Dark Arts: Gothic Studies

There’s a Centre for Gothic Studies. Scary.

A couple of years ago I noted the launch of an MA in Horror and Transgression at the University of Derby. This followed on from posts on some other rather niche offers including  a zombie course at the University of Baltimore and a course covering Lady Gaga. Now this has all been taken to a new level by the establishment of a Centre for Gothic Studies at Manchester Metropolitan University.

The Department of English at MMU has a longstanding interest in the Gothic, which informs both undergraduate and postgraduate curricula. It is home to three Gothic scholars with international reputations, Dr Anna Powell, Dr Linnie Blake and Prof Sue Zlosnik, and their work is supplemented by a number of colleagues who have gothicist interests across the field. These include Victorian Gothic (Dr Angelica Michelis), Female Gothic (Dr Emma Liggins), American Gothic (Dr Liz Nolan and Dr Sarah Maclachlan), vampire and zombie texts (Dr Sorcha Ní Fhlainn) and contemporary gothic film and literature (Dr Xavier Aldana Reyes). On top of this, the university has a dedicated Gothic Research cluster that brings together colleagues in other disciplines with strong interests in the Gothic, such as Prof Joanna Verran (Microbiology), Dr Julian Holloway (Geography and Environmental Management), or Dr Emily Brick and Dr Joan Ormrod (Film and Media Studies), among others.

The Centre’s mission is to promote the study of the Gothic both nationally and internationally and to work across age ranges and levels of study – from sixth form to PhD and beyond. To do this we run Sixth Form Gothic Study Days, creative writing workshops and Continuing Professional Development courses that are of particular interest to those who teach the Gothic or, simply, want to take a university-level course for pleasure. From 2014 we will be running a biennial Gothic conference – specifically aimed at postgraduate students and early career academics – and will inaugurate a new online journal, the peer-reviewed Dark Arts: An Online Journal of Gothic Studies.

It’s clearly fertile territory for academic study. And the notion of a “Gothic Research Cluster” involving microbiologists and geographers is a thoroughly fascinating concept. Nothing to be scared of here.

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Developing higher education in Kurdistan

Vital developments in an emerging nation.

Back in 2009 one of the University of Nottingham’s senior academics took on an unusual new role. Professor Dlawer Ala’Aldeen was appointed as Higher Education Minister and began to draw up plans to improve the quality of and to internationalise higher education in Kurdistan.

The post-Saddam university system he was taking on was described by Professor Ala’Aldeen as “grossly outdated” and designed for a closed, centralised country.

The BBC News report on his reforms tells how he had tomatoes, stones and apples thrown at him in response to his attempts at changing Kurdistan’s universities. However, he did make progress:

Within a week of being appointed, Prof Ala’Aldeen had written up a radical vision document and it was quickly endorsed by the cabinet.

Higher education in Kurdistan was suffering a major crisis of quality, capacity and infrastructure.

There was a consensus in support of reform and it helped that Prof Ala’Aldeen had been very critical of the government in the past.

Flag-map of Iraqi Kurdistan

The reforms, which planned to improve the quality and accreditation of university teachers, brought considerable opposition from student and teacher organisations as well as businesses linked with the burgeoning market in private universities.

Several new private universities were threatened with closure, much to the anger of their staff and prospective students who had paid fees for their courses.

“Many teachers had been licensed prematurely. There were 11 private universities when I started with 18 more waiting to be opened. These mushrooming private colleges were relying on the same pool of resources as the public universities which lacked staff and facilities,” Prof Ala’Aldeen says.

The problem of staffing was particularly acute in medicine, pharmacy and dentistry and in postgraduate studies.

But Prof Ala’Aldeen faced protests and opposition.

He was accused of trying to transplant the UK system onto Kurdistan, something he vehemently denies since he was educated and worked in his home region, before coming to study in the UK.

There was opposition but he did make some major changes to higher education in Kurdistan. It really is a great story.

True Crime on Campus §32: not vending

All new True Crime on Campus.

More extracts from real Security reports. The challenges are never ending for our hard working and extremely helpful Security staff:

21:20 Security received a report of an alarm activation at the Blackwells Bookshop on Jubilee Campus. On investigation, all of the doors were secure and the cause of the activation was cobwebs at the alarm sensor. The key holder met with Security and removed the cobwebs.

