Traditionally, continental Europe has seen university as a unique site for an open pursuit of knowledge. However, the implementation of the Bologna system has brought reforms in the higher education curriculum that seem to have an instrumentalising effect on the university. Rūta Petkutė’s dissertation explores the implications that these reforms have for academic life, knowledge, and education in the cultural context of Lithuania. She uses a sociological perspective to understand how the changing broader social context shapes the role of academic knowledge and education in society.
Petkutė concluded that Bologna-initiated reforms in Europe signify a problematic cultural shift from the continental idea of the university as a site for pursuing different kinds of knowledge toward a more instrumental Anglo-American notion of the university as a source of immediately applicable knowledge. Her research reveals a discrepancy between enthusiastic national policy response to the European curriculum restructuring and more critical and sceptical academics’ responses.
University academics tend not to internalise the change and implement it only ‘on paper’. “The reason for this hidden resistance is that academics see the restructuring not as an educational, but as an externally prescribed economically-driven project that steers academic life, knowledge, and education towards instrumental ends,” explains Petkutė the results of her research. Furthermore, an important finding of her study is the following ironic paradox: “In the post-soviet context of Lithuania, at the national policy level, the reforms are ‘refracted’ as a progressive Western-like change that has democratic implications, whereas at the micro-political level, they are ‘refracted’ as bearing resemblance to the Soviet instrumental educational model.” Thus, the reforms are experienced by academics as an indirect form of control over their work and academic life more broadly. The element of control is subtly hidden behind seemingly trivial managerial curriculum procedures and the new educational language of competences, outcomes, and efficiency.
An important consequence of this is that the role of theoretical or conceptual knowledge, which academics assume to be of vital importance not only in developing students’ professional skills and critical capacities but also in serving society’s broad interest, becomes trivialised. Also, the fixation on predetermined uniform outcomes and competences has standardising and fragmentising effects on academic knowledge and curriculum. Thus, the overall cumulative effect of the European curriculum restructuring appears to be a gradual instrumentalisation of academic lifeworlds, knowledge, and education. These results bear relevance for all European countries which in the context of European higher education reforms make efforts to restructure higher education curricula along with the Anglo-American model. However, it has particular relevance to post-Soviet European countries that share with Lithuania a similar national experience of social and educational transition.
The supervisors of the doctoral thesis are professor Ivor Goodon (Tallinn University), professor Tero Henrik Autio (University of Tampere) and senior researcher Rain Mikser, (Tallinn University). The opponents are Antti Saari, Associate Professor at the University of Tampere and Liudmila Rupšienė, Professor at the university of Klaipeda
The doctoral thesis is available in Tallinn University Digital Library ETERA.
On April 11, 2022, Rūta Petkutė from the Tallinn University’s School of Educational Sciences defended the doctoral thesis "The Instrumentalisation of Academic Lifeworlds, Knowledge, and Education: Lithuanian Academics’ Responses to the European Higher Education Policy of Curriculum Restructuring".
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