Journal of the Knowledge Economy

, Volume 4, Issue 1, pp 24–44 | Cite as

Competitiveness, the Knowledge-Based Economy and Higher Education

  • Ngai-Ling Sum
  • Bob Jessop


This article explores the appeal of the economic narratives of globalisation, competitiveness, and the knowledge-based economy and the impact of the economic and extra-economic tendencies that they both construe and help to construct with special reference to higher education. The argument develops in five steps: First, it analyses the socially constructed nature of competitiveness, exemplifying this from the influential account of Michael Porter and his Harvard Business School associates; second, it shows how the ‘knowledge-based economy’ (or KBE) concept developed as a scientific paradigm and policy paradigm in the context of the crisis of Fordism and how it has influenced public discourse on educational reform; third, it reviews how Porterian propositions on competitiveness have been translated into a ‘knowledge brand’ that is promoted by academic–guru–consultants and relayed through research centres, policy networks, and advisory services; fourth, it explores how the KBE is being re-contextualised in part in terms of ‘knowledge and higher education clusters’, ‘knowledge hubs’, etc., and their role in competitiveness; and fifth, it notes some implications of these economic imaginaries, governmental technologies, and emergent modes of growth for higher education.


Competitiveness Economic imaginary Knowledge-based economy Knowledge brand Michael Porter Higher education 



The authors acknowledge the support received at different steps in the research for this article from the British Academy for Sum (no. BARDA-48854) and from the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) for Jessop (RES-051-27-0303). They are also grateful for feedback from the editors of this special issue.


