The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


DPU Working Paper - No. 191

Marketing ‘development’ in the neoliberal university: A critical insight into UK Higher Education Institutions

kamna working paper

28 September 2017

By Kamna Patel and Olga Mun

UK higher education institutions (HEIs) are in competition with each other and HEIs across the globe for fee-paying students within a higher education model that promotes neoliberal values of individualism and competition in a global free market. This creates the conditions for the neoliberal university to actively market itself and its products in an international marketplace of potential students. We analyse three dominate frames employed by universities to do this: brand recognition, a discourse on the creation of global workers, and an emphasis on a degree as a product that is bought and sold. Current literature on marketing and HEIs focuses on how marketing works with the university as the unit of analysis, whereas the contribution of this paper is to advance critical insight into university marketing practices at the level of a specific discipline – development studies - with the intention to deepen our understanding of the effects of marketing practices on the discipline. That is, we ask in marketing development programmes what precisely is sold?

Thus, we critically examine representations of ‘development’ within the development industry and explore the marketing of ‘development’ as a neoliberal product that it is conceptualised and sold by northern development actors to primarily northern audiences. We identify five key ideas of ‘development’ that are sold to northern publics: ‘development’ as a positive association for an individual, a commodity, an act of global citizenship, an exercise in northern nation branding and taking a broader perspective, ‘development’ as an overly simplistic, racist and misogynist trope. Bringing together these two distinct literatures, we present a conceptual framework to lead deeper enquiry into what is sold and how when marketing ‘development’ in the neoliberal university. Through this paper we aim to draw attention to the potential for contestation that can emerge between ethical and considerate representations of ‘development’ and the effective marketing of development studies programmes to fee-paying students.

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