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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

academic capitalism « Previous | |Next »
December 6, 2011

As is well known during the last decade Australian universities under a neo-liberal mode of governance have become corporate educational institutions driven by the profit motive and a managerial culture. The latter refers to management revolution in the academy, which has involved academic managers exercising greater strategic control over the direction of colleges and universities. A similar process is happening to universities in the UK.

A major characteristic of this academic capitalism is the situation of casual academic staff in universities, where exploitation is rife and examples of under-paid or even unpaid labour are abundant. As Melissa Greg says:

Between a third and a half of teaching is now performed by casual staff, which means universities actually save the significant costs of leave entitlements and full superannuation for these "sessional" employees...As is the case in many industries, the budget bottom line is used to justify cost-cutting of all kinds but the global financial crisis rings particularly hollow as a rationale for ingrained problems, such as the fact that most tutors aren’t paid to attend lectures or mark essays. Most don’t have access to an office to meet with their students even though tutors perform the bulk of undergraduate teaching.

The corporate logic emphasizes practical, shovel ready knowledge, the brand power of elite institutions, and discourages attempts to reflect on the wider purpose of higher education for the nation as a whole--ie., the broad liberal educational mission of a university in the form of teaching, research, and public service.

This was premised on preparing students for freedom and self-government: self-reliant and independent people, who would know how to work hard and use their leisure well, and be citizens capable of thinking for themselves and managing their private and public affairs.

Today the university management use funding scarcity to control and shape their institutions as can be seen with Sydney University. For example, the corporate logic is that lower wages are better for staff, the union is just one interest group among many, workers need the "choice" to have fewer holidays, and academics and general staff need the "flexibility" to negotiate their work conditions away. It's education on the cheap: increased students at a lower cost and a lower-quality degree programs, means more revenue. The aim is profit maximising.

Secondly, as universities become more entrepreneurial in a post-industrial economy, they focus on knowledge less as a public good than as a commodity to be capitalized on in profit-oriented activities. Faced with a major loss in state support higher education institutions are seeking to generate revenue from their core educational, research and service functions.

Rather than the university being taken over by the corporations, the university has become a corporation in an international education market. The future of higher education in Australia is more privatization of public institutions, more emphasis on higher education as a private good, and less movement toward colleges and universities as places of public discourse or initiative.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:06 AM | | Comments (2)


In Academic Capitalism and the New Economy, Slaughter and Rhoades analyze the various ways in which the existing institutions of higher education increasingly intersect with the "new economy."

They argue convincingly that rather than universities being corporatized by external forces, various groups and individuals working within universities (administrators, academic professionals, but also faculty and students) are all involved, wittingly or not, in advancing the academic capitalist knowledge regime over the public good knowledge regime.

Very similar situation as hoping governing bodies can see the sense in water savings as opposed to "cheaper" buybacks. The focus shouldn't be the cost but the outcome.

Supply and demand will sort out the commodification of tertiary qualifications in time.