Time, Equity 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.

This extract comes from: Baker, S,, Irwin, E. & Freeman, H. (2019). Wasted, Manipulated and Compressed Time: Adult Refugee Students’ Experiences of Transitioning into Australian Higher Education, Journal of Further and Higher Education

Time and contemporary higher education

Much like space, time is such a constant element of social life that it is often taken for granted in social research. However, although time is often understood as a ‘simple, singular, and linear contextual dimension of people’s experiences’ (Compton-Lilly 2015, 576), there is a substantial body of work that points to how time can be better understood as complex, conflicting, multi- dimensional and intersectional. In particular, Barbara Adam’s (1998, 2000) influential work offers a much more complex set of characterisations of time. Adam makes the case that a reductive linear notion of time (‘clock’ or ‘natural’ time) operates to maintain existing hegemonies by normalising the compartmentalisation (commodification) of time, rather than exposing its constructed qualities (as a by-product of industrialisation). Adam (2000) argues that ‘the neutral, decontextualized, empty time of calendars and clocks’ ignores the ways in which ‘social time’ is ‘experienced, constructed, recounted, recorded and commodified’ (p. 126).

Instead, Adam suggests a more ecological continuum of time perspectives, ranging from ‘natural’ time (the time of cosmology and nature) to ‘social’ time. Her contribution of the timescape perspective opens an expanded conceptual space, permitting exploration of ‘the relational recur- sive interplay between all [time’s] features and locates it in the hegemonic social relations of power and value that tend to set the ground-rules and parameters of socio-environmental debates’ (137). Adam’s (2000) timescape perspective works with a ‘4T’ heuristic: time frame (natural, cosmic, sociocultural), temporality (the time of existence and change), tempo (speed and intensity) and timing (or synchronisation). All these elements of time are located within and against other continua: the past–present–future continuum, the duration–intensity continuum and the sequential–rhythmic continuum. Put together, Adam’s multilayered framework dismisses simple, linear ideas about time, and instead exposes time as highly complex, contextual and dynamic.

This expansive view of time and temporality/ies facilitates the exploration of its multidimensionality, and its contextual/sociocultural practices, making possible analyses of diverse perceptions – such as political, scientific and economic forms of time. Other scholars have added the notion of academic time as a particular timescape (for example, Horstmanshof and Zimtat 2007; Vostal 2013), which is understood as a set of competing temporalities, timings and tempos. As Guzmán- Valenzuela and Di Napoli (2015) argue, universities are caught between the fast pace of the (relatively new) entrepreneurial, competitive, pseudo-corporate drivers of change in HE and the slowness of the (traditional, archaic) administrative processes and timing of university bureaucracy. As they note, ‘Both entrepreneurship and bureaucracy are often present in the same institution and each represents singular pacings: quickness and sluggishness, fast time and slow time’ (155).

Caught between the new pressures of competing in a global market while being beholden to the traditional structures of HE, the timescapes of academia are qualitatively different from other institutions or organisations. However, the dominant time frame in HE has been colonised by clock time – regulated, efficient, bounded and quantifiable time. As Ylijoki (2014, p.144) argues,

[T]he triumph of clock time is manifest at all levels. Academic life is thoroughly structured by clock time rhythms, organizing and ordering activities, among other things, into classes, terms, funding periods and assessment cycles. Internalization of the norms of clock time belongs to the hidden curriculum of education, as at lower levels schoolchildren learn to adapt to externally formulated timetables with regular and fixed slots for arrival, lessons, breaks, eating and other school-day activities.

A significant issue with the dominance of clock time in HE is that it does not recognise the complex and unpredictable aspects of teaching and learning in the contemporary university, such as giving support, building relationships or engaging in self-care (Stevenson and Clegg 2013; Ylijoki 2014). Furthermore, the digitisation of HE has contributed to the speeding up of temporalities of HE. While digital tools have helped to open up/loosen some of the restrictive time frames of university study (such as listening to recorded lectures rather than physically attending at the scheduled time), their use for ‘making future time’ (Gourlay 2014) also demands much more of students and teachers, creating what Burston (2017) describes as ‘time poverty’ (see also Walker 2009).

