The System Crisis 2020: The End of Neoliberal Higher Education in the UK?

Tim Rudd, Stephen O'Brien

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


In this paper, we draw on previous conceptual work and theories pertaining to historical waves of reform, in order to reflect upon and locate the recent and current changes in the UK Higher Education (HE) landscape. Moreover, we consider the potentially catastrophic outcomes and consequences facing some HE institutions, and the sector as a whole, arising from the short-sighted and dogged pursuit of neoliberal policies – policies still being followed, we posit, at the precise moment when the current predominant neoliberal wave of reform nears its end. Thus, we present the case that as neoliberalism is confronted with a terminal crisis of legitimacy ‘from within’ (a system crisis), so too are universities. We therefore ask: What next for the HE sector and Universities? Will HE institutions ‘carry on regardless’ pursuing exploitative, ecocidal, meaningless fiscal growth policies that inexorably risk their legitimacy; their very existence? Or will universities turn away from their generative role in this crisis and authentically begin to reclaim, imagine and practise another educational mission?
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages31
JournalThe Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 16 Dec 2019


  • neoliberal education
  • refraction
  • waves of reform
  • higher education
  • economic crisis

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