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Towards transnational academic capitalism


This paper contributes to current debates on the relationship between globalisation and higher education. The main argument of the paper is that we are currently witnessing transnationalisation of academic capitalism. This argument is illustrated by examining the collaboration between transnational corporations and research universities, and how transnational academic capitalism has been promoted by different intermediating organizations. On theoretical level the paper draws from global capitalism school and the theory of academic capitalism, but also moves beyond them by introducing new concepts such as knowledge-intensive transnational economic practices. The emergence of transnational academic capitalism challenges the common assumption that universities are primarily promoters of national economic competitiveness.

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  1. 1.

    I prefer to use the term “transnational” since the term “international” is based on nation-state centric approaches, and nation-states are not the immediate key actors in those cross-border activities and processes that are explored in this article.

  2. 2.

    It has been often pointed out that patenting does not always increase universities’ revenues and there are significant differences between universities in respect how intensively they have engaged into patenting (e.g. Slaughter and Rhoades 2004).

  3. 3.

    Instead of the term “new economy” I use in this article the term “knowledge capitalism”.

  4. 4.

    One such social process, or knowledge-intensive transnational practice, is HE export (e.g. Newman et al. 2004).

  5. 5.

    On empirical evidence regarding other transnational organizations and European level policies that have facilitated during 1980s and 1990s in practice TAC on European level, see Grande and Peschke (1998).

  6. 6.

    Much more attention has been given, for instance, to international organizations such as the World Bank (e.g. Rhoades et al. 2004).

  7. 7.

    For example, German TNCs set up more foreign R&D facilities in the 1990s than in the preceding 50 years (UNCTAD 2005, xxvi).

  8. 8.

    In this respect one interesting object of study would be whether there is any correlation between the positions of universities in the global university rankings and how intensively they are networked with TNCs, and if so, what would explain this correlation.

  9. 9.

    Finpro is an association that was founded by Finnish companies to facilitate their internationalization (Finpro 2010).

  10. 10.

    Invest in Finland is a government agency promoting foreign investments into Finland.


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This research article was largely written at the University of Georgia (US), The Institute of Higher Education (between August 2010-February 2011) where I worked as a Visiting Fulbright Post Doc Researcher. I want to thank, with the usual disclaimer, Brendan Cantwell, Tuukka Kaidesoja, Rajani Naidoo, and Sheila Slaughter, as well as anonymous referees, for comments on an earlier version of this paper.

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Correspondence to Ilkka Kauppinen.

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Kauppinen, I. Towards transnational academic capitalism. High Educ 64, 543–556 (2012).

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  • Transnational academic capitalism
  • Transnational corporations
  • Global capitalism