December 7-9, 2017, Centre for Interdisciplinary Research, Bielefeld, Germany

“The world is going to university” titled ‘the Economist’ in the year 2015, capturing by this headline the striking expansion of the academic realm in contemporary world society: More and more people study; the number of those enrolled is expected to double within one decade. In 2016, Harvard University claimed that it enrolled students from more than 125 countries and “from every background”, indicating an increasing internationalization of studying as well as a significant change in the social composition of those enrolling and attaining an academic education. Internationalization ranks high among the strategies embraced by universities competing for power, prestige and wealth in the global race; in the quest to belong to the élite, equality is balanced against neo-liberal dictates.

The rapid expansion of the student body results in an increased heterogeneity of its rank and file, with students differing in their ascribed characteristics, their resource endowment, interests, skills, expectations, and imaginations. Academic aspirations have intensified so substantially that student debts have become an important economic factor. Comprising heterogeneity within their spatially limited material premises, universities can be seen as cross-roads where very diverse personal trajectories may intertwine, confront each other, or run parallel. Many tensions bear on the social spaces of universities, and studying can turn into a very ambivalent experience: going through a university course can be a period of greatest freedom in life, of widening horizons and social openings, but also of heteronomy, disciplining and conflicts.

This conference aims to capture the social lives of contemporary universities, concentrating on students’ trajectories, relations, and action fields and on increasingly complex interrelationships between actors representing different institutionalised procedures and political agendas involved in the expanding global higher education. It starts off from observing the striking mobilities as well as the increasing differentiation of the social spaces of universities. But to perceive of students as of a globalizing social formation may fail to acknowledge that many students are already reflexive of themselves as ‘global’. The ‘global student statement’, signed by a number of student associations formulates its dedication “to the advancement of the students’ situation through student rights, accessibility, affordability, partnerships, mobility, learning experience and social justice”. Global students demand a treatment of students as equal partners participating in shaping their university’s development, while opposing the growing commercialisation of tertiary education as well as the widespread perception of students as ‘consumers’.

 Global students_Call for papers (58 Kb)