5474155241_4918b47ea6Update:‘Report of Theft of £1000 by a Student from his room in Hall on 28/09/13’. A Security Officer from the Covert Team visited the student in his room to conduct further enquires. The student informed him that he had left the money in a top drawer in a bag. The Officer pulled the drawers out and found the money at the back of the drawers. To say the student was elated would be an understatement and he gave the Officer a big hug. Police and Hall Management updated.

2120 Report that a kitchen cupboard had fallen off the kitchen wall while full of food items on Greenfield Street. Security attended and assisted the resident in moving the cupboard. Estates Help Desk and Housing to be informed.

0020 Patrol Security Officer observed a male attempting to break into a house. The Officer spoke to the male who stated that this is where all the drugs are. The male then ran from the area and was detained by other Officers who attended. The male was found to be a student from Derby University who was staying with a friend in Hall. This was confirmed by our student. Wardens to be informed. The student from Derby University was extremely drunk.

446707751_e6ed02a1d92145 Report that a student had his hand stuck in a vending machine in Sir Clive Grainger Building. Security attended the Fire Service were called out. The Student managed to free his hand and went to the QMC to be checked due to pain in his wrist.

2120 Report that people were giving out free cider to students in the car park. Security attended. Those who were handing out the cider stated that they had been given permission to do so but had no proof of this so were told to leave Campus. Security are to follow up.

2230 Report that a student thinks they may have Flu in Hall. Security attended.

2352 Report of a mattress being thrown out of a room in Hall. Security attended and the Hall Porter confirmed all the items were back in the room. There is some damage to the window of the which will need to be reported. The Hall Warden and Manager are to be informed. At 1550 a report from the resident of the room was taken by Security that items are missing from their room. Security to follow up.

0035 Patrol Security Officers stopped a group of Students on East Drive. One Student was climbing a lamp post and another was on the top of a bus shelter. One student was very abusive towards the Officer and will be reported to the Compliance and Investigations Manager.

iphone1130 Report that a mobile phone had been stolen from the Chemistry Building and the owner was tracking the phone. Security attended the Science Site and with the owner concentrated on the area where the phone was tracked too. As Officers closed in on the area the signal from the phone was lost. While making enquires in the area Officers discovered that the owner had in fact purchased lunch in the Coates Cafe and left his phone at the till. The cafe staff had waited for a short period to see if the owner returned when they did not they placed the phone in their safe which was when the signal to it was lost. The phone was retrieved and returned to the owner.

2150 Residents of a Flat contacted the Control room asking for help as their baby would not stop crying. Officers gave the contact number for NHS Direct and attended the flat.

2324 Request for assistance to Hallward Library as a drunken student kept running into the Library and shouting. Security attended. On arrival the student had run away.

1310 Report that there was a dog in Highfield Lake in distress. Security attended and on arrival Officers observed a male with the dog. The male was spoken to and confirmed he was the owner and he had jumped into the lake to save his dog.

Never a dull moment on campus.

Britain’s lowest price degree course?

Asda is launching an undergraduate degree – will it be Asda price?

Some time ago I posted on a story about Asda’s parent company Wal-Mart and its partnership with a for-profit online education provider in the US. More recently we learned that Morrisons was to offer a degree course to some of its staff. Now Asda in the UK is joining in according to this story in the Independent:

Asda-Superstore_Cape_Hill

30 employees at the supermarket chain, which currently has over 500 stores across the UK, will be able to take a degree in distribution or retail operations at Middlesex University. The employees will keep their jobs at the store, and study alongside work.

The scheme is being formally launched today, after a successful pilot programme last year. It will be open to all employees who have worked for Asda for at least six months.

Asda’s Executive People Director Hayley Tatum said: “The current economic climate – coupled with the spiralling costs of higher education – means that many of our colleagues have missed out on university degrees.”

The degrees will be entirely funded by Asda, who are hoping to create a pool of ‘home grown talent’ as future leaders of Asda. Employees will take 12 days of classroom workshops, online study, peer networking and work-based assessment.

It’s a modest development but an interesting one nevertheless and, as we have seen, other supermarkets (and Harrods) have already gone down this route. So soon we will have every major retailer offering degrees to their staff. That’s Asda price!

Who matters most on campus?

Who are the VIPs at your university?

