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universities + the neo-liberal state « Previous | |Next »
January 9, 2011

In The Grim Threat to British Universities in The New York Review of Books Simon Head describes the neo-liberal mode of governance of higher education in the UK:

From the late 1980s onward the system has been fostered by both Conservative and Labour governments, reflecting a consensus among the political parties that, to provide value for the taxpayer, the academy must deliver its research “output” with a speed and reliability resembling that of the corporate world and also deliver research that will somehow be useful to the British public and private sectors, strengthening the latter’s performance in the global marketplace. Governments in Britain can act this way because all British universities but one—the University of Buckingham—depend heavily on the state for their funds for research, and so are in a poor position to insist on their right to determine their own research priorities.

This description also applies to Australia---the intervention of the neo-liberal state in the management of academic research has created a bureaucracy of command and control that links the UK Treasury, at the top, all the way down to the scholars at the base—researchers working away in libraries, archives, and laboratories. The system has markedly shifted the balance of power in British universities from academics to managers.

Head says that the imposition of the corporate model restructures academic work:

by treating the universities as if they were the research division of Great Britain Inc., the UK government and HEFCE have relegated the scholar to the lower echelons of a corporate hierarchy, surrounding him or her with hoards of managerial busybodies bristling with benchmarks, incentives, and penalties.

On the teaching side we have the emergence of a flexible, low-cost workforce that can be hired and fired at will, that can be made to work longer or shorter hours as the market dictates, and that is in a poor position to demand higher pay.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 12:57 PM | | Comments (2)


Too true Gary, and of course the outcome has been the exact opposite of what should be the desired one. Instead of academics being free to pursue the research interests that truly excite them (and which they therefore tend to be good at), they feel obliged (or are pressured) to go with the well-worn issues that attract corporate funding, or an ARC grant. This generates enormous quantities of conference papers and journal articles, the vast majority of which serve absolutely no useful purpose whatsoever apart from meeting the 'metrics' required to advance individual careers and meet institutional funding targets.

Slowly. Ever so gradually, things change. And sometimes you look back and wonder... how on earth did we end up like this?

"What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could understand it, it could not be released because of national security..."

hahaha... it seemed to make sense at the time!