Troubling Higher Education

Troubling Higher Education

Tanya Fitzgerald
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6202-5.ch001
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There has been a renewed interest in universities as sites of knowledge production and their contributions in the global knowledge economy. Originating in the reforms of the 1980s and spanning numerous countries, New Public Management (NPM) has stimulated a focus on commercialization, corporatization, and privatization across many areas of the public sector. Corporate sector principles and practices and new regimes of work that have culminated in a renewed focus on targets, measurement, cost centres and cost drivers, performance management, standards, and productivity are troubling for higher education. This is primarily because the production and management of knowledge has been reduced to what “counts” in the global marketplace. Higher education is increasingly becoming a “knowledge factory,” but how is this knowledge produced? Why does this knowledge “count”? Whose knowledge is being produced? These are the central questions raised in this opening chapter.
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The purpose of this book is to chart the turbulent times that currently mark the higher education sector. More specifically there has been a renewed interest in universities as sites of knowledge production and their contributions to the global knowledge economy. Although other sites of knowledge production exist, for example hospitals, industrial research facilities and government institutes, laboratories, universities remain at the centre of the system. Notably, universities now engage in a level of academic capitalism (Slaughter & Rhoades, 2004) as a direct result of increasing competitive pressure to secure external funding such as research grants and contracts, philanthropic endowments, industry partnerships, and to increase income through domestic and international student fees. For–profit activities such as patents, royalties, consultancies, entrepreneurial activities and intellectual property agreements stimulate additional flows of money to universities.

Recent educational reforms in Australia, the United Kingdom (UK) and United States of America (US) have included the gradual decline of government funding, increased attention to university rankings as a default marker of quality (Hazelkorn, 2011) in the global marketplace (Marginson, 2007), the emergence of new forms of governance and management (Blackmore, Brennan & Zipin, 2010), increasing pressures to conform to regimes of accountability and surveillance (Fitzgerald, White & Gunter, 2012), and changing demands for new technologies for learning (Barnett & Coates, 2005). Universities are global businesses that seek to attract a client base across transnational boundaries. Central to their fiscal survival is the need to attract international students willing to pay high fees, and wealthy benefactors. In a quest to expand their markets, universities such as Yale (US), Nottingham (UK) and Monash (Australia) have established satellite campuses in locations such as Singapore, Malaysia and China, and Italy respectively. In addition, universities in South East Asia, India and the Middle East are aggressively headhunting leading academics to contribute to and increase their own world rankings, the de–facto marker of quality in the higher education marketplace. Although universities have existed for over eight centuries, in little more than 25 years, higher education has been irrevocably changed. The pace of change has accelerated and universities are now required to be more outward facing and are vital components in government agendas to drive national economic productivity.

Originating in the reforms of the 1980s and spanning numerous countries, New Public Management (NPM) has stimulated a focus on commercialization, corporatization and privatization (Deem, Hillyard & Reed, 2007; Fitzgerald et al., 2012) across many areas of the public sector. A direct consequence has been the emergence of a philosophy of user pays, an emphasis on devolved decision-making, enhanced accountability and audit, a value-for-money proposition, and attention to the market based competition. This requires more top-down management, budgets that are underscored with the need for fiscal efficiencies, and performance based on explicit key performance indicators. The drivers then have been improved efficiency and effectiveness and greater outputs at less input cost. Increasingly, universities have redefined themselves and their strategies in order to be able to compete in the global marketplace of higher education (Altbach, 2004). Traditionally located in the non-profit sector, universities now operate as for-profit organizations. Students have been redefined as customers or clients, the professional and business communities have been redefined as strategic financial partners, university degrees and diplomas have been recast as products, there is an intense interest in measuring satisfaction and dissatisfaction as well as academic outputs, and universities now have a physical as well as virtual presence in the omnipotent global environment.

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