Freedom to Learn: The threat to student academic freedom and why it needs to be reclaimed

Bruce Macfarlane

Research output: Book/ReportAuthored book


The freedom of students to learn at university is being eroded by a performative culture that fails to respect their rights to engage and develop as autonomous adults. Instead, students are being restricted in how they learn, when they learn and what they learn by the so-called student engagement movement. Compulsory attendance registers, class contribution grading, group project work and reflective learning exercises based on expectations of self-disclosure and confession take little account of the rights of students or individual differences between them. This new hidden university curriculum is intolerant of students who may prefer to learn informally, are reticent, shy, or simply value their privacy. Three forms of student performativity have arisen ? bodily, participative and emotional ? which threaten the freedom to learn.Key themes include:A re-imagining of student academic freedomThe democratic student experienceChallenging assumptions of the student engagement movement An examination of university policies and practicesFreedom to Learn offers a radically new perspective on academic freedom from a student rights standpoint. It analyzes the effects of performative expectations on students, drawing on the distinction between negative and positive rights to re-frame student academic freedom. It argues that students need to be thought of as scholars with rights and that the phrase ?student-centered? learning needs to be reclaimed to reflect its original intention to allow students to develop as persons. Student rights ? to non-indoctrination, reticence, in choosing how to learn, and in being treated like an adult ? ought to be central to this process in fostering a democratic rather than authoritarian culture of learning and teaching at university.Written for an international readership, this book will be of great interest to anyone involved in higher education, policy and practice, drawing on a wide range of historical and contemporary literature related to sociology, philosophy and higher education studies.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages156
ISBN (Print)9780415729154
Publication statusPublished - 24 Aug 2016

Publication series

NameSociety for Research into Higher Education (SRHE) series

Structured keywords

  • SoE Centre for Higher Education Transformations


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