The trouble with the ‘real world’

The trouble with the ‘real world’

All of us have our pet peeves, and one of mine is the use of the term ‘real world’ in comparison with higher education (HE). Sometimes this is to do with the context in which it is used and quite often the manner in which it is delivered; at others the suggestion is implicit that this alleged ‘real’ world is somehow better or has more worth than an educational one. With a whole variety of changes underway our sector and affecting our institutions, the TEF and the future of creative arts education being two dominant  ones, I have felt driven to speak up on behalf of our own reality in HE, and argue for its own special value.

On the one hand the expression seems so trivial and yet we all know how much language matters and how we can be enraged or encouraged by certain kinds of words. I was sufficiently exercised by it to articulate my feelings in an opinion piece, published by the Times Higher yesterday.  I did not expect much feedback, or, if there was any, that it would be more of the ‘picky academic gets caught up in semantics’ variety.

To my surprise the piece seems to have struck a chord with a whole range of people, and has made me realise that sometimes even the small things need saying. I know that some are simply not bothered by the phrase, while others may vehemently disagree with my view. Fellow NTFs may fall squarely into either of these two categories. But for me it’s about recognising that even the seemingly innocuous can cast a long, possibly undermining shadow. It’s also about fighting the good fight for the reality of HE, not just as a transition point en route to something else.

Alison James NTF

Alison James NTF 2014

Article by:

Dr Alison James
Associate Dean Learning and Teaching
London College of Fashion
National Teaching Fellow 2014