This article addresses the question of the role and function of contemporary higher education in western industrialised nations through a focus on the participation of undergraduate students. The discussion examines some of the dramatic changes brought about by neo‐liberal educational policy, in particular the hierarchical division of teaching and research and the negative construction of students as consumers. Drawing on critical debates within the fields of art and education, what it means to participate – in both theory and practice – is interrogated. Research‐based learning is then presented as a participatory form of pedagogy. Combining evidence from the wider literature with that provided by the recent activities of a Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) in the UK, it is suggested that research‐based learning has the potential to reconfigure students as intellectual producers through their active engagement with research and their participation in the research cultures of their departments and disciplines. In so doing, such pedagogies present scope for critical and constructive intervention in relation to some of the damaging trajectories of educational reform in the UK and elsewhere
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