Making Sense of Emerging Populist Agendas
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This chapter tests the truth or falsehood of the populism narrative by examining first the multiple strands subsumed under the label of ‘populism’ (and their many inconsistencies and even contradictions) and then the multi-form heterogeneity of modern higher education (with perhaps as many inconsistencies). Populism is fuelled by opposition to elites, whether welfare-state or neoliberal, which populists claim have let ordinary people down. In its more extreme forms it amounts to a rejection of the liberal, secular and cosmopolitan values of modernity. In the eyes of many populists, universities are bastions of these elites, and a major source of these values. As a result, they appear to have been caught ‘on the wrong side of history’. For universities used to regarding themselves as at the cutting edge of progress this has been an uncomfortable experience. However misconceived, this populist critique cannot be brushed off. Instead, higher education should confront the populist challenge by redoubling its efforts to promote fairer access, a more inclusive curriculum and more flexible forms of learning and teaching, more open and democratic forms of research.
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