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Freedom (how) to learn at university: Visiting Professor argues for student choice at UJ

Professor Bruce Macfarlane, a Professor of Higher Education at the University of Southampton and distinguished visiting professor at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), gave a public lecture titled: Freedom to learn at University on 12 April 2016, hosted by the UJ Faculty of Education.

According to Prof Bruce Macfarlane, “Student academic freedom is conventionally understood in terms of freedom of expression normally in respect to political protest. However, it may also be conceptualised as about the extent to which higher education students are free to make choices about what to learn, when to learn and how to learn.”

This presentation examined why compulsory attendance registers, class contribution grading, group project work and reflective learning exercises based on expectations of self-disclosure, confession and compliance take little account of the rights of students or individual differences between them.

“In my work I have developed conceptual frameworks for interpreting academic practice, ethics and leadership. Applying a mix of empirical and philosophical enquiry, I have helped to define key concepts including academic integrity, student freedom and performativity, academic citizenship and intellectual leadership,” added Macfarlane.

The presentation then probed whether the new hidden university curriculum is intolerant of students who may prefer to learn informally, are reticent, shy, or regard the disclosure of their personal beliefs as an invasion of privacy.

In this lecture, Prof Macfarlane argued that three forms of student performativity have arisen – bodily, participative and emotional – which fail to respect the rights of learners to engage and develop as autonomous adults.

Prof Bruce Macfarlane has previously held chairs at a number of universities in the UK and in Hong Kong. His publications have developed concepts related to academic practice, ethics and leadership and his books include Teaching with Integrity (2004), The Academic Citizen (2007), Researching with Integrity (2009), and Intellectual Leadership in Higher Education (2012). His new book, Freedom to Learn, will be published by Routledge in Autumn 2016. Bruce is joint editor of Policy Reviews in Higher Education and a Fellow of the Society for Research into Higher Education.​

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