The Resilient University

Had a great day in Lincoln yesterday, Friday 29th October, to discuss the Resilient University project with Mike Neary, Joss Winn and a great team putting together a cunning plan, more of which in due course. A lot of discussion revolved around notions of what ‘resilience’ means in the context of the existing crisis ridden university system and in the context of a re-visioning of what a ‘university’ could and should be. There is clearly a mainstream language of resilience that is all about shoring up the structures and institutions of the status quo. But if the status quo is seen as the cause of the various crises and conditions it needs to become resilient with respect to, then striving for the status quo’s resilience creates a negative trajectory double bind – strategies for resilience that are doomed to make the system ever less resilient.  If this is correct the system is unsustainable and cannot be made resilient in its own terms and will eventually fail and, by necessity, become something else, for good or ill, for progress or extinction.

My view is that the sort of education system we have now, including HE, is a significant part of the problem. It is itself in crisis and is a major component of the broader crises that it is a part of, political and cultural crises (legitimacy crisis), health and well-being crises, economic and financial crises, and military crises. If this is so, how can education be conceived of and organised differently? And what does resilience mean for this re-visioned form of education? What is needed is a new, or at least different, language and conceptualisation of resilience. Perhaps the focus of resilience should not be on the current system but what it is degrading and destroying. A good starting point would be a look at how the concept is currently used and defined in practice.

“Resilience is the property of a material to absorb energy when it is deformed elastically and then, upon unloading to have this energy recovered.” So, absorbing, recycling and exploiting the changes that impact.

“Resilience in psychology is the positive capacity of people to cope with stress and adversity. This coping may result in the individual “bouncing back” to a previous state of normal functioning, or using the experience of exposure to adversity to produce a “steeling effect” and function better than expected” Or, what hurts us only makes us stronger.

“The Government’s aim is to reduce the risk from emergencies so that people can go about their business freely and with confidence”. With the object of being prepared for emergencies and to ensure “continuity of business”.

“Resilience is the ability to absorb disturbances, to be changed and then to re-organise and still have the same identity (retain the same basic structure and ways of functioning).”

2 thoughts on “The Resilient University”

  1. Hi Terry,

    Sorry to have missed you yesterday, but glad that we are both part of this process.

    On Resilience, there are mentions in Joss’s blogs and mine: [check the PDF]

    You should also follow @dougald and @leashless and @warrenpearce on Twitter

  2. Thanks for these Richard. Joss has tweeted me some suggestions too. Should keep me busy for a while!. I’m sorry you couldn’t make it too. We had a good discussion. Some of it left me a bit confused, I must say., but in a good constructive way. There’s some new ideas for me in this and things I thought I understood but am not so sure of now. Sometimes I found it difficult to move from the ideal to the concrete using my normal categories of understanding, for instance in the discussion we had on values and on ‘knowledges’. I’m looking forward to pursuing these with the group, in, against, here, to infinity and beyond, wherever it takes us!

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