Neoliberalism and the Digital University: The Political Economy of Learning in the Twenty-First Century

  • Bill Johnston
  • Sheila MacNeill
  • Keith Smyth
Part of the Digital Education and Learning book series (DEAL)


This chapter identifies neoliberalism as the main force bringing about change in universities. Operating through state policy, neoliberal thinking defines higher education as a market of university providers and student consumers of knowledge, skills, and qualifications. Within this framework digital technology is harnessed to market strategies and practices. The negative consequences for universities are outlined and contrasted with an alternative depiction of higher education as a public good based in the values of critical pedagogy, openness, and public pedagogy. The concept of value pluralism (Johnson M, Smyth K, Campus-Wide Inf Syst 28(4):211–220, 2011) is recognised as a challenge and opportunity for bringing about positive change by engaging all stakeholders in creation of the digital university. The main intellectual strategy adopted to explore the concept of the digital university is described as discursive construction (Jones and Goodfellow, Int J Learn Media, 4(3–4):59–63, 2012). The work of Paulo Freire (Education for critical consciousness. Bloomsbury Academic, London, 1974) is described as a major influence on the arguments for higher education as a public good developed in the book as a whole.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bill Johnston
    • 1
  • Sheila MacNeill
    • 2
  • Keith Smyth
    • 3
  1. 1.School of Psychological Science and HealthUniversity of StrathclydeGlasgowUK
  2. 2.Academic Quality and DevelopmentGlasgow Caledonian UniversityGlasgowUK
  3. 3.Learning and Teaching AcademyUniversity of the Highlands and IslandsInvernessUK

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