Higher education and students’ futures

Conceptualisations of the future for/in/of HE matter because they drive policy and funding, and guide practice and conversations between educators and students (Facer 2013). The dominant temporality of HE is future-focused (Adam and Groves 2007; Clegg 2010; Facer 2013; Horstmanshof and Zimtat 2007). For Barbara Adam, the future has been colonised by the question ‘what’s-in-it- for-us’ (2004, 142), with the future subordinated by and contingent on the present. Relatedly, the effectiveness of the myth and marketing of university has created a mirage – what Clegg (2010) describes as an ‘open and empty future’ – where the aspirant, neoliberal student (read compliant, hard-working self-entrepreneur) is led to believe the future is free to be colonised in their own image. In HE discourse, ‘“the future” is often simply used as a synonym for “better”, as a repository for hopes and aspirations for change, as a site of resistance against the conditions of the present’ (Facer 2013, 137).

Time plays a fundamental role in the corporatisation of HE, being used to fuel academic capitalism, which ‘requires both the reification of time and an internalization of the importance of managing time in a demonstrably efficient manner’ (Walker 2009, 484). In addition to the ever- tightening pressures created by neoliberal changes to HE (do more with less!), other broader sociocultural and technological developments have impacted on the 4Ts of the academic time- scape, as well as the lived experiences of studying or working in HE. Growing numbers of traditionally-underrepresented students, resulting from sustained efforts to widen participation, means that universities have to deal with the complexity that mass growth and diversification brings, making it difficult to assume or predict the needs, experiences, knowledges and practices of the diversified student body. Time is a central aspect of this diversity that often gets overlooked.

In aspirational terms, the future in HE is closely tied to the graduate outcome and employability agendas. A problematic assumption underpinning this orientation to the future is that students are able to imagine their futures and craft their aspirations and study trajectories (Stevenson and Clegg 2011; Zipin et al. 2015). From a policy perspective, students’ imagined futures, aspirations and trajectories are assumed to be in development by the time a student enters an undergraduate degree. However, there is a body of work that suggests that students’ aspirations are not fixed or predictable; rather, they are individual, evolving and contextually dependent (see, for example, Gale and Parker 2015; Zipin et al. 2015). Indeed, as Zipin et al. (2015) contend, students’ emergent aspirations (in contrast with their commonsensical and habituated aspirations) are difficult to empirically examine because they constitute ‘social presents-becoming-futures, the “logics” of which . . . do not yet have language’ (236). This lack of metalanguage to describe the ambiguity reinforces more blunt and reductive characterisations of our students, which in turn fuels deficit notions for students who cannot imagine the future as ‘open and empty’.

Other work has pointed to the impact of diversity and students’ orientations to their futures. Using the concept of ‘possible selves’ (idealised representations of self in the future), Stevenson and Clegg’s (2011, 2013) work challenges institutional assumptions about what aspirations and possibilities students bring with them to their HE studies, examining how sociological factors, such as class and gender, open or constrain students’ imaginations about their futures. Although this work suggests that the capacity of students to articulate a future-self is best understood as individual, contextual and fluid, the institutional dominance of clock time (or ‘scheduled time’, according to Ylijoki 2014) denies this diversity. The organisation of time in HE creates a limited set of positions for students that privilege ‘well-defined target setting and planning on how to reach goals and targets’ and fosters the belief that by ‘working hard and avoiding time wasting, it is possible to control the future and achieve one’s goal’ (ibid, 156). When this message is consistently disseminated throughout schooling, it acts as a technology of self-surveillance (Foucault 1988), policing decisions and feelings about time, progress and success. Such attitudes and uses of time align with Adam’s (2003) argument about the commodification of time. In the case of HE, the profit to be gained from time investments may not immediately translate into monetary gain but may instead be used to obtain career or reputational currency.

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.