Neoliberal influence in Higher Education and on EAP

About two weeks ago, a few tweets in my Twitter feed referred to this book:

Gregory Hadley (2015), English for Academic Purposes in Neoliberal Universities: A Critical Grounded Theory, Educational Linguistics 22, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-10449-2_3

Fortunately, the author has put his book on his page, so I could start reading it straight away…

One key concept is “neoliberal HEIs” (Higher Education Institutions). As far as I understand, these are universities, colleges etc. that are governed less by old/western/Humboldtian principles than by profit-maximising administrators.

Another key concept is the Blended EAP Professional, the “BLEAP”, which is actually the focus of the book. BLEAPs are, as far as I understand, people who used to be EAP teachers (TEAPs) but have then moved on to management positions mediating between the “command and control” of the university and the teaching workforce at the bottom in the EAP unit – and this happens mostly in neoliberal HEIs.

I’m about 70 pages in. This is not a book review; I rather want to comment on two points that emerged for me from the first three chapters.

1) The HEI point

When I started reading, I was a little bit defensive, expecting this to be a slap aimed at private providers in the (UK?) EAP sector. Certainly the description of the neoliberal HEI fits the private providers, or at least the one I work for, as a work and study place. But I soon started to read this differently: actually the book seems to explain how nearly the whole of Higher Education, on a global scale, is affected by neoliberal influences. So the private providers in EAP are not the only institutions commercialising education (ok, that wasn’t news to me), and they are certainly not the main driving force. Everyone seems to be against private providers, but I can read from this book:

  1. that their existence is a symptom of a much wider phenomenon, rather than the main driver, and
  2. that much of what happens here is also very common in other places, e.g. agreements with student recruitment agencies (I’m not involved in that here, I’m just a teacher).

This makes my workplace sound more “valid” and confirms my suspicion: in the global picture, private EAP providers are not “the evil ones”, even though some colleagues from other institutions like to make this out, as here:

“I think scholarly activity is (…) an ‘added value’ we can offer as compared to the para-university private college sector. Otherwise we risk becoming lambs to the slaughter of privatization.”

2) The BLEAP/TEAP point

At the beginning, the description looks like being a BLEAP is utterly undesirable.

TEAPs have a clear professional identity, they know who they are – teachers (p. 45). (That’s more than most of the active BALEAP discussion contributors seem to know 😉 )

BLEAPs, on the other hand, describe themselves as a mix between “not sure, never thought about who I am” and “a salad” (p. 46). Sitting between all parties, “highly disposable”, not middle managers because they have no official authority (p. 8) – who would ever want to be such a strange thing as a BLEAP? TEAPs seem to be the real thing, those who know the students, those with a professional identity, those who have the knowledge and skills that EAP professionals need.

In Chapter 3, “Life as a BLEAP”, we learn that BLEAPs usually “progress” from being a TEAP to becoming a BLEAP, so are BLEAPs higher in the hierarchy? This probably depends on what hierarchy – they seem to be higher in the institutional hierarchy, since they manage TEAPs and execute what they are told by “command & control”. But in the “value” hierarchy, they might still be lower than TEAPs? TEAPs try to sabotage the BLEAPs’ efforts to transform, or simply develop/form, an EAP unit to ensure survival (of the EAP unit and the university) in the bigger picture, going back to the HEI point. BLEAPs seem to have the tendency to “sink”, for various reasons, so it seems to be a highly temporary career highlight, unless they are “upwardly mobile” to the extent of leaving EAP completely. And TEAPs will not accept a BLEAP back in their ranks.

So does that mean that in an EAP career, you can’t progress? Because once you get into management, you become a BLEAP of some gradient and can’t go back to “normal”, to being a valued professional? Not sure this is the case, since I know quite a few EAP professionals whose job includes more managing (including tasks that BLEAPs to) than teaching and whose career trajectories do not seem to follow the BLEAP trajectory, so what’s the difference?

When I started reading, I asked “How many BLEAPs do I know”, now I ask “Do I know any BLEAPs”? Would anyone happily describe themselves as a BLEAP?

Maybe I’ve misunderstood some of this, and I’m still reading. I’d be interested in what others think about the book (if you’ve read it or part of it), its core concepts or what I make of them so far.


3 thoughts on “Neoliberal influence in Higher Education and on EAP

  1. No problem. I am struggling for time these days as well (writing another book, this time on Grounded Theory methodology for Applied Linguists/Language Teachers). Let me know later on where the theory fits and where it doesn’t fit for you. Especially the places where it doesn’t fit…it is at these places where we can better demarcate the limits of a Grounded Theory for a certain domain. Right, have a good day over there…back to work for me! 🙂

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