  1. Artiganave, A., Kelly, J., Krasniqi, M., Gi, M. T. P., & Zhang, L. (2010). The Massachusetts higher education and knowledge cluster. Cambridge: Harvard Business School. Accessed 28 Aug 2012.Google Scholar
  2. Ash, M. G. (2008). From ‘Humboldt’ to ‘Bologna’: History as discourse in higher education reform debates in German-speaking Europe. In B. Jessop, N. Fairclough, & R. Wodak (Eds.), Education and the knowledge-based economy in Europe (pp. 41–62). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.Google Scholar
  3. Augustine, N. R. (2007). Is America falling off the flat earth? Washington: National Academies Press.Google Scholar
  4. Bell, D. (1973). The coming of post-industrial society. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  5. Cerny, P. (1990). The changing architecture of politics: Structure, agency, and the future of the state. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  6. Chesnais, F. (1986). Science, technology and competitiveness. STI Review, 1(Autumn), 86–129.Google Scholar
  7. Clark, T., & Fincham, R. (Eds.). (2002). Critical consulting: New perspectives on management advice industry. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  8. Collins, D. (2000). Management fads and buzzwords: Critical–practical perspectives. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  9. Dale, R., & Robertson, S. (Eds.). (2009). Globalisation and Europeanisation in education. Didcot: Symposium Books.Google Scholar
  10. Enright, M., Scott, E., & Dodwell, D. (1997). The Hong Kong advantage. Hong Kong: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Esser, K., Hillebrand, W., Messner, D., & Meyer-Stamer, J. (1996). Systemic competitiveness: a new challenge for firms and for government. CEPAL Review, 59, 39–52.Google Scholar
  12. Etzkowitz, H. (1994). Academic-industry relations: A sociological paradigm for economic development. In L. Leydesdorff & P. van den Desselaar (Eds.), Evolutionary economics and chaos theory (pp. 139–151). London: Pinter.Google Scholar
  13. Florida, R. (2002). The rise of the creative class. New York: Perseus.Google Scholar
  14. Florida, R. (2005). The world is spiky: globalization has changed the economic playing field, but hasn’t leveled it. Atlantic Monthly 48–51.Google Scholar
  15. Friedman, T. L. (2005). The world is flat: A history of the 21st century. New York: Farrer & Giroux.Google Scholar
  16. Global Competitiveness Reports (2004–2009). Accessed 6 Aug 2009.
  17. Godin, B. (2003). The knowledge-based economy: Conceptual framework or buzzword? Accessed 23 June 2012.
  18. Gramsci, A. (1971). Selections from the prison notebooks. London: Lawrence & Wishart.Google Scholar
  19. Hämäläinen, T. J. (2003). National competitiveness and economic growth: The changing determinants of economic performance in the world economy. Cheltenham: Edward Edgar.Google Scholar
  20. Hartmann, E. (2008). The EU as an emerging normative power in the global knowledge- based economy? Insights from the emerging recognition for higher education qualifications. In B. Jessop, N. Fairclough, & R. Wodak (Eds.), Education and the knowledge-based economy in Europe (pp. 63–87). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.Google Scholar
  21. Hindle, T. (2008). Guide to management ideas and gurus (3rd ed.). London: The Economist Books.Google Scholar
  22. Hirsch, J. (1995). Der nationale Wettbewerbsstaat. Hamburg: Edition Archiv.Google Scholar
  23. Huczynski, A. (1996). Management gurus: Who makes them and how to become one. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  24. Improvement and Development Agency [I&DeA] (2008). Industrial clusters and their implications for local economic policy. Accessed 28 Aug 2012.
  25. Jackson, B. (2001). Management gurus and management fashions. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  26. Jessop, B. (2002). The future of the capitalist state. Cambridge: Polity.Google Scholar
  27. Jessop, B. (2004). Critical semiotic analysis and cultural political economy. Critical Discourse Studies, 1(2), 159–174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Jessop, B. (2008). A cultural political economy of competitiveness and its implications for higher education. In B. Jessop, N. Fairclough, & R. Wodak (Eds.), Education and the knowledge-based economy in Europe (pp. 11–39). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.Google Scholar
  29. Jessop, B. (2013). Recovered imaginaries, imagined recoveries: A cultural political economy of crisis construals and crisis-management in the North Atlantic Financial Crisis. In M. Benner (Ed.), Beyond the global economic crisis: Economics and politics for a post-crisis settlement. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.Google Scholar
  30. Kaplan, D. (2003). Measuring our competitiveness—critical examination of the IDM and WEF competitiveness indicators for South Africa. Development South Africa, 20(1), 75–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Krugman, P. (1994). Competitiveness: a dangerous obsession. Foreign Policy, 73(March), 342–365.Google Scholar
  32. Lall, S. (2001). Competitiveness indices and developing countries: an economic evaluation of the Global Competitiveness Report. World Development, 29(9), 1501–1525.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Levidow, L. (2001). Marketizing higher education: Neoliberal strategies and counter-strategies. Education and Social Justice, 3(2), Accessed 12 Dec 2007.
  34. Lundvall, B.-Å. (Ed.). (1992). National systems of innovation: Towards a theory of innovation and interactive learning. London: Pinter.Google Scholar
  35. Marginson, S. (1999). After globalization: emerging politics of education. Journal of Education Policy, 14(1), 19–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Martin, R., & Sunley, P. (2003). Deconstructing clusters: chaotic concept or policy panacea? Journal of Economic Geography, 3(1), 5–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Masuda, Y. (1981). The information society as post-industrial society. Washington: World Future Society.Google Scholar
  38. Messner, D. (1998). The network society. London: Cass.Google Scholar
  39. Mirowski, P., & Plehwe, D. (Eds.). (2009). The road from Mont Pèlerin. The making of the neoliberal thought collective. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  40. OECD. (1996). The knowledge-based economy. Paris: OECD.Google Scholar
  41. Ostry, S., & Nelson, R. R. (1995). Techno-nationalism and techno-globalism: Conflict and cooperation. Washington: Brookings Institute.Google Scholar
  42. Peck, J. A. (2010). Constructions of neo-liberal reason. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Porter, M. (1980). Competitive strategy: Techniques for analyzing industries and competitors. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  44. Porter, M. (1985). Competitive advantage: Creating and sustaining superior performance. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  45. Porter, M. (1990). Competitive advantage of nations. Basingstoke: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  46. Porter, M. (1991). America’s green strategy. Scientific American, 264, 168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Porter, M. (2000). Location, competition, and economic development: local clusters in a global economy. Economic Development Quarterly, 14(1), 15–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Reinert, E. S. (1995). Competitiveness and its predecessors—a 500-year cross-national perspective. Structural Change and Economic Dynamics, 6(1), 23–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Reinert, E. S. (2007). How rich countries got rich … and why poor countries stay poor. London: Constable.Google Scholar
  50. Ruggie, J. G. (1982). International regimes, transactions, and change: embedded liberalism in the postwar economic order. International Organization, 36(2), 379–415.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Schumpeter, J. (1934). The theory of economic development. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  52. Sen, A. (1993). Capability and well-being. In M. Nussbaum & A. Sen (Eds.), The quality of life (pp. 30–53). Oxford: Oxford Clarendon Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Slaughter, S., & Leslie, L. L. (1997). Academic capitalism. Politics, policies, and the entrepreneurial university. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  54. Slaughter, S., & Rhoades, G. (2004). Academic capitalism and the new economy: Markets, state, and higher education. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  55. Snowdon, B., & Stonehouse, G. (2006). Competitiveness in a globalized world: porter on the microeconomic foundation of competitiveness of nations, regions and firms. Journal of International Business Studies, 37, 16–175.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Stopford, J., & Strange, S. (1991). Rival states, rival firms. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Sum, N-L. (2005). Towards a cultural political economy: Discourses, material power and (counter-)hegemony. EU Framework 6 DEMOLOGOS project, Workpackage 1, Spot Paper,
  58. Sum, N.-L. (2010). The production of hegemonic policy discourses: ‘competitiveness’ as a knowledge brand and its (re-)contextualization. Critical Policy Studies, 3(2), 184–203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Sum, N.-L., & Jessop, B. (2013). Towards cultural political economy. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.Google Scholar
  60. Teichler, U. (1998). The role of the European Union in the internationalization of higher education. In P. Scott (Ed.), The globalization of higher education (pp. 88–99). Buckingham: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  61. Thomas, P. (2003). Recontextualization of management. Journal of Management Studies, 40(4), 775–801.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Politics, Philosophy and Religion, County SouthLancaster UniversityLancasterUK
  2. 2.Department Sociology, Bowland NorthLancaster UniversityLancasterUK

Personalised recommendations