Highlighted Selections from:

From Social Rights to the Market: Neoliberalism and the Knowledge Economy


DOI: 10.1080/02601370.2013.873213

Holmwood, John. “From Social Rights to the Market: Neoliberalism and the Knowledge Economy.” International Journal of Lifelong Education 33.1 (2014): 62–76. Web.

p.64: Public higher education has a long history, with its growth associated with mass higher education and the extension of a social right to education from secondary schooling to university education. Following the rise in student numbers since the 1970s, the aspiration to higher education has been universalized, although opportunities remain structured by social background. This paper looks at changing policies for higher education in the UK and the emergence of a neoliberal knowledge regime. This subordinates higher education to the market and shifts the burden of paying for degree courses onto students. It seeks to stratify institutions and extend the role of for-profit providers. From a role in the amelioration of social inequality, universities are now asked to participate actively in the widening inequalities associated with a neoliberal global market order. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.64-65: However, the Browne Review was set up under a previous Labour Government to find a ‘sustainable’ way of financing higher education, and, therefore, it is appropriate to consider the reforms as not simply a response to fiscal austerity, but the consequence of a political consensus among politicians of all parties (the Liberal Democrats being the exception since they opposed student fees at the general election) on neoliberal ‘solutions’ to public policy ‘dilemmas’. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.65: Thus, changes in the funding and shaping of research have also taken place over the last decades, involving, among other developments, the introduction of the Research Assessment Exercise in 1986 (now the Research Excellence Framework) for the distribution of research funds (QR) directly to universities on the basis of an evaluation of the research contribution of their academic staff. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.65: In the most recent iteration, this evaluation is to include its economic, social and cultural impact on audiences outside academia. At the same time, Research Councils have also been required to introduce impact into their evaluation of research applications, which must set out ‘pathways to impact’ -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.65: I shall argue that although some of the features of the current system can be discerned in policies enacted by previous governments, the current reforms now being put into place represent a thorough-going transformation of the system of higher education in England and the marketization of its different functions. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.65: These developments in teaching and research constitute, I suggest, a neoliberal knowledge regime organized towards higher education’s contribution to a global, market-based knowledge economy. The latter is characterized by widening economic inequality, where universities contribute to, rather than ameliorate, widening inequality. At the same time, emphasis shifts from the quality of a system of higher education serving diverse needs, to the placing of individual institutions within a rank order of universities in a global market place for education. It is to the nature of these new arrangements and their radical divergence from those initiated after the Robbins reforms in 1963 that I shall now turn. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.66: English higher education has ‘leapfrogged’ the USA to become the leading edge of neoliberal reforms. One simple indicator is that, despite a current wider variation in the level of fees across US universities, students in England will, on average, now pay the highest fees of any OECD country, above the level typical of the USA -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.66: Frequently, the development of education systems has been associated with the importance of ensuring social mobility and the gradual extension of access to education from primary to secondary and university education and the replacement, or supplement, of elite, private systems of education with public education (Ball 2008; Simon & Rubinstein, 1969). -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.66: Within this overall development, the role of universities has been signicant since they were frequently strongly associated with the reproduction of elites and the expression of national culture, albeit in many cases, also in the context of colonial and imperial ambitions and the provision of the personnel for colonial rule (Anderson, 2010). -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.66: From this perspective, the development of public higher education can be thought of as a process of the democratization of social and cultural reproduction and a shift from what, at the moment of its accelerated development, Turner (1960) called (elite) ‘sponsored’ mobility to (meritocratic) ‘contest’ mobility. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.67: Indeed, the ‘research university’ was strongly associated with the emergence of the ‘civic’ university of the late nineteenth century, which, for many of them, but by no means exclusively so, was strongly oriented to local elites and the local economy. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.67: The Robbins Report addressed the ad hoc nature of higher education, distributed as it was across old elite institutions like Oxford and Cambridge, the Scottish universities (which Robbins regarded as having a more ‘Continental’ ethos), newer ‘civic’ universities and Colleges of Technology. It suggested that it was necessary to think of higher education as a system, in much the same way as had occurred with the 1944 Act. To do so would mean addressing disparities between institutions and the different experiences, aspirations and opportunities of potential students. