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Keywords:

  • Privatisation;
  • management consulting;
  • higher education;
  • knowledge transfer;
  • neo-institutionalism;
  • systems theory

Since the early 1990s, European higher education has been undergoing drastic changes with regard to the organisation and governance of academic work. The political emphasis on higher education autonomy and accountability went hand in hand with the introduction of market type steering devices and a new discourse regarding the universities' responsibilities to society. This article is about both carriers of diffusion processes that are crucial in disseminating private sector logics and the limits to such processes. By taking into account contradictory societal pressures towards isomorphism and differentiation; we will draw on neo-institutionalism and the sociological systems theory to provide a definition of privatisation in higher education. Especially, we are interested in detecting systematic limits to the privatisation of higher education. We therefore examine a relatively recent phenomenon in higher education governance: the increasing reliance of institutions on management consulting services. First findings show that the more market-centred a higher education system is, the more readily it accepts the economic rationale of the consulting business. Nevertheless, our study also stresses that management consultancy for higher education institutions is of limited scope. Systemic differences remain unbroken as the adherence to different value systems, communication patterns and resources limit the scope of external, private consulting activities in higher education.