The Digital University in a Neoliberal Age
Wednesday 8th November 2017
Neoliberalism has disrupted higher education by redefining it as a market trading in commodities. In theory, price signals are meant to reflect the worth of a product in a market but neoliberals tend to see the economic success of corporations as the gauge of market success, despite their ability to ‘distort’ market signals. In the UK, higher education uses audit culture in place of an open market of differing price signals. This allows the state, which engineers how the ‘free market’ works, to set the terms of competitive reference. The REF, the NSS, various league tables and ‘rankings’ based on these assessments combined with other data such as data on employment, and now the TEF, provide ways for university brands to compete for students redefined as ‘customers’ purchasing human capital. Information and communication technology (ICT) allows for the intensification of audit culture and marketization. The ‘performance’ of staff can be assessed continuously, often using a traffic light system of staff grading, with management using ICT to check on the ‘impact’ of ‘research outputs’ and customer ‘feedback’ for instance. In place of professional autonomy there is to be ‘transparency’, with academic work continuously monitored for performance in relation to the objectives of brand managers. The purpose of this symposium is to both diagnose the range of problems presented by the neoliberal use of digital technology in higher education and to explore what potentials there are to overcome such problems.