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Josh Patel

Research Overview

I am a final year PhD student at the University of Warwick. My research is supervised by Claudia Stein and Mathew Thomson, and kindly funded by History Departmental funding.

The thesis is currently proceeding under the title: 'Imagining the role of the student in society:
British higher education policy and pedagogy, 1957-1972'


Today, the 1960s are fondly remembered as a time when higher education in Britain was understood as a public good. University was free for students, paid for by the state. This expenditure was to provide equality of opportunity, especially for those of lower classes and women. Since the 1990s by contrast, higher education has been based on a marketised funding regime. Self-interested students choose to purchase useful ‘skills’ from higher education providers in order to earn higher wages in the future. Much of the existing historical literature sharply distinguishes this ‘neoliberal’ era from the ‘social democratic’ era of the 1960s.

The historiography of post-war Britain increasingly challenges such ‘rise-and-fall’ narratives of social democracy and instead emphasises its dynamism and flexibility. This thesis shows there is much greater diversity than hitherto appreciated in social democratic policy and pedagogy. This includes a complicated relationship with marketisation strategies. Education for citizenship and education for consumerism are not so easily disentangled.

This thesis explores the university ‘student’ as imagined by a vanguard of reformist university leaders. It begins with neoliberal economist Lionel Robbins, chairman of the famous Committee on Higher Education (1961-63). It examines how the choice of the individual citizen-consumer student was made central to determining the pattern and size of higher education. This followed Robbins’ conviction that the freedom of choice was central to the ‘good society’ and human flourishing, but that it must be secured by state intervention. To educate this student, university pedagogies were redeployed to meet the new challenges of the Cold War and modern technological society. Through liaison with industry, reformists imagined a university education would provide students with a holistic understanding of society. They would learn how to best apply their specialist knowledge in the service of liberal capitalism. This philosophy found its way into the pedagogy and built environment of the new universities, including York, Warwick, and Stirling. Throughout the expanding British higher education system were a series of complicated alliances between the priorities of the consumer and the market and the values of the fair, free, ‘good society’.

Teaching and pedagogy
  • 2019-2021: teaching seminar groups in second/third year core module 'Historiography', with consistently excellent feedback for my warm, empathetic, student-led teaching.
  • 2020: Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, and submitting for the accredited course, 'Postgraduate Award in Teaching and Learning'.
    Academic Background and Awards
    • 2017-2021: History PhD, University of Warwick..
      - Awarded full departmental studentship
      2016-2017: MA Global and Comparative History (Distinction), University of Warwick.
      - Awarded 2016-17 Best MA Dissertation Prize.
      - Dissertation title: ‘Telling the ‘Truth’ about the ‘Biological Turn’? Sociocultural history and pragmatism.’ Supervised by Claudia Stein.
      - Awarded full departmental scholarship.
    • 2013-2016: BA History (First), University of Warwick.
      - Dissertation title: ‘The ‘Biological Turn’: politics and agency.’
      Conferences and Funding Awards
      • September 2021: 'Lionel Robbins, Early Neoliberalism, and Social Democratic Higher Education Expansion: Reforming liberal education for post-war world, and what we might learn to meet post-COVID challenges ‘Public Intellectuals and Education in a Changing Society’: SES 2020 Colloquium.
      • May 2021: 'Connecting a Teaching Community: PGR Digital Teacher Hub', TEALfest 2021 (Technology Enhanced Active Learning Festival).
      • November 2020: ‘The role of the graduate in society': Universities, Industry, and liberal thought in educational philosophies at the New Universities of Warwick and Stirling (1963-1973), North American Conference on British Studies 2020
      • September 2020: From “How often will the students bath?” to “What do you think a university is really for?”: Building spaces for applied learning at the new campus universities of York, Warwick and Stirling, 1959-1972', Building Welfare States: New Approaches to Architecture, Community & Planning in Twentieth Century Britain (University of Warwick)
      • June 2020: Discussion group on ‘Rereading the Robbins Report: Economic thought and achieving the liberal 'good society' in Higher Education (1961-1963)’, Vaughn College, Leicester
      • December 2019: Awarded the Economic History Society’s Research Fund for Graduate Students, in support of archive trips to the University of Stirling.
      • November 2019: 'The moral and economic thought behind the ‘flow survey’ of 21-year-olds by the Robbins Committee (1961-63)', History of Education Society Annual Conference. Awarded full bursary for conference attendance by the HES.
      • September 2019: 'The welfare state and liberal economic thought in the Robbins Committee (1961-63): an uncomfortable alliance?', Research Group on University History, Manchester, Universities and their Contested Pasts.
      • July 2019: 'Neurohistory: heretical history writing? The pragmatic philosophy of sociocultural history and the future of the critical humanities', IX Lisbon Summer School for the Study of Culture: Neurohumanities: Promises & Threats. Supported with funding from the Warwick Connecting Cultures GRP.
      • June 2019: Finalist of 'Three Minute Thesis competition (3MT)' (University of Warwick).
      • May 2019: Realising the ‘Good Society’ through Economic Science: the Robbins Report into Higher Education (1963), Department of History Postgraduate Conference, University of Warwick.
      • September 2018: 'An unlikely alliance? ‘Human Capital’ and Social Democracy in the Robbins Report (1963)', HEC Summer School, European University Institute.
      • May 2017: 'The ‘biological turn’ in history writing: what is man? And how do these assumptions drive history writing?', Department of History Postgraduate Conference, University of Warwick
      Other interests
      • Keen competitive swimmer and coach (head coach of UWSWP 2017-18, 20-21), and especially interested in how alternative pedagogies and learning activities particularly in sport can foster communities, increase student wellbeing, and improve learning outcomes in higher education.
      • Other awards:
        - Collin Brummit Trophy 2016-17 for ‘outstanding contribution’ to sport at Warwick University.
        - Postgraduate Activator of the Year 2016-17 in recognition of voluntary role (Activator) at Warwick Sport.
      April 2021