Skip to main navigationSkip to main content
The University of Southampton
Southampton Education School

Research project: Critical policy sociology analysis of HE marketization

Currently Active: 

This project is exploring the nature and impact of the marketization of higher education, which has been a significant development within HE and draws upon various conceptual themes. The first has been a critical analysis of the student engagement movement and myself and Bruce Macfarlane have explored the ‘student engagement’ policy agenda from a critical perspective.

In this work, we have sought to get beneath the meaning of student engagement and we have argued that, rather than being the panacea to improve student learning, student engagement remains a contestable and ambiguous term and is connected to the growing accountability and performative features of market-driven HE.  This has resulted in a special issue for the journal, Higher Education Policy on ‘Critical and Alternative Perspectives on Student Engagement’, which also includes the work of a range of well-established scholars in this area.  

Another strand concerns theoretically-informed discussions on the question of the value of HE and how this is constructed in the current market environment. I am working with Paul Kelly, an ESRC-funded PhD student at the Southampton Education School who is investigating the impact of marketisation on the identities and lived experiences of students, academics and senior managers. We are developing conceptual insights on the concept of value and values in higher education and the ways in which these are being configured through a range of market practices and ideologies. We are particularly interested in applying the work of Dewey and Sen to these discussions and are exploring alternative approaches to the dominant market ontology and value instrumentalism so prevalent in current HE discourse.

Another thread to this project is the application of the work of Bourdieu to HE policy, in particular the concept of symbolic violence. This has significant purchase for examining the ways in which marketization policy is mobilised and mediated through various policy mechanism and discursive framings which enabled related practices to gain legitimacy. This approach is being applied in relation to key marketization policy drivers around consumerism, employability and metrics measurements.

Related outputs

Macfarlane, B. & Tomlinson, M. (2017) ‘Critiques of Student Engagement’, Higher Education Policy, 30:1:5-21

Tomlinson, M. (2017) ‘Student Engagement: towards a critical policy sociology’, Higher Education Policy, 30:1: 35-52


Related research groups

The Centre for Educational Policy
Share this research project Share this on Facebook Share this on Twitter Share this on Weibo
Privacy Settings