We all like to think we are indispensable. However, this is rarely the case. I sometimes worry the place will grind to a halt when I go on holiday.  It does seem though that things often progress just fine when I’m away (for a brief period, anyway). So perhaps I’m not completely indispensable. Which then invites the question are there key individuals within universities without whom things would just fall apart?

Obviously there are groups of people who are fundamental to the operation of the institution, starting with academics who teach and research and including grounds staff, catering teams and those who sort out the timetable and run school offices. But who are the absolutely critical individuals?

Bigbang VIP

Who is the most important person in your university? The Vice-Chancellor? Chief Financial Officer? Registrar?  What about the Head of Undergraduate Admissions, the Head of Security or the Dean of the Medical school? You might also think of the Press Officer, Head of Health and Safety or IT Network Manager. Or yourself of course. #univips

The Imperfect University: Mobility Matters

A re-post of an earlier piece on the importance of mobility for the development of professional services staff.

Registrarism

The Imperfect University: Staff getting on their bikes

One of the things professional services colleagues sometimes complain about is that whereas  academic staff can be promoted in post – and indeed can progress all the way from lecturer to professor in the same academic department – they can’t. Instead to advance their careers administrators have to move – either elsewhere in the institution or to another university. This is often presented as a problem whereas I have to say I think it is much more of a positive position. Whilst there is something to be said for having people in post in administrative roles in central or academic departments who know their jobs inside out, who carry a sense of the institutional history and provide the continuity between rotating professors as heads of department, there is also a difficulty in such longevity in one particular role. Essentially the challenge is…

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Celebrity tutors

Hong Kong’s got (teaching) talent.

Following a recent post on Oprah in the classroom, the New York Times has a great piece on Celebrity Tutors in Hong Kong:

Advertisements for star tutors in Hong Kong can be seen all over here: on billboards that loom over highways and on the exteriors of shopping malls. Invariably, the local teaching celebrities are young, attractive and dressed in designer outfits befitting pop stars. But beyond the polished shine, the advertisements also claim that their celebrity tutors can help students ace Hong Kong’s university entrance exam.

“From a marketing perspective, every company wants to present their products with good packaging,” said Antonia Cheng, a celebrity English teacher at Modern Education, one of the city’s largest tutorial chains. “I believe, very simply, that this is a business principle.”

Although Ms. Cheng’s Web site features photos of her in various poses, including in a red cocktail dress with a flash of leg, she maintains that “the quality of lessons is most important.”

According to the piece many of the city’s celebrity tutors have their own music videos, Facebook fan pages and products including stationery. It has also been reported that some tutors can earn more than 10 million Hong Kong dollars, or around £800k each year. That’s a pretty good rate. Will it attract others to set up shop there? We’ll see.

Brian Cox

Not going to Hong Kong

Guns on (US) Campuses

Should we be pleased? Students Oppose Concealed-Carry Gun Policy on Campuses

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a report on a new survey which suggests most students are against the idea of people being allowed to carry concealed guns on campus.

As state legislatures continue to debate whether to allow people to carry concealed firearms on college campuses, a survey shows that most students oppose the idea.

The survey, conducted by Ball State University, found that 78 percent of students at 15 Midwestern colleges were against the carrying of handguns on campuses and would not obtain a permit to do so if it were allowed.

welcome on campus?

welcome on campus?

A similar majority, nearly four in five students, said they would not feel safe if students, faculty members, and visitors were allowed to carry guns.

Bringing student voices into the debate over guns on campuses was part of what drove Jagdish Khubchandani, a professor of community health education at Ball State, to conduct the survey. “Most of our laws on campus in regards to guns do not really consider student perspectives,” he said. Now “the students have spoken.”

Most of the 1,649 undergraduates surveyed thought that allowing concealed weapons would increase the rate of suicide and homicide on campuses. Those who supported concealed carry, Mr. Khubchandani said, were far more likely to be male, to own a gun, to have been the victim of a crime, and to binge-drink.

Sixteen percent of respondents reported owning at least one gun, while half admitted that they didn’t know whether their university had a policy concerning firearms on the campus.

