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Knowledge for Sale: The Neoliberal Takeover of Higher Education

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How free-market fundamentalists have shifted the focus of higher education to competition, metrics, consumer demand, and return on investment, and why we should change this. A new philosophy of higher education has taken hold in institutions around the world. Its supporters disavow the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake and argue that the only knowledge worth pursuing is How free-market fundamentalists have shifted the focus of higher education to competition, metrics, consumer demand, and return on investment, and why we should change this. A new philosophy of higher education has taken hold in institutions around the world. Its supporters disavow the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake and argue that the only knowledge worth pursuing is that with more or less immediate market value. Every other kind of learning is downgraded, its budget cut. In Knowledge for Sale, Lawrence Busch challenges this market-driven approach. The rationale for the current thinking, Busch explains, comes from neoliberal economics, which calls for reorganizing society around the needs of the market. The market-influenced changes to higher education include shifting the cost of education from the state to the individual, turning education from a public good to a private good subject to consumer demand; redefining higher education as a search for the highest-paying job; and turning scholarly research into a competition based on metrics including number of citations and value of grants. Students, administrators, and scholars have begun to think of themselves as economic actors rather than seekers of knowledge. Arguing for active resistance to this takeover, Busch urges us to burst the neoliberal bubble, to imagine a future not dictated by the market, a future in which there is a more educated citizenry and in which the old dichotomies--market and state, nature and culture, and equality and liberty--break down. In this future, universities value learning and not training, scholarship grapples with society's most pressing problems rather than quick fixes for corporate interests, and democracy is enriched by its educated and engaged citizens.


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How free-market fundamentalists have shifted the focus of higher education to competition, metrics, consumer demand, and return on investment, and why we should change this. A new philosophy of higher education has taken hold in institutions around the world. Its supporters disavow the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake and argue that the only knowledge worth pursuing is How free-market fundamentalists have shifted the focus of higher education to competition, metrics, consumer demand, and return on investment, and why we should change this. A new philosophy of higher education has taken hold in institutions around the world. Its supporters disavow the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake and argue that the only knowledge worth pursuing is that with more or less immediate market value. Every other kind of learning is downgraded, its budget cut. In Knowledge for Sale, Lawrence Busch challenges this market-driven approach. The rationale for the current thinking, Busch explains, comes from neoliberal economics, which calls for reorganizing society around the needs of the market. The market-influenced changes to higher education include shifting the cost of education from the state to the individual, turning education from a public good to a private good subject to consumer demand; redefining higher education as a search for the highest-paying job; and turning scholarly research into a competition based on metrics including number of citations and value of grants. Students, administrators, and scholars have begun to think of themselves as economic actors rather than seekers of knowledge. Arguing for active resistance to this takeover, Busch urges us to burst the neoliberal bubble, to imagine a future not dictated by the market, a future in which there is a more educated citizenry and in which the old dichotomies--market and state, nature and culture, and equality and liberty--break down. In this future, universities value learning and not training, scholarship grapples with society's most pressing problems rather than quick fixes for corporate interests, and democracy is enriched by its educated and engaged citizens.

40 review for Knowledge for Sale: The Neoliberal Takeover of Higher Education

  1. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Fairweather

    This is the story of what has become of higher education—that an undue obsession with accountability and quantifiable prestige powered by metrics has turned universities into places which reify (at best) irrelevant or (at worst) potentially dangerous assumptions that can have a dramatic affect on public policy. Busch emphasizes that accountability and metrics have become philosophies in-and-of themselves to an absurd degree, to the point where what matters are calculable outcomes rather than out This is the story of what has become of higher education—that an undue obsession with accountability and quantifiable prestige powered by metrics has turned universities into places which reify (at best) irrelevant or (at worst) potentially dangerous assumptions that can have a dramatic affect on public policy. Busch emphasizes that accountability and metrics have become philosophies in-and-of themselves to an absurd degree, to the point where what matters are calculable outcomes rather than outcomes which may challenge assumptions about the best approach to public policy. And hey, it takes a whole lot of administrators to record all that data! So, even with all the budget cuts in this "age of austerity," universities pay more and more administrators to collect and render data into an arrangement that will entice potential students to choose their university's lifestyle over another's, while remaining competitive in the academic ranks as well. This is money which could be spent on faculty... but don't get me started on faculty! They must also remain relevant through the incessant publishing of small articles. Otherwise they will perish. Never mind that anything truly worthwhile was not built in a day! At the root of this is the fact that higher education has been warped by purely economic ends, with corporations at the helm of research. On the institutional level, universities are seeking programs and ways of reporting which build a numerically flattering profile that pumps up their presence in university rankings. On the student level, far too many people are making choices for their future based on "how much money will I be able to earn?" And with the cost of college these days, how can you really blame them? Of course, college wouldn't cost so much if more public money was spent on higher education... Certainly, the best chapter is this book is the chapter on "research," whose reflections on Web of Science and citation indexes is incredibly terrifying. We seem to be creating a giant feedback loop of information. To use language that Busch does not use, exactly, I think it would not be wrong to say that Busch recommends a more holistic approach to education—that, just maybe, our problems are too important, to consequential, to leave to a few "experts" whose narrow view of the world may strictly adhere to a point of view that does not nearly take into account a number of factors that research (for Christ's sake) is probably paid to ignore. This would be a type of education whose foundation would be philosophical in nature. If the university can be a laboratory which seeks to ask questions whose answers may lead to the betterment of humankind, we may have hope yet. But with the increasing privatization of public utilities and institutions, this feels like a pipe dream at this point...

