Neoliberalism and For-Profit Universities: The Case of Laureate International

For-profit universities are growing in importance as alternative providers in higher education. My research analyses structural changes in the configuration of global higher education systems, particularly where states have instrumented neoliberal policies, thus modifying traditional social structures and the meaning of the public good.

In this presentation, I describe existing global trends in higher education and explore the implications of neoliberalism in higher education. Adopting a qualitative positivist research strategy, I conduct a case study of an American multinational corporation with four units of analysis and using interviews with Laureate staff and higher education analysts (n=35) and documents as primary evidence, I drew my findings using thematic analysis. The thesis contributes to an emerging body of scholarly research about for-profit universities and multinational corporations investing in global higher education.

Analysis indicates that the for-profit universities’ operational efficiency and strategic flexibility contributes to the reproduction of neoliberalism in higher education in the search for institutional legitimacy and that this is achieved through multiple strategic collaborations with public and private institutions. The profit motive is not only an ideological driver for the reproduction of neoliberalism in academia, but often a starting point in the intellectual and pragmatic configurations of a privatized higher education system by the state.

Moreover, the analysis revealed that social responsibility and sustainability in higher education is of great importance for the operation of a for-profit university and its legitimacy, and that there are multiple roles of the state given increasing privatization, massification, commodification, marketisation, internationalization and unbundling of higher education, where austerity, increasing tuition fees and the philosophy of competition and operational efficiency assimilates universities’ financial priorities between public and private higher education institutions and reproduces neoliberalism in academia.