Gender and Education, 26(3): 200-214.

Dr Sally Baker is a lecturer for the School of Education at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. Sally’s research primarily focuses on equity in higher education, with her main interests being education policy, experiences of students from refugee and culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and educational transitions. She is currently the Co-Chair of the Refugee Education Special Interest Group and the educational focal point in the Forced Migration Research Network at UNSW.

The thematic organisation of the open access annotated bibliographies (OAABs) does not reflect the intersecting and complex overlaps of the various foci in the literature, so please keep in mind that this is an interpretive exercise and one that could easily be reworked by another set of authors. An important note to make is that these resources should not be read as ‘the reading’ of any piece — rather they reflect the interpretive lens of a small number of people and should therefore be used as a ‘way in’ to the academic and grey literature. Hyperlinks have been provided to each entry (where possible) so that you may be able to access the original texts (although many of these will be hidden behind pay walls, which we cannot override for copyright reasons).

Furthermore, it is important to note that these resources are not a ‘finished product’; rather, they are reflective of an on-going, iterative engagement with the inter/national literature that critically engages with issues relating to equity in education. As such, there are unintentional omissions in these resources — if you see a gap in the literature, please feel free to make this clear, or offer an entry for inclusion. This annotated bibliography will be updated every six months for the first year, and annually thereafter.