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The future of value in digitalised higher education: why data privacy should not be our biggest concern

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

E-pub ahead of print
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>19/11/2020
<mark>Journal</mark>Higher Education
Number of pages17
Publication StatusE-pub ahead of print
Early online date19/11/20
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Universities around the world are increasingly digitalising all of their operations, with the current COVID-19 pandemic speeding up otherwise steady developments. This article focuses on the political economy of higher education (HE) digitalisation and suggests a new research programme. I foreground three principal arguments, which are empirically, theoretically, and politically crucial for HE scholars. First, most literature is examining the impacts of digitalisation on the HE sector and its subjects alone. I argue that current changes in digitalising HE cannot be studied in isolation from broader changes in the global economy. Specifically, HE digitalisation is embedded in the expansion of the digital economy, which is marked by new forms of value extraction and rentiership. Second, the emerging research on the intersection of marketisation and digitalisation in HE seems to follow the theories of marketisation qua production and commodification. I argue that we need theories with better explanatory power in analysing the current digitalisation dynamics. I propose to move from commodification to assetisation, and from prices to rents. Finally, universities are digitalising in the time when the practice is superseding policy, and there is no regulation beyond the question of data privacy. However, digital data property is already a reality, governed by ‘terms of use’, and protected by the intellectual property rights regime. The current pandemic has led to ‘emergency pedagogy’, which has intensified overall digitalisation in the sector and is bypassing concerns of data value redistribution. I argue that we urgently need public scrutiny and political action to address issues of value extraction and redistribution in HE.