What's happening at our universities?: Top-down command and control, KPIs and worker alienation

Friday, 24 May 2024 - 10:00am to 10:30am

Jennifer speaks with Lew Zipin who has had a career in education programs and been a union activist across three Australian universities. He talks about some devastating trends that have taken hold of our universities over the past two or three decades, invoking a few concepts of Karl Marx that seem more relevant than ever.

One such concept is the 'alienation' that academic staff experience when the potentially meaningful social contributions of their labours are instead exploited by universities for competitive advantage.


  • Bourdieu, P. (1986). The forms of capital. In J. Richardson (Ed.), Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education (pp. 241-258). Greenwood.
  • Bourdieu, P. (1993) The Field of Cultural Production: Essays on Art and Literature, New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Brennan, M. (2010) ‘Dividing the University: Perspectives from the middle’, in J. Blackmore, M. Brennan and L. Zipin (eds) Re-positioning University Governance and Academic Work, Rotterdam: Sense Publications, pp 115-132.
  • Brennan, M., McPherson, A., Zipin, L. Rudolph, S., Rogers, B., Barron, R. & Woods, A. (2020). The Growing Urgency of Attending to the State of Education Research in Australian Higher Education. Report to the AARE Executive and Members from the Working Party, ‘Protecting and Extending Research in Education in Australia'. https://www.aare.edu.au/news/report-of-the-working-party-on-supporting-educational-research-is-now-available/
  • Bunda, T., Zipin, L. & Brennan, M. (2012) ‘Negotiating university “equity” from Indigenous standpoints: A shaky bridge’, International Journal of Inclusive Education, 16(9): 941–957.
  • Engeström, Y, Virkkunen, J, Helle, M, Pihlaja, J & Poikela, R (1996), ‘The change laboratory as a tool for transforming work', Lifelong learning in Europe, vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 10-17.
  • Evans, G. (2023). Problematising knowledge and practices of Occupational Health and Safety in a small factory. A thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Education, UniSA Education Futures.
  • Marginson, S. (2002) ‘Towards a politics of the Enterprise University’, Arena 17-18, 109-136.
  • Marginson, S. & Considine, M. (2000) The Enterprise University: Power, Governance and Reinvention in Australia, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Marx, K. (1964). Economic and philosophic manuscripts of 1844. International Publishers.
  • Marx, K. (1976/1867). Capital, volume 1. Penguin
  • Sennett, S. (2006), The culture of the new capitalism, The Castle Lectures in Ethics, Politics, and Economics, Yale University Press.
  • Zipin, L. (2006). ‘Governing Australia’s universities: The managerial strong-arming of academic agency’, Social Alternatives, 25(2): 26-31
  • Zipin, L. (2010) ‘Situating university governance in the ethico-emotive ground tone of post/late times’, in J. Blackmore, M. Brennan and L. Zipin (eds) Re-positioning University Governance and Academic Work, Rotterdam: Sense Publications, pp 147-162
  • Zipin, L. (2019) ‘How Council-Management Governance troubles Australian university labours and futures: Simplistic assumptions and complex consequences’, Social Alternatives 38(3): 28-35.
  • Zipin, L. & Brennan, M. (2003) ‘The suppression of ethical dispositions through managerial governmentality: A habitus crisis in Australian higher education’, International Journal of Leadership in Education, 6(4): 351-370.
  • Zipin & Brennan (2023). Affective labour pains of academic capitalism in crisis. In D. Nehring & K. Brunilla (Eds.), Affective capitalism in academia (pp. 21-46). Policy Press.
Friday 10:00am to 10:30am
Think Again offers weekly conversations and reflections about current events, trends and public pronouncements on contemporary and emerging issues. The show moves beyond what we read and hear via the public and ‘social’ media, to invite alternative possibilities to guide our thinking, living and organising.


Jennifer Borrell & Jacques Boulet