Academic capitalism

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Last Update

  • Updated.jpg 17 February 2017


  • academic capitalism, corporatization, metricization, neoliberalism


See also ADDIE model | Information literacy | Library workshop evaluation | Research Portal for Academic Librarians | Scientific writing | Scholarly publishing and communication

"....Across the globe, education reforms have been commonly brought forth in a finance-driven form - with the themes of cost efficiency, better performance and marketisation (for example Carnoy, 2000; Slaughter & Rhoades, 2004; Berman, 2012). Diminishing government revenues for higher education has been the new reality to which universities have to face since the 1990s (Breneman, 1993; Fairweather, 1988; Mok, forthcoming). The state, instead of being the sole funding provider of higher education, initiates the pro-competition and marketisation policies in the higher education sector..."
  • Since the rise of neoliberalism in late twentieth century, higher education around the globe has been undergoing substantial transformation.
  • The term "academic capitalism" (Hackett, 1990) extends Max Weber’s insight from its origins in the German university system of the early 1900s to the emerging circumstances of academic engineering and science in the contemporary United States (Academic capitalism, 1990).
  • Further, academic capitalism describes the phenomenon of university faculty’s increasing attention to market potential as an impetus for research.
  • Academic capitalism places faculty (and librarians) in the position of having to anticipate market demands. (Slaughter and Leslie, 1997)
  • Research has become less “curiosity-driven” and more market-driven. In this process, systems that somehow manage “exceptionalism” like Canada may experience brain gain
  • “In contrast to the emphasis on individual rights in the United States, the Canadian tradition was one of emphasis on social order and the collective good, and to some degree, group rights…the United States emphasizes equality of opportunity while Canada emphasizes equality of results” (Skolnik, 1990, pp. 86); "the greater materialistic orientation of the United States than of Canada..." (Skolnik, 1990, p. 86); greater emphasis on accountability for public funds in the US higher education (Barak, 1982; Skolnik, 1990).
  • In academic libraries, there is an onslaught of "MBA efficiencies" which started in the 1990s. Two articles published in the College and Research LIbraries are worth reading on the related notion of "mcdonaldization" of academic libraries:
  • The corporatization and internationalization of Canadian universities continues to be the subject of considerable debate, yet there is an ominous silence in the academy about growing racial divides that are the result of neo-liberal knowledge production and governance practices. Race, racialization and settler colonialism affect the restructuring of the university and focus too little on the representation, status and experience of racial minorities in the academy.


  • "In recent years"....according to Toby Park (2011) "much attention has been paid to the idea of academic capitalism and the notion of the entrepreneurial university. This is particularly the case in research-intensive institutions where cutting edge research has historically been tightly coupled with governmental and corporate advances."
  • There is now a considerable international literature addressing the issues of "the entrepreneurial university" (Wasser, 1990; Clark, 1998; Currie, 2002; Barsony, 2003; Jacob et al. 2003; Etzkowitz, 2004; Gibb and Hannon 2006; Kirby, 2006; Lazzeroni and Piccaluga, 2003; Poh-Kam Wong et al, 2007; Guerrero-Cano, 2008; Mohrman et al.2008; Lehrera et al. 2009) and "academic capitalism" and its impact on higher education.
  • Slaughter and Rhoades (2006) are two main scholars in the area; they identify the "entrepreneurial" behaviours in colleges and universities in the post-industrial economy, and focus on how knowledge is seen not so much as a public good in the 21st century as a commodity to be capitalized upon and profited from....
  • in their book "In Academic Capitalism and the New Economy" Slaughter and Rhoades define academic capitalism as "...the involvement of colleges and faculty in market-like behaviors"; they chronicle the engagement of higher education in knowledge-based economies and analyze universities as places to develop, market and sell research, educational services, and goods
  • Slaughter and Rhoades track changes in policy and practice, revealing new social networks and circuits of knowledge creation and dissemination, as well as new organizational structures and expanded managerial capacity to link higher education institutions and markets. They depict an ascendant academic capitalist knowledge/learning regime expressed in faculty work, departmental activity, and administrative behavior. Clarifying the regime's internal contradictions, they note the public subsidies embedded in new revenue streams and the shift in emphasis from serving student customers to leveraging resources from them.
  • Are all of the commercial priorities, interests and contracts affecting the academic enterprise in a measurable way and what are the impacts?
  • Academic capitalism can be seen as a threat to the autonomy of academic work and publicly-minded ideals that are the raison d’etre of higher education.
  • The consequences of academic capitalism are decreased support for the liberal arts in favour of professional and applied programs; an emphasis of commercially-driven research over “disinterested” teaching and reflection; increased managerialism and strategic planning which has replaced cooperation and curiosity; the rise of a flexible, contractual academic workforce; and commodification of knowledge and education.
  • Discussion of legal scholarship at UBC adds to the account of the neo-liberal university; Shanahan says that the prestige and resources that flow to law schools as a result of their connection to a powerful and wealthy profession has protected legal scholarship and its academic practices from the encroachments of commercializing pressure.
  • On the other hand, the legal curriculum is shaped by consumer choice for students who, in the face of rising tuition, are more sensitive than ever to their marketability; outside of law, academic sectors associated with public welfare and social work have become relatively marginalized.
  • Jo-Anne Dillabough and Sandra Acker have studied the impact of neo-liberal reforms on teacher education; they examine the emphasis on research productivity and competition for research funding in fields where, previously, professional service and connection to social practice and specific social functions had encouraged a less competitive approach; they make a case for connections between gendered academic divisions of labour and the declining impact of social service and public objectives in neo-liberal universities.

Issues affecting academic libraries

  • the basic philosophical ‘idea’ of a university is changing, as is the notion of the academic library
  • there is a commercialization of knowledge, and information of many types; this affects libraries also
  • neoliberalism, globalization and rise of management have led to changes in funding between the state and higher education
  • university graduates are fed the rhetoric of globalization such as their employability in a global labour market
  • there is a strategic monetization of online learning, e-learning and other new technologies such as MOOCs
  • university administrators seem to be adopting a more managerial stance towards academic libraries introducing “conditional” funding to make library administrators more accountable and efficient
  • interestingly, the prestige and resources that flow to academic medical libraries due to their connection to a powerful and wealthy profession (i.e., medicine) has not protected them from the inevitable closures forced upon them by the new university economy
  • new initiatives have emerged in Canada since the 1990s as part of a national innovation strategy (Industry Canada, 1996); ie., the Canada Foundation for Innovation which uses public funding and industrial partnerships to move towards commercialization of research
  • in 2000, the Government of Canada created a program to establish 2,000 research professorships (Canada Research Chairs) in Canadian universities which invests $300 million per year to “attract and retain some of the world’s most accomplished and promising minds.”
  • One research chair said that "the less competitive environment [in Canada] allows you to pick up those problems that require very deep thinking, while you have to rush in the States where people tend to have a utilitarian mentality…human ideas are hard to judge in their initial stage."


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