Complicity and modularization: how universities were made safe for the market

Bob Brecher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Education has always occupied a contradictory position in society, expected to ensure compliance and continuity and yet to encourage critique and renewal. Since the early 1980s, however, successive UK governments have directly mobilised education, and higher education in particular, as an ideological tool in the task of embedding neo-liberalism as ‘common sense’. Modularisation has been in the vanguard, first in the universities, more latterly at secondary level. The effect has been disastrous: here as elsewhere, choice has become depressingly fetishised; knowledge, and with it learning, have been fragmented and commodified; academics, like others, have been de-professionalised; and students, like the rest of us, have been transformed into clients or customers. The details of the history and impact of all this are too close to readers’ experience to require elaboration here: its significance, however, has been too little considered. In particular, the question of how we allowed it to come about is one worth asking – if only so that we can learn from our complicity. Since, however, that judgement depends on the negative view of modularisation just outlined, I start by giving a summary argument for such an evaluation (section 1). I then offer some remarks about the specifically ideological character of modularisation (section 2) as an introduction to some initial reflections on our complicity in this aspect of the neo-liberals’ efforts to make universities safe in their attempt to ensure that the future belongs to them (section 3). Finally I offer a brief suggestion about what we might yet do to overcome the disaster (section 4).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)72-82
Number of pages11
JournalCritical Quarterly
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 2005


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