Thursday, 22 April 2010


These are the speakers and the titles of their presentations for the 5th of May

Susan Robertson
Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol
• The business of universities: four tendencies in the transformation of the higher education sector

John Holmwood
School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Nottingham
• Disciplines, interdiciplinarity and the neo-liberal University

Mark Fisher
Visiting Fellow at the Centre of Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths
• Eliminating Business Ontology from the University

Harriet Bradley
Department of Sociology, University of Bristol and Vice-president of the UCU at Bristol
• What is to be done: unions, collectivism and resistance to neoliberalism

Friday, 16 April 2010



When: 5th May 2010, 2pm-6pm (followed by wine reception)

Where: Department of Sociology, University of Bristol, 12 Woodland Road, Bristol, BS8 1UQ

The aim of this workshop is to address and discuss contemporary developments taking place in the Higher Education landscape. Bringing together scholars with different areas of expertise, the workshop will focus on both advancing diagnoses of the situation and exploring possibilities of action.

Speakers: Susan Robertson, Mark Fisher, John Holmwood and Harriet Bradley


In the last three decades the public sector has been profoundly restructured according to the neoliberal dogma, and universities are no exception to this tendency. Not only has the contemporary hegemonic neoliberal discourse altered rationales for tertiary education and knowledge production, it has also reshuffled the complex system and structures of university, the way it engages with the wider world as well its multi-layered inner life. The neoliberal maxims of commercialisation, marketisation and entrepreneurialism are embedded in the higher education in the UK and elsewhere and are accompanied (for some paradoxically, for others logically) by increasing instances of bureaucratic standards, control systems, monitoring and measurement/evaluation mechanisms (ie QAA, RAE, REF). Consequently, academic cognitive practices (teaching, research) are becoming quasi-Taylorised in the name of the principles of regional/national and global competition. Such principles are embodied in controversial academic rankings and league tables machineries (THE, Shanghai Jiao Tong) as well is in 'soft' yet nebulous and relative imperatives: 'strive towards excellence' and 'audited quality'. Comodification and governmentalisation have merged in their concerns and methods (Miller 2010). Today, the tenets organizing the knowledge production and the functioning of university are efficiency, accountability and relevance ('use-value'). These bottom-line imperatives (a) may have multiple and paradoxical ramifications and trajectories and (b) are hegemonic instruments of dominant power structures. The practices and technologies of measurement, quantification, verification and control are not apolitical recording instruments. Quite the contrary; their rational fa├žade is underpinned by a precise, exclusivist political conception concerning what the role of universities and of the knowledge production should and should not be. In particular, this conception aims to suppress the spaces of independent critical enquiry which has traditionally characterised higher education. Neoliberal ideology has transformed university into an obedient instrument subordinated to orthodox political and economic instrumentality. In this perspective politics precedes measurement, quantification, verification and control and in effect these new instrumental technologies of control are the continuation of politics by different means (Stockelova 2010). Is this tendency a constraint for autonomous curiosity-driven research and nonconformist pedagogy as well as a threat to value systems sustaining academic freedom and critical scholarship? Are the apocalyptic prognoses of some commentators (about the disintegration of the university as an institution; migration of society's intellectual centre of gravity out of the university; complete reversal of what university is and represents) rightful and legitimate? Are universities turning into mere training centres, R&D centres, arms of political and economic policies, means of wealth creation and employability, and generators of spin-off companies?