I’ve been reflecting on this for a few days now and I’m still finding it really quite difficult to process. I accept, reluctantly, that there are entirely different traditions in the USA and Europe about gun ownership and control which mean that the terms of the debate are different. However, we are talking about university campuses here. Places dedicated to education, knowledge creation, research and dissemination. Institutions where disputes are resolved through rational argument and debate rather than violence. And yet in this US survey, the students have spoken and barely 80% of students think carrying handguns is a bad idea. Only 80%! And 16% already have a gun themselves. I just find it very difficult to understand why the scale of objection is not larger given that we are talking about higher education. What is it that enables some students to reconcile a university environment with the ownership of a firearm?

The Imperfect University: The Cult of Efficiency

A reminder about Callaghan’s excellent book ‘Education and the Cult of Efficiency’

Registrarism

The cult of efficiency

I’ve recently been reminded about a great book recommended to me by my former supervisor, Nigel Norris. Half a century since its publication it remains a fascinating read and sits midpoint between two eras of educational change which, perhaps surprisingly, seem to have a lot in common. (Note that a large part of what follows is taken from my book Dangerous Medicine: Problems with quality and standards in UK higher education which is available for Kindle via Amazon at what I’m sure we’d all agree is a very competitive price.)

Callahan’s book, Education and the Cult of Efficiency, published in 1962 offers a salutary warning about the hazards of imposing inappropriate models in education. When I first looked at this I was interested in the ways in which industrial quality assurance frameworks seemed to be enthusiastically adopted by some in higher education with little regard…

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A ‘University in a Box’ in Rwanda

More educational innovation in Africa.

Earlier this year I posted about the initiative by Kenyatta University to establish a campus in Dadaab, a huge refugee camp filled with Somali refugees. A fantastic initiative, also supported by some Canadian universities, which I am still hoping will be followed by UK universities.

More recently, The Chronicle of Higher Education has a story on a programme in Rwanda which is aiming to offer a ‘University in a Box’. The programme, called Kepler, has been established in Kigali by Generation Rwanda, a non-profit organisation:

Free for students, Kepler threads together open-source, online content from Western universities, on-site classroom instruction, and an associate degree from Southern New Hampshire University’s competency-based program, College for America.

The goal is to build a low-cost, high-quality blended-learning model that can be replicated anywhere, says Generation Rwanda’s executive director, Jamie Hodari. Kepler’s first four years are being financed by a corporate foundation that insists, at least for now, on keeping its name and the size of its contribution secret. The 10-year plan includes scaling up from the inaugural class of 50—Ms. Musanabera among them—to 100,000 students at replica programs around the world.

This is a great idea it seems to me – a really positive way of exploiting the best free online material in a way which could make a real difference in supporting cost-effective higher education development in emerging nations. The programme wants others to copy it too as its director says:

“We want people to steal everything and anything we create. Our intention is to create a university in a box, a kit, down to every lesson plan.”

Let’s hope others do take him up on this.

Save universities from more misguided regulation

Well-meaning but fundamentally wrong proposals for yet more regulation

hecommission-regulationreportcoversmaller

Just when you thought things couldn’t get much worse in terms of higher education regulation, another group comes along and proposes a whole load more. Brilliant. (I’ve posted before here on this issue.)

I’ve not seen the report yet (it is due to be published today) but the Guardian has and has commented at some length on its contents under the title “What universities need: regulation, regulation, regulation” which gives us a bit of a steer on the conclusions. It is suggested that there is massive risk here which only what looks like a shed load (technical term for a unit of unnecessary bureaucracy) of additional regulation can mitigate:

They warn that without proper regulation, there is little to protect students from disreputable or fly-by-night institutions. “We are concerned that there is a growing unregulated sector of higher education that may be offering insufficient provision to students,” the report states. “This has the potential to damage England’s reputation as a leading provider of higher education.” It also threatens students’ confidence that the thousands of pounds they pay in fees will secure them a top-quality education, at an institution that will not go bust.Paper_tape_table_dispenser-01

The authors argue that there is also a commercial case for better regulation: it encourages businesses to invest in the sector and banks to lend institutions money. “We believe that the current regulatory environment in higher education, and the changes that are in-train, are insufficient to achieve this,” the report says.

It is far from clear what this “unregulated sector” is. Is it the alternative private providers which have been ushered into higher education by this government? Perhaps, but whilst they are arguably under-regulated they are not exactly “fly-by-night” outfits. So where are these shady backstreet higher education providers which are necessitating all this extra red tape? Perhaps they are listed in the report but it is far from clear from this who we are talking about.