  2. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Case

    Neoliberalism is undermining the values of higher education, according to this concise treatment by Michigan State University sociologist Lawrence Busch. Neoliberalism here is not, as a conservative Christian reader might assume, the liberal boogeyman who has hijacked the university and turned it into a godless secular factory for producing “Darwinist minions,” as (no joke) one student labeled my own. Rather, the neoliberalism Busch discusses is something more widespread (at secular and Christia Neoliberalism is undermining the values of higher education, according to this concise treatment by Michigan State University sociologist Lawrence Busch. Neoliberalism here is not, as a conservative Christian reader might assume, the liberal boogeyman who has hijacked the university and turned it into a godless secular factory for producing “Darwinist minions,” as (no joke) one student labeled my own. Rather, the neoliberalism Busch discusses is something more widespread (at secular and Christian universities alike) and to be honest a lot more frightening. Busch’s neoliberalism is an economic paradigm, one which most of the world is happily following, a paradigm that says free market competition is the surest means to happiness and prosperity. The neoliberalist ideal is to get governments out of the way wherever possible, let competition thrive, and let the assumedly politically neutral processes of free markets work. Unfortunately, Busch argues, neoliberalism is a flawed dogma, and its effects become most insidious when they begin influencing higher education: From neoliberal perspectives, markets are about producing efficiencies and thereby maximizing wealth and liberty. But markets can also be about other values besides efficiency. It is precisely because markets may be designed to optimize or maximize many different values that they must be considered a form of governance rather than some naturally occurring or logically justifiable phenomenon. (132) The problems with neoliberalism and its march toward ultimate market efficiency are numerous, and Busch highlights only a few in his survey of recent critiques. To start with, markets are not actually natural and free; rather, they are created and regulated, and because of this they can be crafted to enshrine certain values and ignore others. Markets tend to prioritize private goods over public goods. They reduce societies to a collection of isolated individuals who are supposed to make market choices based on self-interest and flawed knowledge. They value certain types of knowledge and ignore others. All of this, Busch argues, makes the acceptance of neoliberalism by governments throughout the world problematic, but these issues become even more heightened when they intersect the values of the university. Busch makes arguments for the problems of privatizing knowledge, of creating partnerships between private companies and public universities, and of seeing education as a purely individualistic commodity as opposed to a social good at public schools supported through public funds. These universities were founded on the belief that the knowledge they produced and the citizens they educated were public goods and should thus be funded by the common purse. As market forces have been introduced to (supposedly) make higher education more efficient and competitive, this has instead the effect of walling off the commons. Knowledge becomes seen as proprietary, a means of generating income for universities that are seeing their public support continually cut. Bureaucracy proliferates to protect this knowledge, to compete for funds, to seek corporate support or partnerships, and to enhance controls and efficiencies. In short, universities become more like businesses. For many, this doesn’t seem to be a problem. I hear constantly that the field of higher education is changing and that we have to change with it if we hope to remain competitive. The problem though, and Busch’s primary point, is that universities by their very nature are supposed to do things that in themselves critique and at times openly contest the neoliberal paradigm, revealing it to be the value-laden (not neutral or natural) system that it is. The kind of goods created by universities are not private goods, and they are not always amenable to market forces. Indeed, some of the most important work of universities is the production of “slow knowledge,” results of investigations that take years or even decades, that cannot easily be monetized and that may never have a payoff in dollars and cents. Such research is devalued in a university unduly influenced by neoliberal pressures. In addition, certain forms of knowledge (humanities and the arts, for instance) become seen as luxuries because they don’t have the same market value in the way STEM fields do. Instead of being seen as essential forms of knowledge for perspective and cultural literacy, a common and not a private good, they become seen as a poor investment for students and thus an easy target of cuts for administration. Finally, market pressures applied within the university undermine the freedom to pursue (and support) research that exposes harmful effects of big business or corporate sponsors, an obviously corrosive influence on how universities ideally function. Such examples might seem obvious, but Busch’s concern is that concepts of competition, efficiency, and market forces have become so ubiquitous in our society that they become seen as tools to apply in any situation, regardless of context. They seem so natural in our lives, the way we run our businesses and the way many of us wish we would run our government, that they begin to be seen as self-evident axioms for the way society should be organized. The problem though is that when administrators trained in a business mindset begin applying these paradigms to the university, the university’s ideals and purpose become compromised. We talk about competing in a “knowledge economy,” where higher education begins to be seen “solely as an investment in one’s self, an investment designed to enhance future earnings.” (49) (Again, I hear language like this all the time.) The danger, Busch argues, is that technoscientific knowledge prioritized in this way (technical training to get a job) is only one aspect of knowledge, and our market economy biases us toward giving it too much value. Rather than an economy of knowledge, Busch claims, we need to recognize that we function in an “ecology of knowledge,” where things like local knowledge, cultural knowledge, moral knowledge, and social knowledge are tools in our epistemological toolbox alongside technoscientific knowledge. The market economy is not the end all and be all of the good society or what it means to be human. Yet our application of its modes and models to the university threatens to silence one of the strongest voices we have for critiquing, questioning, and broadening that view.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Amber Nicole

