The Neoliberal University: Origins and Alternatives.

UK Higher Education (HE) is being transformed. The introduction of tuition fees of up to £9000 per year induces changes across the whole system including the public purpose, administration and culture of universities. In this guest post, Hugo Radice assesses the transformation of HE as part of wider processes of neoliberal restructuring.

Forty years ago universities in the UK were largely self-governing institutions for the higher education of a small élite of some 10% of the relevant age group. Although the chances of attending were heavily biased by secondary education and family background towards the children of the upper classes, fees had been abolished, and means-tested grants were available to all home students. The student movement of the late 1960s had largely subsided, the new universities of the 1960s had revitalised teaching and research, and the graduate job market appeared robust. Today, the universities are in thrall to the state over the content of their teaching and research, as well as their finances; and now that a vastly-expanded sector takes in 40% of the age group, they will graduate into a depressed labour market, as well as facing crippling debt burdens from loans for fees and living expenses.

This transformation has been part of a much wider process of social change, in which the postwar model of capitalism based on an active state, consensus politics and the slow but steady redistribution of income has been replaced by a neoliberal model based on individualism, market competition and the rise of a plutocratic élite. At the heart of neoliberalism lie four key changes in our political economy: privatisation of public assets, deregulation of markets, the rise of finance and globalisation. Universities have been at the heart of this process in many ways.

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