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3 neoliberalism

Where effective competition can be created, it is a better means of guiding individual efforts
than any other (Hayek, 1944: 27, quoted in Marginson, 2004: 207)
Unleashing the forces of consumerism is the best single way we’ve got of restoring high
academic standards. (David Willetts, Minister for Higher Education, quoted in Morgan 2013)
There is a place for the market, but the market must be kept in its place (Okun, 1975: 19, quoted
in Kirp, 2005: 127)
[T]he commitment to pragmatic, rational, evidence-based scientific investigation, which seeks
to inform and better our society through the cultivation of expert skill, knowledge and
experience, to be tested and refined through a process of objective and rigorous peer review.
It is simply impossible to reconcile these values with a politics that is proudly ideological and,
with it, indifferent to evidence, immune to persuasion, cynically selective and self-serving in its
analysis, and ultimately anti-democratic in its intolerance of dissent. (Dougan 2017: 6, quoted
in Finn 2018: 115).
[The notion 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 marketing machine essential to the production of
neoliberal subjects. (Giroux 2014: 56).]
The lecture will ask:
1 What do the terms ‘Neoliberalism’ and ‘marketisation’ mean both generally and in relation
to the provision of higher education?
2 What are their effects?
3 What do we about it?
The argument will be that:
1 Marketisation is the link between Neoliberalism and higher education: marketisation is how
Neoliberalism reshapes the provision of higher education as it does nearly every other social
2 Marketisation has broadly the same impact on the provision of higher education as
Neoliberalism has on society and the economy generally. In particular, it weakens collective
values and ways of working in favour of individual agency (‘possessive individualism’),
supposedly in the cause of greater societal welfare, but in reality transferring resources and
power to those that are already well placed.
3 The response to marketisation in higher education has to follow and be in line with our
response to Neoliberalism generally, but higher education has a special role to play and if
higher education is lost, or at least does not resist, then that will make the wider struggle
against Neoliberalism even harder.
Neoliberalism assigns a central role to the market system along three interconnected
dimensions – economic, social and political. Economically, capitalist markets are seen as a
rational system of resource allocation and as the dynamic engine of prosperity in an
increasingly globalised world. Socially, the market system is claimed to underpin a robust
individualism which defines individual rights, responsibilities and opportunities. Politically,
the theory requires the state to provide an efficient legal framework for market operations,
but otherwise to confine itself to those limited functions which must be provided collectively
rather than as the outcome of individual market choices. (Self 2000: 159).
‘Neoliberalism’ is used here to describe a policy model with the following key features:
1. Deregulation. Domestic and global barriers to the free movement of goods, services,
capital, people, information and ideas should be the minimum possible. Business
should be able to get on with the job of creating wealth with a minimum amount of
regulatory interference (‘red tape’) in its affairs.
2. Privatisation. Wherever possible, the entities supplying goods and services should be
privately owned and managed. This is necessary both to reduce public expenditure
and to increase efficiency. In so called ‘public’ services it may entail combating and
overcoming self-serving producer interests – doctors, teachers, social workers,
etc.(Gove 2013).
3. Tax reduction. The burden of taxation should be reduced, ideally to the level needed
just to pay for certain core state functions: defence, internal security, the
administration of justice. Everything else should be funded through charges to users
(e.g., tuition fees). This will increase economic growth and prosperity as businesses
and successful entrepreneurs use the resources released through lower personal and
corporate taxes to invest and innovate (previously, such investment was ‘crowded out’
by public spending). The reductions in tax rates will also increase tax revenues
because by increasing wealth, the additional incentives to innovate and take risks will
more than pay for themselves (the ‘Laffer Curve’). The additional wealth will ‘trickle
down’ to the rest of society, all of whom will be beneficiaries of the tax and spending
4. Welfare programmes should provide only a very basic level of protection from illhealth, unemployment, etc. The main purpose of the welfare state should be to
incentivise work as the best form of social security.
5. Macroeconomic policy should aim to reduce inflation, if necessary at the cost of
higher unemployment. The main barrier to economic growth is not lack of demand
but producer inefficiency and lack of responsiveness. Government intervention in the
economy should therefore be confined to measures to improve the ‘supply side’.