    Such an important read for understanding the current climate and structures existing in academia. I really enjoyed the author's breakdown of how various policies, built on neoliberal market ideology though not usually through nefarious intentions, have been coming together over the decades to really undermine the creation of knowledge at our institutions. More importantly, I appreciate that this book provides solutions, both theoretical and practical. I see myself coming back to this book again a Such an important read for understanding the current climate and structures existing in academia. I really enjoyed the author's breakdown of how various policies, built on neoliberal market ideology though not usually through nefarious intentions, have been coming together over the decades to really undermine the creation of knowledge at our institutions. More importantly, I appreciate that this book provides solutions, both theoretical and practical. I see myself coming back to this book again and again over the course of my development as a scholar.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ernesto Costa

    To understand what behind the ideas of the New Public Management movement and how these ideas are destroying the university.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Annie Primera

    Excellent and thought-provoking book about the impact neoliberalism has had on HE institutions. Well worth a read even if its a bit on the short side.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Parcalabu Laurentiu

  7. 5 out of 5

    サラ サラ

  8. 5 out of 5

    Steven

  9. 4 out of 5

    Glyn

  10. 5 out of 5

    Mechanical Twerp

  11. 4 out of 5

    Matt Dearmon

  12. 5 out of 5

    Michael

  13. 5 out of 5

    Benjamin

  14. 5 out of 5

    João Bernardo Sousa

  15. 4 out of 5

    Nick

  16. 4 out of 5

    Josh Trapani

    Am reviewing for Science and Public Policy (journal).

  17. 4 out of 5

    12345

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    Carlos Mario

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    P

  20. 5 out of 5

    Xiaotong Yang

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Bolen

  22. 4 out of 5

    Josip Cmrečnjak

  23. 4 out of 5

    Atti

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kjetil Endresen

  25. 5 out of 5

    Matteo

  26. 5 out of 5

    Joe Noteboom

  27. 4 out of 5

    Tiffany

  28. 4 out of 5

    Yannick

  29. 5 out of 5

    Travis

  30. 4 out of 5

    Law

  31. 5 out of 5

    Guy Smith

  32. 5 out of 5

    Edoardo Pezzulli

  33. 4 out of 5

    Erik

  34. 5 out of 5

    Anja

  35. 4 out of 5

    Mumei

  36. 5 out of 5

    Brian Reeves

  37. 4 out of 5

    Alice

  38. 5 out of 5

    Megan

  39. 4 out of 5

    Brianna

  40. 4 out of 5

    Ximing

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