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Crises and the Production of Multiple Privatisations in UK Higher Education

Higher Education
Technology
Capitalism
Susan Robertson
University of Cambridge
Susan Robertson
University of Cambridge
Michele Martini
University of Cambridge

Abstract

This paper examines the production of multiple trajectories of privatisations in UK higher education over the past two decades. Using corpus linguistics and critical discourse analysis as methodologies, we show how six key higher education reports since 1997 discursively set into motion those structural selectivities (Jessop, 2005) which are strategically selective of different modalities of privatisation and their social relations (Martini & Robertson, 2021). In our paper we focus on three of these: (i) reimagining and instituting the university-student-credential contract as a commodity relation (Robertson, 2012); (ii) recalibrating the regulatory architecture of HE to now include a rapidly expanding set of for-profit ‘alternative providers’ in the sector (Hunt & Boliver, 2019); and (iii) the expansion of platform capitalism and its infrastructures in higher education as a result of the pandemic. We argue that each of these modalities emerged out of crises, in turn producing an ontological crisis around the idea of the student, the university and the sector.