The FUN Conference

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What is the Sustaining Alternative Universities conference about?

1-2 December 2012
Oxford, UK

Following on from the inaugural meeting of the UK Free University Network held in early 2012, we are calling out to representatives of all free universities and to all those who wish to participate in a conference with a more focused objective.

In recent years, we have witnessed the accelerated neoliberal capitalist colonisation of the university. In the UK (and far beyond) many students are now priced out of higher education and the academic finds him/herself subservient to the logic and interests of capital. In response to this intolerable reality, many groups of scholars, students, and others have come together independently to create alternative, ‘free’ universities.

The ‘Sustaining Alternative Universities’ conference, as a space for coordinating research and sharing knowledge and experience, seeks to support these projects in taking further decisive steps towards the creation of a national movement of individuals and organisations dedicated to the construction and development of alternative democratic, critical, and ultimately sustainable higher education communities.

Sustainability: history, dialogue, and practice

The successes of this movement hinge on its sustainability. ‘How can we build, develop, and maintain truly sustainable educational communities outside the existing institutional frameworks?’ is the question upon which our collective investigations and discussions should be founded. Therefore, our collective task is to conceptualise, research, imagine, and, ultimately, cultivate a sustainable movement based on a network of locally-based, sustainable, free universities. We believe that the process of this conference can help us to successfully undertake this task through linking history, dialogue and practice.

Affinities and collaborations

We invite collaboration and co-operation with all. Beyond the Free University Network itself, we particularly welcome collaboration from members of the following groups:

  • Academic members of the ‘For a Public University’ working group and Campaign for the Public University. We at FUN have not forsaken the mainstream university, and many of our members are not only academics or students, but also active in defending the public university. We recognise the rich traditions of critical pedagogy within the university and the enduring possibilities of its democratic promise. We welcome contributions from all academics.
  • Members of the Co-operative Movement. Clearly, the co-operative model of organisation offers much for free universities today to draw on, and at least one in the UK is explicitly organised upon co-operative principles. We welcome members of the Co-operative Movement who might contribute to our historical and contemporary understanding of co-operative education, and/or who would like to build bridges between these two movements.
  • University workers who are not academics. All too often, non-academic staff working in universities are marginalised within or excluded from these discussions. Their contributions, knowledges, experiences and possibilities are overlooked. We seek to redress this situation and invite all those making invaluable contributions to higher education in ways that are not specifically ‘academic’ to participate in this conference.
  • Students and all those desiring to learn. Critical pedagogy aspires to break down hierarchical boundaries between students and teachers, and to expand the right of learning to everyone whether they occupy the role of ‘student’ or not. In the democratic universities we envisage, students shape their own learning experiences. We welcome contributions from students, past, present, and future.
  • Members of the Occupy Research and other critical research collectives, engaged in similar or affiliated projects.
  • Anyone who is active in creating alternative institutions in other areas of social life, particularly in education. There is much we can learn from each other.

An open, democratic, egalitarian, anti-elitist intellectuality

This is a critical pedagogical and political project. This conference is not intended to be a typical academic conference based exclusively on theoretically dense papers and presentations. There is validity, truth, importance, and profound insight in many other methods and ways of expressing knowledge, and we open our conference and minds to these. We believe that narrative – telling stories – is a particularly important means for reaching the personal and social heart of the obstacles and challenges that confront us in our ambitions to create democratic and sustainable learning communities.

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