The University and the Demand for Knowledge-based Growth : The hegemonic struggle for the future of Higher Education Institutions in Finland and Estonia

Abstract: In recent decades, Higher Education Institutions have been reformed worldwide so that they may exert a greater influence in the production of knowledge within Knowledge-based Economies (KBEs). This transformation is often explained in terms of how advanced capitalist economies need to secure a prosperous future within post-Fordist capitalism. These developments have occurred in Finnish and Estonian universities, which are conceived as spaces in which knowledge, technology and entrepreneurship are creatively combined in order to contribute to the realisation of a sustained economic growth. This process is understood as a totalising movement that intersects with existing relations of power and social hierarchies. In the study, a Gramscian framework is employed, in order to critically investigate, in two multidisciplinary university departments in Helsinki and Tallinn, the emergence, consolidation and reproduction of an order that is constituted by the contradictory relation between legitimating narratives, on the one hand, and the vertical implementation of policies, on the other. Methodologically, the study adopts a narrative analysis of a corpus of programmatic documents alongside work stories. Both parts of the study’s empirical material are explained and recontextualised within the wider global politico-economic system. The analyses presented in this study bring to light the existence of a fragile consent based on a vague horizon of hope and freedom consolidated at all levels, from the programmatic documents to the academic workforce.This vague horizon steers and legitimises market expansion through the circulation of an optimistic techno-centric narrative, expressed in the concept of solutionism, which serves to de-antagonise those tensions present in the territorialisation of market forces, by promising a future in which science, technology and entrepreneurship co-operate for the good of society. The study also reveals how the deployment of reforms is legitimised through recourse to the exceptional status that the meritocratic order has in academia. To understand how the market logic merges with academic exceptionalism, this increasingly “marketised” – or debauched meritocratic – order is analysed by re-defining some of Bourdieu's concepts. Solutionism and “debauched meritocracy” provide a set of middle-ranging concepts that connect to the larger Gramscian framework, with the purpose of completing the critical investigation into the university order and its apparently central place within the Knowledge-based economies and post-Fordist capitalism.