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Series introduction | Liberalism and human rights | Liberalism and the media |
Liberalism, race and gender

Liberalism and education

Des Freedman, strand editor

Des Freedman, editor of the
liberalism and education strand


Higher education is premised on liberal values of tolerance, enlightenment, reason and intellectual development; it has been organised, however, on less than liberal values of social stratification, exclusion, patronage and capitalist development. The idea of the ‘public university’ has long been countered by the reality of a cloistered one and a commitment to equality undermined by a capitulation to elites.

Now the concept of a liberal university education faces even more robust challenges as an untrammelled economic liberalism attempts to re-design the architecture of higher education across the world. Higher tuition fees, increased managerialism, an emphasis on ‘employability’ for the majority of students, a fetishization of metrics and ‘impact’ in relation to research, and the general implanatation of market values into higher education – this is the reality for universities well beyond just the UK and US.

In this context, should we mourn the passing of the liberal notion of higher education and how should we respond to the new demands of neoliberal restructuring of the institutions and practices that make up the academe? Should we attempt to protect ‘liberal’ values in the face of a neoliberal backlash? Is there a future (or even a present) for ‘liberal arts’ beyond elite campuses? We invite all reflections on these and other questions that confront the assault on thevery idea of a public higher education.


Latest articles in date order:

The strange death of the liberal university

Those working in higher education now face a choice - capitulate to the de facto privatisation of universities, or fight it.

Social Science Inc

The neoliberal approach to higher education is turning social science academics into brand managers and commercial researchers.

Prevent Education?

Some issues pass through many organs of the body politic like a barium meal, rendering visible flaws and faults that might otherwise escape detection.

In privileged white man land, freedom of speech is always under attack

Despite what Spiked may claim, protecting our campuses from fascists, aggressive pro-life campaigners and sexism is entirely proper - 'free speech' debates must recognise the issue of power imbalance.

Does capitalism need mass higher education?

The neoliberal paradigm is economically dead but ideologically still very active especially in the education sector, which has assumed a far more business-like and 'entrepeneurial' value system.

The liberal arts in neoliberal times

In the neoliberal epoch the humanities have undergone a radical transformation.

'New managerialism' in education: the organisational form of neoliberalism

The ethos of 'new managerialism' is stripping public services of moral and ethical values and replacing them with the market language of costs, efficiencies, profits and competition. Anything which is not easily quantified becomes undervalued or abandoned.

Reshuffling education policy: the new vocationalism

A liberal approach in neo-liberal times means learning about work and not just learning to work. Westminster remains stuck in a rut of recycling failed ideas entirely unsuited to its economic model of low wage, low skill work.

When ‘liberals’ fail to defend academic freedom

The dismissal of Professor Steven Salaita is a wake up call as to the limits imposed on "diverse" debate within our commercialised universities.

Patrimonial capitalism and the end of the liberal university

Universities no longer function to ameliorate social status and inequality, but are part of a renewed patrimonial capitalism; the private benefits of higher education to its graduate beneficiaries are today used to justify the removal of public funding and the charging of exorbitant fees.

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