Until now, regulation of higher education institutions has been piecemeal, dictated partly by rules, such as health and safety, that govern any large organisation, partly by institutional committees responsible for setting and monitoring standards on research and course programmes, and partly by academic senates, boards of governors and sector-owned bodies, such as the Higher Education Statistics Agency, supporting effective management. Hefce and the Office for Fair Access also act as independent external regulators, monitoring respectively institutions’ financial health and efforts to be socially inclusive, while Hefce contracts the Quality Assurance Agency to monitor teaching quality.

In his review, published in 2010, which recommended lifting the cap on tuition fees, Lord Browne suggested merging all the regulatory bodies into a single, independent Higher Education Council. Earlier this year, the Institute for Public Policy Research came up with a similar proposal. The government has never acted on the idea.

Now, the commission recommends a “lead” regulator, the Council for Higher Education, incorporating Offa, the Office for Student Loans (formerly the Student Loans Company) and a new, lightly staffed Office for Competition and Institutional Diversity, each retaining individual structures and purposes. Other regulatory bodies, including QAA and Office for the Independent Adjudicator, would be linked but independent.

Whilst it is right to identify that there is a messy patchwork of legislation and regulation affecting higher education, the ideas which have been floated to tidy this up seem to have been motivated by views of a need for tidiness and convenience for those involved in regulating than what is actually in the interest of students, universities, the sector or the country/countries concerned. The government has not acted on these ideas for the very good reason that they don’t make sense. Moreover, it looks from this piece as if the report is seeking to combine UK-wide and English agencies without regard to the positions of the devolved nations.

One final point caught my eye here:

The report also proposes an insurance scheme, paid into by every institution, to safeguard students should an institution or course fail, and based on a scheme run by the Civil Aviation Authority. This may be controversial, with traditional institutions reluctant to pay into a scheme designed to bail out new, riskier operations that fail.

“May be controversial”? What delightfully amusing understatement.

To summarise. We need less regulation, not more. Higher education is already over-regulated and this impacts negatively on institutions’ ability to deliver their missions. This kind of report I fear offers only a recipe for further bureaucracy and waste in higher education and will not benefit students or the sector. So, thanks but no thanks.

Working with Young Carers

New activities to support young and young adult carers.

The University of Nottingham’s Impact Campaign is supporting a range of activities involving work with young and young adult carers.

Britain’s ‘invisible army’ of young carers and young adult carers provide unpaid care to family members.

As well as caring for loved ones who are ill, disabled or have mental health issues or other needs, these young carers face their own challenges, such as education, employment and developing adult relationships. We want them to get the support they need.

As part of a recent university event we heard a bit more detail about this terrific project which covers a huge number children and young adults acting as carers:

The numbers:

There are 11m children under 18 in the UK. A quarter of these live in families where there is chronic physical or mental health problems, illness and disability.

Of these, as many as 700,000 children (eight per cent of all children) and 250,000 young adults (aged 18-24) have unpaid caring roles within their own families.

Many provide more than 20 hours of care per week; some, including very young children, care for more than 50 hours a week.

Our solution

The University is working with young carers and young adult carers to improve their quality of life. Thanks to our research, ­their role in UK society and internationally is increasingly being recognised. We will investigate the barriers that restrict their health, well-being, development and education, and identify policies and services that empower them and work best for them and their families.

It’s great work and this brief video (it is brief) shows just what can be done – it has highlights from a recent Young Carers Open Day at the University of Nottingham which was all about showing young carers the possibilities offered by higher education. This should be part of every institution’s widening participation programme.

All of this work is winning greater recognition for young carers, increasing their support networks and helping reduce the amount of caring they do, thereby giving them greater life opportunities. It really is hugely impressive.

THE World University Rankings 2013-14

The Times Higher Education World University Rankings are out

The final ranking of the season is now available from THE.

More details of the methodology and regional and subject variations are available on the THE rankings site. Are they “the most comprehensive and balanced comparisons available, which are trusted by students, academics, university leaders, industry and governments”? Perhaps. But there certainly seems to be more of a fuss about the launch than ever before.

