When public good exchanged to private gain: neoliberalism, higher education and social inequality

Public higher education has a long history, and with its growth it is associated with the extension of a social right to education from secondary schooling to university studies. Following the rise in student numbers since the 1970s, the aspiration to higher education has been universalized, although opportunities remained structured by social background.
In his interesting and important (open-access) paper From social rights to the market: neoliberalism and the knowledge economy” John Holmwood (University of Nottingham) examines changing policies for higher education in the United Kingdom and the emergence of a neoliberal knowledge regime. This subordinates higher education to the market and shifts the burden of paying for degree courses onto students. It seeks to stratify institutions and extend the role of for-profit providers. From a role in the amelioration of social inequality, argues Holmwood, universities are now asked to participate actively in the widening inequalities associated with a neoliberal global market-based knowledge economy At the same time, emphasis shifts from the quality of a system of higher education serving diverse needs, to the placing of individual institutions within a rank order of universities in a global market place for education.
Focusing on the UK, this article nevertheless precisely portrays those eroding neoliberal trends taking place also in higher education in other countries, where in the name of efficiency public good exchanged to private gain.

Holmwood, John. 2014. “From social rights to the market: neoliberalism and the knowledge economy.”  International Journal of Lifelong Education  33(1): 62-76.

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