Reducing the power of the trade unions (part of labour market deregulation) is a key
element in this together with only a very limited protection of workers’ ‘rights’. The
austerity regime visited on the economy since 2008 represents a continuation of this
Neoliberalism is in the first instance a theory of political economic practices that proposes
that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial
freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private
property rights, free markets and free trade. The role of the state is to create and preserve an
institutional framework appropriate to such practices…Furthermore, if markets do not exist
(in areas such as land, water, education, health care, social security, or environmental
pollution) then they must be created, by state action if necessary. But beyond these tasks the
state must not interfere (Harvey 2005:2)
Full employment was rejected as a direct object of policy rather than as a by-product of a
sound economy; instead, governments and central banks focused on achieving stable prices
and bearing down heavily on inflation. More generally, powerful sections of opinion
considered that the entire social democratic experiment with running markets and
government intervention alongside each other had failed. Governments could not be trusted
to put the soundness of the economy ahead of short-term popularity by risking interventions
that weakened the ability of the market to do its work of rewarding success, punishing failure
and allowing consumers to make choices (Crouch 2011: 14-15)
Beginning in the early 1980s, central elements of the social contract of postwar capitalism
were gradually revoked or called into question in the societies of the West: politically
guaranteed full employment, collective society-wide wage formation negotiated with free
trade unions, worker participation at workplace and enterprise level, state control of key
industries, a broad public sector with secure employment as a model for the private sector,
universal social rights protected from competition, tax and income policies that kept
inequality within tight limits, and government cyclical and industrial policies to secure steady
growth. (Streeck 2017: 28).
The measures outlined here will help to ensure that everyone with the potential to benefit
from higher study can access relevant information to help them make the right choices from a
wide range of high quality universities and benefit from excellent teaching that supports their
future productivity. By introducing more competition and informed choice into higher
education, we will deliver better outcomes and value for students, employers and the
taxpayers who underwrite the system… Competition between providers in any market
incentivises them to raise their game, offering consumers a greater choice of more innovative
and better quality products and services at lower cost. Higher education is no exception.
(Department for Business, Innovation and Skills 2016: 8.)
[The] stress upon individual self-interest, while necessary and acceptable within limits,
becomes destructive and dangerous when it ignores the complementary need for social
cooperation and mutual support. The acquisitive instinct which it celebrates leads on to the
steady expansion of the market into socially inappropriate spheres which then quickly get
consolidated into the total capitalist system. It becomes still more destructive when treated as
a suitable yardstick for political life and carried over into many aspects of social life. (Self
2000: 28-9).
Marketisation in English higher education
1. The Government’s announcement in November 1979 that overseas students’ fees
would no longer be subsidised.
2. The separation of public funding for teaching and research, and the introduction of
selective research funding, from 1986 (the Rae, now the REF).
3. The increase in the (still modest) level of the (still subsidised) Home tuition fee in
1989, and the corresponding reduction in the share of institutions’ revenues for
teaching represented by the teaching grant (which still however constituted the great
bulk of institutions’ resources for teaching).
4. The introduction of ‘top-up’ loans for students’ support living costs, from 1990.
5. The abolition of the ‘binary line’ between universities and polytechnics in 1992, with
the explicit aim of exposing the existing universities to greater competition.
6. The introduction of top-up fees of up to £1,000 in 1998.
7. The changes in the rules for university title in 2004 to enable institutions without
research degree awarding powers to obtain a university title, leading to a significant
number of new universities.
8. The introduction of ‘variable’ fees up to £3,000 in 2006 (Brown with Carasso 2013).
Further steps since 2012
1. The increase in the maximum fee to £9,000 in 2012 (now £9,250).
2. The removal of the cap on full-time undergraduate recruitment from 2015-16.
3. The introduction of the Teaching Excellence Framework from 2016.
1. Moves to make university governing bodies more like corporate boards (Brown,
2. Moves to increase the number of performance indicators to which institutions are
subject (Brown, 2012b).
