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Mark Olssen on neoliberalisation of higher education and academic lives: An interview

Raaper, R.; Olssen, M.

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M. Olssen


This article is based on an interview conducted with Mark Olssen in October 2014, and the subsequent discussions. These conversations invited Olssen to reflect on his experiences of neoliberalism as a practising academic who has worked in the UK for some 14 years, and also to comment as a researcher and writer who is well known for his work on neoliberalism, especially in relation to higher education policy. While focusing on a question of how neoliberalism has changed the context in which academics work, following Olssen’s lead in his own research, in this interview he articulates a Foucauldian understanding of neoliberalism that can be seen as a specific mode of government rooted in economic discourses of competition (Foucault, 2008). The accentuation of the competitive forces shaping higher education, linked in Britain to periodic audits such as the RAE and the REF, have become increasingly visible within higher education institutions through techniques, such as performance indicators and targets, the increasing role of non-academic managers, the adoption of line-management authority hierarchies, linked to strategic planning, quality assurance, annual appraisals and audits that now function as a regular part of university governance (Olssen and Peters, 2005) and which discipline the way academics ‘conduct their conduct’, in Foucault’s phrase. By drawing on various examples from Olssen’s experience, it is argued that academics in neoliberalised institutions have been seriously deprofessionalised, the sources of which must be traced to complex causes ‘in the whole network of the social’ (Foucault, 1982: 345). Although this complexity of power is increasingly constraining, it is also suggested that it still offers some opportunities for academic resistance. The summary of our conversations is presented in this article, aiming to address the ways in which neoliberalism has transformed academia. We argue that the replacement of traditional liberal collegial models of governance by neoliberal technologies has diminished the academic freedom and professional self-determination of academics within the university acting to the detriment of autonomous research endeavours and propelling an escalation of the ‘dark times’ so vividly depicted by Tamboukou (2012: 860). In general terms, the article contributes to wider scholarly debate on neoliberalisation of higher education and academic work.


Raaper, R., & Olssen, M. (2016). Mark Olssen on neoliberalisation of higher education and academic lives: An interview. Policy Futures in Education, 14(2), 147-163.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Sep 18, 2015
Online Publication Date Oct 15, 2015
Publication Date Feb 1, 2016
Deposit Date Mar 15, 2016
Publicly Available Date Apr 4, 2016
Journal Policy Futures in Education
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 14
Issue 2
Pages 147-163


Accepted Journal Article (395 Kb)

Copyright Statement
Raaper, R. and Olssen, M. (2016) 'Mark Olssen on neoliberalisation of higher education and academic lives : an interview.', Policy futures in education., 14 (2). pp. 147-163. Copyright © 2015 The Author(s). Reprinted by permission of SAGE Publications.

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