Competition, contest and the possibility of egalitarian university education

Damian Cox


Competition and contest underpin academic life in many ways, not all of them constructive or valuable. In this paper I make a start on the task of distinguishing valuable academic competition from its opposite and suggest reforms of academic institutions that would diminish the prevalence of destructive competition and approach more nearly the egalitarian goal of treating all members of the academic community—especially, but not only, students—as equally valued and equally deserving of respect. To do this, I develop a distinction between two kinds of competition: tender competition and rank competition. I analyse the illusion of meritocracy in terms of them. My principal recommendation for university pedagogical practice is to eliminate grading of student work and replace grading systems with a system of demanding pass/fail assessments.

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