February 5, 2013
The decline of manufacturing industry and the expansion of student numbers have made universities a much more important factor in the economy of many Australian cities. Hence Adelaide sees itself as an education city. This is at a time when the idea of of the university as a center of critique and a vital democratic public sphere that cultivates the knowledge, skills, and values necessary for the production of a democratic polity is giving way to a view of the university as a corporate enterprise.
The established neo-liberal modes of governance, financing, and evaluation, for all intents and purposes, make higher education an adjunct of corporate values and interests. Under a neo-liberal mode of governance the liberal university is reshaped into a corporate one that competes with other universities in the global knowledge economy.
In Our Competitive Future: Building the Knowledge-Driven Economy (1998), Charles Leadbeater, a former UK Downing Street adviser, argues that one of the main forces ruling the world economy today:
is “knowledge capitalism”: the drive to generate new ideas and turn them into commercial products and services which consumers want. This process of creating, disseminating and exploiting new knowledge is the dynamo behind rising living standards and economic growth. It reaches deep into our lives and implicates all of us as consumers and workers. If we were to turn our backs on the global economy, we would also leave behind the huge creative power of the knowledge economy.
The idea of the knowledge economy has several different strands:
● A shift is taking place from the production of physical goods to that of immaterial services.
● Partly in consequence, production is becoming more “knowledge-intensive” – in other words, products are likely to sell more, thanks to both the increasingly sophisticated techniques used to make them and the ideas that they represent and that are used to market them, all of which relies on research by highly qualified workers.
● The success of companies and national economies alike is therefore increasingly dependent, not on the physical plant and equipment that they have built up over years, decades, or even longer, but on their “human capital” – that is, on the skills, knowledge and imagination of their workforces. It is through successfully using these skills to supply what the world market wants that individuals, firms and whole countries can prosper.
The present era of global capitalism is one of intense international competition and the logic of competition is felt by entire economies, which are constantly comparing their productivity and competitiveness with those of their rivals. Neoliberalism in higher education means that this logic of competition is internalised deep into how universities work, and so university chancellors are now viewed as C.E.O.s, faculty as entrepreneurs, and students as consumers. Academic leadership is now defined in part through the ability to partner up with corporate donors. In fact, deans are increasingly viewed as the heads of complex businesses, and their job performance is rated according to their fund-raising capacity.
Competition in the global knowledge economy results in universities aspiring to be a “world centre of excellence”. Since only a few universities can be a “world centre of excellence” the losers end up with a smaller share of resources and therefore poorer conditions for staff and students.
Leadbetter states that in a neo-liberal world:
Universities should become not just centres of teaching and research but hubs for innovation networks in local economies, helping to spin off companies for universities, for example. Universities should be the open-cast mines of the knowledge economy.
Under a neo-liberal mode of governance government and business work to transform the university in order to subordinate it systematically to capitalism ie., to harness higher education to the priorities of competition and profit. Higher education matters only to the extent that it promotes national prosperity and drives economic growth, innovation, and transformation.
One trend in the corporate university is the extending student fees, and thus compelling students to finance themselves by going into increasing debt and becoming casual workers in restaurants.
A second trend is the gradual proletarianisation of academic professions. Universities are increasingly reliant on large numbers of staff on short-term contracts.There is a strong trend towards replicating the pattern of top American universities, where a course given by a well-known academic involves him or her giving the lectures and the actual teaching in seminars or tutorials being done by postgraduate teaching assistants or other hourly-paid lecturers. Hourly-paid lecturers and other contract staff are the precarious workers of the neo-liberal university.
As faculty are demoted to contingency forms of labor, they lose their power to influence the conditions of their work; they see their work load increase; they are paid poorly, deprived of office space and supplies, and refused travel money; and, most significantly, they are subject to policies that allow them to be fired at will.