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Neoliberalism and academic values: a critical examination of academics’ participation

Wednesday 3 July: Conference day one, 3:00pm – 3:30pm parallel session



Room 5 – 301-G050 Lg Chem



Nekpen Okhawere
University of Newcastle, Australia

Associate Professor Suzanne Ryan
University of Newcastle, Australia

Dr Richard Oloruntoba
University of Newcastle, Australia



Worldwide neoliberal reforms are changing the nature of universities through the introduction of private sector management practices. For academics, the change is potentially an attack on traditional academic values of collegiality, academic freedom and institutional autonomy. Despite considerable evidence that academics are unsettled by the neoliberalist agenda, there is little understanding of the degree to which, and why, academics engage with neoliberal practices, either through strategic compliance, resistance to the practices or through ‘playing the game’ (Alvesson & Spicer, 2016). My research examines how academics experience neoliberal practices and how these experiences affect their academic values. The Theory of Advanced Liberal Governance (ALG) (Miller & Rose, 2008) and critical narrative analysis are applied on the experiences of 37 academics across different disciplines in a single case Australian University. The analysis has not been finalized but preliminary results indicate that a small minority of the interviewees are consciously participating in and supporting the agenda in return for career mobility and instrumental rewards (Alvesson & Spicer, 2016). A huge majority, though not in support, participate unconsciously. These findings corroborates the postulation of ALG theory that though governance operates from a distance, it sets up specific mechanisms that translate its goals into the choices and commitments of individuals, such that individuals think they are making decisions of their own (Cannizzo, 2016; Rose, 1990). In other words, knowingly or otherwise, academics are complicit in upholding a system for which they have little respect. However, further analysis will address hopefully the following questions:

  • Are those who are in support playing a game? If yes, when does the game playing end or become a reality?
  • To what extent are those who are not supportive aware of their participation?
  • What is the impact of potential value conflict between those who support and those who do not support for the future of higher education?



Alvesson, M., & Spicer, A. (2016). (Un)Conditional surrender? Why do professionals willingly comply with managerialism? Journal of Organizational Change Management, 29(1), 29-45.
Broadbent, J., & Laughlin, R. (2002). Public service professionals and the new public management: Control of the professions in the public services. In K. McLaughlin, S.
P. Osborne, & E. Ferlie (Eds.), New public management: Current trends and future prospects (pp. 95–108). London: Routledge.
Cannizzo, F. (2016). The transformation of academic ideals: an Australian analysis. Higher Education Research & Development, 35(5), 881-894.
McLaughlin, S., P. Osborne, & E. Ferlie (Eds.), New public management: Current trends and future prospects (pp.95–108). London: Routledge.
Miller, P., & Rose, N. (2008). Governing the present: Administering economic, social and personal life. Cambridge: Polity Press.


Presentation topic

Academics – Work and Identity

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