The recent rise of MOOCs and online degrees offered via online platforms has occurred in climate of austerity climate for public higher education. Public universities in the Global North and South face similar challenges to expand their educational reach, while advancing their brand in international rankings and raising fees and third-stream income in order to secure additional revenue. Online forms of unbundled provision offering smaller curricular units at lower prices have promised to disrupt this system by enabling learning flexibility and access to people everywhere in the world. Yet, do these forms of provision manage to challenge existing hierarchies of value in higher education and the dominant market logic that puts pressure on higher education and public institutions at large in the neoliberal era? Based on fieldwork in South Africa in 2017 within the Unbundled University project including over thirty in-depth qualitative interviews, this presentation explores the perceptions of higher education university leaders and of senior managers of online program management companies. Analysing their considerations and decisions around unbundled provision, I discuss two conflicting logics of higher education that actors in structurally different positions and in historically divergent institutions use to justify their involvement in public-private partnerships: the logic of capital and the logic of social pertinence.
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