To argue in favour of competition and competitiveness is necessarily to argue in favour of
inequality, given that competitive activity is defined partly by the fact that it pursues an
unequal outcome. Processes and rules which facilitate (or aim to facilitate) competition can
themselves be understood as offering a normative sanction for inequality in some way. A
society that celebrates and encourages “competitiveness” as an ethos, be it in sport,
business, politics or education, cannot then be surprised if outcomes are then highly unequal.
Critical denunciations of inequality as “illegitimate” may miss the ways in which inequality
is “legitimate” because it is publicly and enthusiastically legitimated. (Davies 2014, 37).
The main shortcoming of marketopia is its massive and systematic violation of a fundamental
sense of fairness. Marketopians who cannot afford healthcare, education, police protection,
and other of life’s necessities are denied a fair (or even minimally sufficient) share of social
goods. Indeed, they are destitute of every good, excluded from a just share of society’s
benefits and advantages, pushed to the margins, rendered invisible. They are excluded
because they lack the resources to purchase goods and services that ought to be theirs by
right.(Ball 2001: 78-9)
The Impact of Marketisation on Higher Education
Increased stratification (of institutions and the constituencies they serve).
Reduced between-institution diversity.
Less innovation.
Increased within-institution differentiation (of activities, structures and personnel).
Increased risks to quality.
Diversion of resources to non-core activities.
Greater instability and short-termism.
A weakening of higher education’s position in, and value to, society.
… higher education operates under a sort of contract with society, whereby universities
have a certain degree of autonomy, as well as certain financial privileges, in return for
carrying out their central function of discovering, accrediting, disseminating and
conserving knowledge. This implies that they will focus on these tasks and carry them
out in a conscientious and reasonably efficient way. Yet the more they concern
themselves with their position in the pecking order, as well as with what should be
peripheral activities like marketing and fund raising, the more this contract or bargain
is placed at risk, the more they will jeopardise their still considerable reservoir of
public support, and the harder it will be for them to command the resources they need
to discharge their core functions. This will be society’s loss as well as the universities’
(Brown 2014, 15).
The expansion of the market system into spheres that were once the realm of other practices
and values is matched by a decline in the feasibility and ethos of purposeful collective action.
Thus, while the philosophy of neo-liberalism may indeed seem extreme, it represents the
intellectual vanguard and rationalisation of these developments. Its fallacies therefore need
to be clearly exposed and an intellectual framework for alternative beliefs developed. (Self
2000: 160).
As a democratic public sphere [the university] offers students the knowledge, skills and
values to develop the capacity for critique, dialogue and informed judgement. (Giroux 2014:
In embodying the practises of the discourses academics claim to oppose, they have played
their part in entrenching the new culture of the university in public space. In other words, by
failing to articulate an alternative notion of the university in practice as much as at the level
of critique, the academic community has, to a great extent, abdicated the field in publicly
defining what universities are for. (Finn 2018: 125).
1. We have to expose the fallacies and inconsistencies of Neoliberalism and
2. We have to resist the continuing marketisation of higher education.
3. We have to work with other groups in civil society to restate the value of public
collective goods, as opposed to the ‘possessive individualism’ that lies at the heart of
Exposing the fallacies
The deeply entrenched mental conceptions associated with neoliberal theories and the
neoliberalisation and corporatisation of the universities has played more than a trivial role
in the production of the present crisis. For example, the whole question of what to do about
the financial system, the banking sector, the state-finance nexus and the power of private
property rights cannot be broached without going outside the box of conventional thinking.
For this to happen will require a revolution in thinking, in places as diverse as the
universities, the media and government, as well as within the universities themselves.
(Harvey 2011: 237).
Resisting marketisation
We should refuse to have anything to do with the commercial league tables or
with guides that use material from the rankings.
We should explain the fundamental methodological problems and limitations of
the institutional rankings, the National Student Survey, the Key Information Set,
the (so called) Longitudinal Educational Outcomes, and other similar devices that
purport to inform and guide student choices.
We should show how we use our resources to provide the best possible education
for our students, and how our investment in research and scholarship supports that
objective, as well as contributing to the stock of knowledge and societal
improvement more generally (including our knowledge of growing economic
inequality and its effects).
