Past Event details

Competition and Cooperation in Higher Education

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Competitiveness is now rife in the global higher education market, with competition between countries, universities, departments and individual academics promoted as the way to ensure efficiency and high standards in the context of academic capitalism. Reputation, prestige and economic rewards are all at stake as technologies of audit and league tables produce winners and losers in the drive for students, research grants and international standing, with hierarchies and inequalities reinforced and reproduced. At the same time, cooperation and new collaborations can be seen in attempts to both perform and succeed in the market, and as resistance to it.

In this seminar, we explore the place of competition and cooperation in contemporary higher education. Two research papers will be presented, followed by discussant responses, plenty of time for discussion and a question and answer session with the panel.


Paper 1. How the Competition Fetish Kills Innovation
Professor Rajani Naidoo, University of Bath

Contemporary education reform worldwide appears to be locked in a competition fetish. Hegemonic knowledge economy discourses which focus on the intensification of economic struggle for positional advantage and the scramble for highly skilled knowledge workers have contributed to a fierce competition within and between national systems of education. In addition, powerful trans-national configurations have entered the fray. Competition in education is related to but sits in parallel with global economic competition. It also comes with its own set of rules, established by those institutions and systems already judged to be ‘the best’ on an international scale. This presentation explores the structural, agentic and emotional drivers of the competition fetish and how different varieties of competition come together to erode some of the most important conditions for innovation to flourish in higher education. At the same time, certain types of competition create opportunities for other types of innovation to emerge. The presentation concludes by outlining ways in which innovation in higher education can be released from the strangle-hold of the competition fetish and implications for future research and policy.

Paper 2. Co-operative University: for democracy and a new common wealth.
Professor Emeritus Mike Neary, University of Lincoln

This paper sets out the theoretical framework as well as the practical activities that have laid the groundwork for establishing a co-operative university in the UK.  The co-operative university will be a federated network of independent autonomous higher education co-operatives, offering different subject areas and levels of degrees. The co-operatives will be run by their members, students and academics, as a form of democratic governance, based on the principles of solidarity and decent work. The conceptual framework is rooted in the radical history of the co-operative movement, which promotes the creation of institutions where capital is subordinate to labour, and, out of this arrangement, a new form of social value, or common wealth.



Professor Emeritus Ian McNay, University of Greenwich: Competition: rules for the unlevel playing field

Dr Maddie Breeze, University of Strathclyde: Feminist collaborations in competitive universities



11.00 – 11.20      Registration, tea and coffee

11.20 –  11.30     Welcome and Introduction

11.30 – 12.00      Paper 1. How the Competition Fetish Kills Innovation
Professor Rajani Naidoo, University of Bath

12.00 – 12.15      Questions on Paper 1

12.15– 12.45       Paper 2. Co-operative University: for democracy and a new common wealth.
Professor Emeritus Mike Neary, University of Lincoln

12.45-13.00         Questions on Paper 2

13.00 –  13.45     Lunch and networking

13.45 – 14.15      Discussant responses:

§ Prof Emeritus Ian McNay, University of Greenwich

§ Dr Maddie Breeze, University of Strathclyde

14.15 – 14.30      Buzz groups to formulate questions/issues for the panel

14.30 – 15.30      Panel Q&A and open discussion

15.30- 15.45        Closing comments


Biographical details:

Rajani Naidoo is Director of the International Centre for Higher Education Management (ICHEM) in the School of Management at the University of Bath. She is also Visiting Professor at Nelson Mandela University in South Africa . She researches transformations in global political economy and change in higher education with a focus on competition and markets, new forms of imperialism, the changing nature of academic work and the contribution of universities to global wellbeing. She has delivered keynotes in a wide range of countries and presented the 2016 Annual Worldviews lecture in Canada. She has acted as expert advisor to international bodies and has been involved in research programmes relating to social justice, the public good and the academic profession. She was previously Honorary Secretary of the Society for Research in Higher Education and sits on the research and development steering committee of the European Foundation for Management Development and on editorial boards including  the British Journal of Sociology of Education, Philosophy and Theory in Higher Education and the International Journal of Sociology of Education.

Mike Neary is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Lincoln. He is the Chair of the Interim Academic Board tasked by the Co-operative College, Manchester, to establish co-operative higher education across the UK.

Ian McNay currently has a 0.2 contract as Professor Emeritus, HE and Management at the University of Greenwich, having been re-appointed after taking involuntary redundancy in 2001. He has previously worked at Anglia Ruskin, the OU, UWE, and Strathclyde as well as organisations in Brussels and Barcelona. His commissions and working contacts have covered over 50 countries. His research interests are in analysis of policy impact, focusing on Widening Access and Research Quality Assessment (not together); and leadership and management of universities, from the viewpoint of the led and managed and within an organisation culture context.

Maddie Breeze currently works as a Chancellor’s Fellow in Education at the University of Strathclyde. Her book Seriousness in Women’s Roller Derby won the 2016 BSA Philip Abram’s Memorial Prize and she has published on: young people’s political participation, imposter syndrome in HE, widening participation, feminist and queer education, and feminist collaborations across academic career stages.

Network: Higher Education Policy
Date(s): Tuesday, 22 October 2019
Times: 11:00 - 15:45
Location: SRHE, 73 Collier St, London N1 9BE
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Event Files
File Details Download
The Competition Fetish
How the Competition Fetish Kills Innovation - Prof Rjani Naidoo
Co-operative University
Co-operative University: for Democracy and a New Common Wealth - Prof Mike Neary
A Case of Flawed Competition
RAE / REF A Case of Flawed Competition - Prof Ian McNay
Co-operation and Collaboration
Co-operation and Collaboration: Feminist Ambivalences - Dr Maddie Breeze
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