A: ‘The language of learning: a study in the re-imagining of teaching excellence from Robbins to Johnson’ by Dr Maureen Spencer

Session report by Betty Sinyinza (Educational Technologist, CAPE).
To read the abstract which was submitted prior to the conference please click here.


Dr Maureen Spencer gave a detailed trace of shifts in language in both national and institutional higher education policy documents over the five decades since the publication of the Robbins Report.

She pointed out that an effective unpacking of policy statements in higher education, particularly the introduction of the TEF required a sustained analysis of the impact of language in persuading professionals and public alike to accept the legitimacy of a new direction in student learning. She also stated that the seductive borrowing of familiar terms such as the current ‘the best possible value for money for students’ conveyed the message that a transactional cost–effective objective is a much desired norm in higher education and is incontrovertible common sense. Consequently, Higher education needs to have a diverse product range (including excellent teaching) and needs to be responsive to demands for its final products from a wide range of customers.

However, Institutional higher education policy documents are often seen as disruptive or sometimes an interference into higher education. Nevertheless, the consensus from a contribution from the audience in the session suggested that Universities had far more resilience and nothing significant had changed over the last 50 years (teachers are still largely teaching and assessing) .  Additionally, a quote from the audience suggested that “Universities have not been defeated and teachers come to teaching because that is what we they want to do”.

The discussion afterwards, questioned the problem of retention of students and it was asserted that students may be dropping out of higher education citing financial reasons because of not possessing any other language to express their reasons for withdrawal.