We should limit our expenditure on activities like marketing, advertising and
branding, preferably through sector-wide agreements controlling such expenditure
in relation to turnover (the fact that this would be regarded as anti-competitive by
the Office for Students and the Competition and Markets Authority just shows
how little they know about status competition, only about a century since this was
first ‘discovered’ by Thorstein Veblen – Veblen 1899).
Avoiding modes of governance, management and resource allocation that merely
ape the worst practices of the corporate sector without even the thin justification
for them there.
Recalling and reiterating what it is that binds us together as a sector (Watson
1997). It cannot be an accident that whereas before 1992 the existing universities
belonged to one representative body (and the polytechnics to another), now we
have a proliferation of status-based organisations claiming to represent the sector
but actually competing with one another in an unhelpful way by emphasising what
distinguishes their members when what is important at the present time is what the
universities have in common.
Rebuilding civil society
All those extensions of the scope of human action beyond the private that lack recourse to the
primary contemporary means of exercising power: the state and the firm. (Crouch 2011:
The political parties
Campaigning groups
The voluntary and charitable sector
The professions (‘any occupational group which has developed a set of
autonomously derived values about how it practises its activities’).
Speaking out
Ball, T. 2001. “Imagining Marketopia” Dissent Summer 2001: 74-80.
Brown, R. 2012a. The corporatisation of university governance. London: University of West
London. http://www.uwl.ac.uk/instil/research/Occasional_pages.jsp.
Brown, R. 2012b. The development of system-wide performance indicators. London:
University of West London. http://www.uwl.ac.uk/instil/research/Occasional_pages.jsp.
Brown, R. 2014. “The real crisis in higher education”. Higher Education Review 46 (3): 4-25.
Brown, R. with H. Carasso 2013. Everything for Sale? The Marketisation of UK Higher
Education. London and New York, NY: Routledge.
Crouch, C. 2011. The Strange Non-Death of Neoliberalism. Cambridge and Malden, MA:
Polity Press.
Davies, W. 2014. The Limits of Neoliberalism: Authority, Sovereignty and the Logic of
Competition. London: Sage.
Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Success as a Knowledge Economy: Teaching
Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice. London: Department for Business,
Innovation and Skills.
Dougan, M. 2017. Editor’s Introduction. In M.Dougan (Ed) The UK After Brexit: Legal and
Policy Challenges. Cambridge: Intersentia (…).
Finn, M. 2018. British Universities in the Brexit Moment: Political, Economic and Cultural
Implications. Bingley: Emerald Group.
Giroux, H.A. 2014. Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education. Chicago, ILL: Haymarket.
Gove, M. 2013. “I refuse to surrender to the Marxist teachers hell-bent on destroying our
schools: Education Secretary berates ‘the new enemies of promise’ for opposing his plans.
Mail Online. 23 March. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2298146/I-refusesurrender-Marxist-teachers-hell-bent-destroying-schools-Education-Secretary-berates-thenew-enemies-of-promise-for-opposing-his-plans.
Harvey, D. 2005. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Harvey, D. 2011. The Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism. London: Profile.
Hayek, F. A. 1944. The Road to Serfdom. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Kirp, D. L. 2005. This little student went to market. In R.J.Hersh and J.Merrow (eds.) Declining by
Degrees: Higher Education at Risk. (pp.) New York, NY and Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Marginson, S. 2004. Australian higher education: national and global markets. In P.N.Teixeira,
B.Jongbloed, D.Dill and A.Amaral (eds.) Markets in Higher Education: Rhetoric or Reality?
(pp.?) Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Okun, A. 1975. Equality and Efficiency – the Big Trade-Off. Washington DC: Brookings Institution
Self, P. 2000. Rolling Back the Market: Economic Dogma and Political Choice. New York,
NY: St Martin’s Press.
Streeck, W. 2017. Buying Time: The Delayed Crisis of Democratic Capitalism (Second
edition). London and New York: Verso.
Veblen, T. 1899. The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions.
London: Macmillan.
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