Some exciting stats from the press release:

• There are 26 countries in the world top 200 list – two more than last year thanks to Turkey, Spain and Norway rejoining the group (Brazil drops out)
• The highest-ranked institution outside the US and the UK is Switzerland’s ETH Zürich ­- Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zürich, which slips two places to 14th
• Asia’s number one is the University of Tokyo, rising four places to 23rd
• After the US and the UK, the Netherlands is the next best represented nation (12 institutions), but its number one, Leiden University, makes it only to 67th

So, without further ado, here is the Top 20…

 The world top 20 is as follows:

 

2013-14 rank 2012-13 rank Institution Country
1 1 California Institute of Technology US
2 4 Harvard University US
2 2 University of Oxford UK
4 2 Stanford University US
5 5 Massachusetts Institute of Technology US
6 6 Princeton University US
7 7 University of Cambridge UK
8 9 University of California, Berkeley US
9 10 University of Chicago US
10 8 Imperial College London UK
11 11 Yale University US
12 13 University of California, Los Angeles US
13 14 Columbia University US
14 12 ETH Zürich ­- Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zürich Switzerland
15 16 Johns Hopkins University US
16 15 University of Pennsylvania US
17 23 Duke University US
18 20 University of Michigan US
19 18 Cornell University US
20 21 University of Toronto Canada

the-wur-logo-world-rankings

And the UK rankings:

2 2 University of Oxford
7 7 University of Cambridge
10 8 Imperial College London
21 17 University College London
32 39 London School of Economics and Political Science
38 57 King’s College London
39 32 University of Edinburgh
58 49 University of Manchester
79 74 University of Bristol
80 80 Durham University
100 103 University of York
102 119 Royal Holloway, University of London
112 110 University of Sheffield
114 145 Queen Mary, University of London
117 139 University of Glasgow
117 108 University of St Andrews
121 110 University of Sussex
137 145 Lancaster University
139 142 University of Leeds
141 124 University of Warwick
146 130 University of Southampton
148 153 University of Exeter
153 158 University of Birmingham
157 120 University of Nottingham
161 196 University of Leicester
169 171 University of Liverpool
174 176 University of East Anglia
188 176 University of Aberdeen
194 176 University of Reading
196 201-225 University of Dundee
198 180 Newcastle University

 

All of this is Copyright Times Higher Education. Full details can be found here:  http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/world-university-rankings/

Building community in university halls

Interesting ideas for growing community in halls of residence.

An interesting essay in Inside Higher Ed calls for a more ambitious concept for residential life. The argument is that halls of residence provide the ideal location for developing students’ civic learning. The benefits include preparing them for life in an ever more challenging world:

The next generation is going to inherit a world filled with civic challenges. In addition to the usual challenges of community building, they will inherit communities struggling under the weight of large social and political institutions that are not up to the task of the modern era. They also will inherit communities grappling with complex global issues manifesting themselves as local problems, including a lack of jobs, water shortages, and racial/ethnic/religious divisions.

To meet their civic responsibilities, our students will need the capacity to thrive in diverse environments, embrace change as a daily reality, think outside boxes and across categories, and possess a mix of personal attributes, including humility, confidence, persistence, empathy, and communication and conflict negotiation skills. Residential halls are great places for some of this learning to occur.

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All fair enough and difficult to argue with. But there are some significant steps required in order to deliver this:

To transform our residence halls into sites for civic learning, we would need to de-layer our halls of rules and processes. We would move away from approaches where professionals act on people — and move toward civic approaches, where residential hall leaders understand the art of coaching students to engage in community building. We would take an experiential approach, giving students space and time to learn by doing. Sometimes our students would get it wrong. This would lead to some messiness and, often, to some conflict. We would see these as positive learning moments and not messy moments to be avoided.

All of this would require some give and take across the campus. In tight budget times, we would be asking a range of constituencies to support an intentional channeling of resources to residence halls as educational sites that complement and leverage learning elsewhere. We also would be asking our residential hall staff to embrace new ways of thinking, including giving up some of the rules and processes.

These are interesting ideas but perhaps not that radical. Indeed this really doesn’t seem very far away from Ernest Boyer’s Principles of Community as set out over 20 years ago. However all that messiness may be a bit too much to handle and the need to sustain a sound framework for both support and discipline just to ensure that life can go on normally may militate at times against this kind of experimentation.