The parallels between birds and students – Joe Moran in the Times Higher Ed

I’m an interested observer of bird habits, so the article by Joe Moran in this week’s Times Higher caught my eye, and I really enjoyed the analogy. You can read the article on the THE website, but here’s a small taster..

I have come to see birdwatching as an enviable model of a scholarly community. Birdwatching developed almost entirely separately from academic ornithology, and birders, like trainspotters, are still occasionally caricatured as sartorially challenged, solitary males with poor social skills. Yet birdwatching is a world both spontaneously communal and good-naturedly competitive, with no formal hierarchy but a strong emphasis on credibility and peer approval.

The new managerialist approaches to universities, which emphasise the pursuit of greater productivity and growth aligned to abstract notions of excellence, assume that what drives us are “rational” incentives such as the desire for individual preferment, the coveting of higher positions in league tables and other markers of competitive prestige. The self-generating, self-policing scholarly networks of birdwatching suggest otherwise – that what motivates us most of all, apart from curiosity about the world, are these webs of informal mutual support and the desire for the respect and love of the people around us.

Joe Moran is reader in cultural history, Liverpool John Moores University. He blogs at


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