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The emergence of academic capitalism and university neoliberalism: perspectives of Australian higher education leadership

Abstract

Public universities worldwide have incorporated neoliberal behaviours and norms across their activities, moulding organizational practices, processes and cultures. In particular, these changes have been expressed through forms of academic capitalism and increasing ‘marketization’ of public university activities. A little explored perspective on these changes is that of senior leadership within higher education. This paper addresses this topic by examining how 116 higher education leaders view 32 key issues for the future of Australian higher education in the next 10 to 20 years. Half the participants in this study were university vice-chancellors or presidents or those who were part of their senior leadership team, and the other half were leaders outside universities including government leaders responsible for budgets or policy or those in national academic organizations. Generally, both the university and the non-university leaders of the Australian higher education system perceived nearly all of the issues for its future as at least moderately important. Many traditional academic goals of knowledge generation, dissemination and application were seen as high priorities. Rated among the top ten issues were student learning outcomes and ensuring student accessibility to higher education, as well as addressing the needs of society and research on grand challenges facing humanity, such as climate change and food security. At the same time, higher education leaders viewed most of the issues related to both marketization and academic capitalism as important, including issues of internationalization, the balance between tenured and contract academics, and the role of university-industry joint research. Traditional academic goals appear to be tightly bound to components of marketization and academic capitalism. The leaders’ perceptions of the importance, meaning and trajectory of Australian universities suggest core goals of higher education will likely need to continue to be balanced with the emerging neoliberal agendas

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Correspondence to Gwilym Croucher.

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Croucher, G., Lacy, W.B. The emergence of academic capitalism and university neoliberalism: perspectives of Australian higher education leadership. High Educ 83, 279–295 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-020-00655-7

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Keywords

  • Higher education
  • Leadership
  • Management
  • Governance
  • Neoliberalism
  • Managerialism
  • New public management
  • Academic capitalism
  • Marketization