Student assessment in neoliberalised universities: issues of discipline and governmentality

Raaper, Rille (2016) Student assessment in neoliberalised universities: issues of discipline and governmentality. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Extensive research has been done on learning-oriented assessment practices in higher education. Keywords such as formative assessment, peer-assessment and feedback dominate the scholarly discourses of assessment. This research, however, argues that not enough attention has been paid to the relationship between assessment policy, power in assessment and the effects of assessment policy and practice on academic and student subjectivities. This is particularly the case in neoliberalised universities where institutional policies are constantly reshaped and developed for the sake of quality assurance and accountability.
Guided by Michel Foucault’s work on discipline and governmentality, this doctoral research explores the ways in which assessment policies have been constructed in two European universities with different historical, political and social backgrounds: the University of Glasgow and Tallinn University. Furthermore, the study explores assessment as an institutional technology that can act on academics and students and shape their experience of their work and studies. In addition to policy analysis, the study involves interviews and focus groups with academics, graduate teaching assistants, students and assessment policy makers in both universities, as well as expert conversations with leading authors in the field. The analytic framework for the study is derived from Fairclough’s approach to discourse analysis. By exploring various discourses, the study traces the ways that assessment policies shape academics and students, and how they are negotiated and resisted by the participants.
The research findings demonstrate that assessment policy and practice draw on wider higher education policy discourses such as the discourses of neoliberalism. The study argues that student assessment is highly complex in neoliberalised universities: it not only operates as a disciplinary technology through which the assessor dominates over the assessed, but can become a neoliberal technology of government that relies on a high number of (ambiguous) regulations and self-governance of academics and students. The
issues of governmentality are particularly characteristic to a highly neoliberalised policy context in the University of Glasgow that shapes complex academic and student subjectivities. Both students and academics feel constrained and controlled in assessment processes, and they tend to accept rather than actively resist the institutional assessment policy and practice developments. However, some evidence of covert resistance was found. This can be conceptualised as a Foucauldian understanding of a subject who is not passively created through power relations but who has opportunities to create him/herself to some extent. As the study captured an early stage of neoliberalisation in Tallinn University, assessment can also be seen as operating, in this context, as a more traditional technology of discipline: little regulated, designed by academics and experienced by students as a subjective process. The findings demonstrate that a more traditional operation of assessment in Tallinn offers significant opportunities for individual pro-activeness and resistance, such as academics managing their practices and students manoeuvring within these practice contexts. These findings lead to the conclusion that assessment in higher education is not only an educational process but an institutional technology related to the issues of discipline and governmentality. Furthermore, they demonstrate that subjectification of academics and students through assessment policy and practice is complex and context-specific in which neoliberal policies tend to have a more constraining effect than that of the traditional understanding of assessment as the domain of the teacher.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Supported by funding from ESRC.
Keywords: Foucault, policy analysis, assessment, higher education.
Subjects: L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB2300 Higher Education
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Education
Supervisor's Name: Patrick, Dr. Fiona and McCulloch, Dr. Margaret
Date of Award: 2016
Depositing User: Rille Raaper
Unique ID: glathesis:2016-7112
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 23 Feb 2016 10:15
Last Modified: 26 Feb 2019 13:34

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