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.67: Robbins was clear that to argue for higher education as a system was not the same as arguing it could be reduced to a single principle or aim or that it should be centrally run. Rather, decisions ‘should be coherent and take account of the interests of all sectors of higher education, and that decentralised initiative––and we hope there will always be much of this––should be inspired by common principles’ (1963, para 20). The Report goes on to suggest that ‘there is no single aim which, if pursued to the exclusion of all others, would not leave out essential elements. Eclecticism in this sphere is not something to be despised: it is imposed by the circumstances of the case. To do justice to the complexity of things, it is necessary to acknowledge a plurality of aims’ (1963, para 23). -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.68: In this context, the Report identies four aims, or public benefits, that warrant public higher education. These are the public benefit of a skilled and educated workforce (1963, para 25), the public benefit of higher education in producing cultivated men and women (1963, para 26), the public benefit of securing the advancement of learning through the combination of teaching and research within institutions (1963, para 27) and the public benefit of providing a common culture and standards of citizenship (1963, para 28) -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.69: And, it is important to recognize that it is precisely these different functions or principles that must be properly funded (not, for example, a concentration of funds upon particular institutions): ‘our contention is that, although the extent to which each principle is realised in the various types of institution will vary, yet, ideally, there is room for at least a speck of each in all. The system as a whole must be judged deficient unless it provides adequately for all of them’ (1963, para 29). As we shall see, it is this that is missing in the proposed neoliberal regime where investment in higher education is to be left to the market, whether in terms of the choices of students bringing with them a fee supported by a publicly funded loans system, or in research funded to have an ‘impact’ (Holmwood, 2011b), or in the ‘public–private’ activities that universities are enjoined to embrace by opening their activities to collaborations with for-profit companies or private equity investment funds from which share-holder value and dividends are to be drawn. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.70: The Browne Review recommended that direct funding of undergraduate programmes should end for the arts, humanities and social sciences (and should be reduced for other subjects), with student fees being the sole means of funding of subjects that did not meet the criterion of being strategically important. At the same time, it recommended the reduction in controls on places and the entry of for-profit and other new providers to generate competition. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.70: Indeed, the ending of direct public funding of courses was necessary precisely to provide a level playing field to facilitate the entry of for-profit providers who did not qualify for such funding, but were to be allowed to recruit students who qualied for student loan support (as well as others who do not). -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.71: The stratified system of fees advocated by the Browne Report as a means of creating a market, alongside competition from for-profit providers would necessarily have the effect that those in the bottom tier would lose the distinctive functions of a university (as set out by Robbins). -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.71: Instead, they would be redirected towards providing education oriented towards the preparation for entry into middling-skilled jobs in the labour market, precisely those jobs which are unlikely to be associated with high earnings, or even rising earnings over the next decades, since it is by no means clear that a neoliberal knowledge economy will produce widely distributed benefits (Brown, Lauder, & Ashton, 2011) -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.73: What seems to be of most concern to the proponents of a neoliberal knowledge regime, including the vice-chancellors who are among its keenest advocates, is that some British universities should be able to compete within a global system of higher education. The national, public interest that the Robbins Report addressed is elided. The interests of individual universities, as expressed by their senior managements, become paramount and wider public interests become subordinated to a new coalition of politicians, policy-makers and leaders of ‘elite’ universities using position in an international rank order of research universities as the proxy measure of success. Since US universities dominate that system of rankings, it is argued that the funding of universities should emulate that which produces US success. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.73: Yet, once the international rankings of universities are properly understood and account is taken of population size, the number of students that are catered for within the particular universities, etc. US universities lose their dominance within the rankings to be replaced by UK universities, and those from Hong Kong and the Netherlands (Hotson, 2011). At the same time, within the US, public universities, in general, outperform private, not-for-profit universities and do so to the benefit of a greater number of students from a wider range of social backgrounds. Indeed, an EU-commissioned ‘Study on the efficiency and effectiveness of public spending on tertiary education’ (St Aubyn, Pina, Garcia, & Pais, 2009) found that the UK university system outperformed all other systems in terms of both teaching and research and did so on the basis of lower levels of public investment. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.75: The strong emphasis is upon encouraging aspirations, rather than addressing disadvantage and inequality in the resourcing of education via the continuation of private fee-paying schooling. In this way, an internationally oriented social elite secures its own reproduction, while the social inequalities of the global, knowledge economy are reproduced in local settings, where the university system can no longer serve the amelioration of social inequalities. We are returned to a new system of ‘sponsored’ mobility. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014