Higher Education Studies

Structurally, politically, philosophically and commercially there is more change in higher education in the UK today than there has been since the Polytechnics had their magic wand waved in 1992

The OfS’s foundation is more than a simple re-branding exercise. The shift from a ‘funding council’ to a ‘regulator’, a body found in many public and private sectors from energy, telecoms, to financial services and beyond, is a fundamental change in philosophy. (WonkHE, Monday briefing, 3 April 2017)

In a leap across several nations and several arguments, I expect England, along with Scotland (already) and Wales (very soon) will have a common, but possibly chaotic regulatory and funding framework for post-compulsory (“tertiary”) education including a plethora of new providers (many private) and new awards including Degree Apprenticeships. But difference, hierarchy and competition will persist and be generated within and between institutions, nations and firms (or syndicates or enterprises).

It appears that rules of “firms” more so than rules of “markets” or “businesses” apply. An altogether more Machiavellian future of privateers on the edge of empires beckons.

So I ask, how to understand and navigate in such times of heightened political risk?

It has struck me that a number of firms are vying for parts of the world: call them what you will: “Russian oligarchs”, “Trump’s gang”, “Press barons”, “North Korea”, “The City”, “Narco cartels”, GCHQ or other national security apparatus, etc and on down through scales of operation.  A theory of the firm explains more to me than government, markets, capitalism or even neoliberalism.

[Note: I need to expand and reference “theory of the firm”]

Against this we see (or I imagine) Britain redefining itself, or being redefined, as a “frontier nation” on the edges of empires. Personally it is not the bet that I made, but for the next few years a beneficent Hegelian statism seems beyond any horizon.

Various dystopian visions flow, such as US firms v Russian firms all over again, with unsinkable-aircraft-carrier Britain and Europe trampled over (59 cruise missiles par example).

This is a space where privateers gather. Recent prime ministerial international visits show us who is friends with whom. In Higher education, the creation and direction of the OFS fits this theory: practically a Carolingian take over.

I draw also on a generalised activist position. I have been observing and sporadically attending Momentum and Labour meetings. Locally the refractions of party politics are not progressive. In various, more progressive movements: anti-fracking, fossil-fuel divestment, Reclaim the Power, homelessness and squatting, there is a high degree of autonomy, localism and acceptance of tactically asymmetric information flows. A theory of the firm fits these circumstances as well.

Universities appear to me to be overcome with theories of markets, management, and business. I suggest we in them need to start thinking more like firms. Syndicates might be a more palatable term. But the phrase that stuck in my head was, “We need pirate universities for a pirate nation.”

I then drew out a tenuous moral argument that somehow pirates were honourably out for themselves doing “fun” buccaneering, while privateers bought spurious legitimacy in service of dominion over others from an impoverished ascendency.


Morris, D. (2017, March 4). Deliverology in, out and around the university | Wonkhe | Analysis. Retrieved 05/04/2017 from http://wonkhe.com/blogs/deliverology-in-out-and-around-the-university/