Feasibility of Commercialisation of UK Universities

Subject: Business
Type: Problem Solution Essay
Pages: 5
Word count: 1351
Topics: Management, Leadership, Marketing


Universities play a critical role in the economy of a country that is driven by ideas and knowledge. They do not only generate technical skills and know-how, but they also contribute to the nation’s cultural and intellectual success which collaboratively provides the basis for growth. In the United Kingdom, university education enjoys a good reputation with a world-class renowned research and innovation and cutting-edge teaching (Bok, 2003, p. 12). Having maintained their global position as world leaders in education, the UK universities in the face of globalisation and increased international competition have enjoyed success in education exports. However, there are immense challenges faced by the university education in the face of increasing competition and commercialisation of higher education. In the era of reduced government funding in the institutions of higher education, university education in the UK is no longer limited to the few government-funded public institutions with a capacity to only serve a small niche of academic elite. 


In the wake of university competition between the private institutions and the public government-funded institutions, the UK universities are required to engage in other activities that can generate them more income. Significantly, depending on teaching alone cannot support their financial requirement in the competitive market of the modern present day university (Brown., 2011, p. 6). In this regard, the UK universities commercialise their teaching, research, and learning activities to be more attractive to the students and to be appealing to the corporate world for support in research, development, and innovation 

In this perspective, it can be observed that commercialisation of the university education in the UK is not a temporal change in higher education. Instead it is a permanent change that has been motivated by the interaction of various factors the influence higher education including the stakeholders who mostly consist of the employers (Hefce, 2015, p. 12). Importantly, commercialisation has been influenced by the market which requires an increased exchange of skills and knowledge between institutions of higher education and other sectors. In this context, commercialisation of higher education is inevitable and can be effectively achieved through various activities including commercialisation of new developments and knowledge which is achieved through professional training. 

Areas of impact for higher education institutions, (Hefce, 2015, p. 15) 

Activity% of UK in Higher Education Institutions 
Research collaboration with industry42
Knowledge Exchange40
Widening participation and Access39
Commercialisation (licensing and Spin-offs)9
Supporting Small and Medium size Enterprises32


On the other hand, commercialisation may take place in the form of consultancy and service delivery, or through activities that create direct social benefits. Institutions of higher learning in the UK interact with all sizes of public, private, and third-sector partners in a broad range of ways such as collaborative research, services related to equipment and services, and consultancy (Hunt, 2016, p. 6). All these activities encompass a form of commercialisation which is important for economic growth. These activities promote growth in knowledge and skills exchange which generate income for universities and also provide excellent cases of investments of other sectors of the economy. 

Presentation of Requirements 

It is arguable that benefits of higher education commercialisation such as contribution to economic growth, increased funding to higher education, and job creation through greater public support outweigh the challenges (Johnson, 2016, p. 5). However, the mission shift of the university education from public-social to private-economic through commercialisation has affected critical educational activities such as research, curriculum, teaching, learning, quality, reputation, leadership, and competition.

Corporatized of Governance and Leadership

Due to the corporate revolution that has hit higher education in the recent past, shared and collegial governance and leadership of the institutions has been replaced with trustee leadership. As a result, the activist trustees circumvent the traditional collegial governance structure by demanding more corporate input the institutional governance (Kezar, Chambers & Burkhardt, 2005, p 9). Due to the fact that corporate trustees lack the necessary expertise to make sound decision regarding educational issues, the institutions end up suffering from the decisions that adversely affect their leaning and teaching environment.

Vocational Curriculum and Teaching 

Instead of developing an education that emphasizes on higher-order intellectual skills, students are increasingly being subjected to vocational education which is more focused on information-based delivery and training. Within the hallmark of higher education has been fostering higher-order thinking and wisdom (Rothaermel & Ku, 2008, p. 13). Quality higher education does not only concentrate on career development but also helps to prepare students for a better, healthier public life. However, with the commercialisation of higher education, market-oriented and vocational programs have been over emphasized to favour distance education which can be efficient to offer. 

Privatisation and Commercial of Research

Research is one of the fundamental areas affected by the distortion of social charter through commercialization of higher education. With commercialization, disciplines that do not significantly serve the market do not get external grants and suffer from underfunding with the institution which compromises advancement of research (Van Looy, 2009, p. 15). On the other hand, the government and corporate funders do not give the necessary support to research that do not serve commercial interests thus inhibiting intellectual progress in these fields. 

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Commercialisation of higher education is a necessary step towards achieving responsiveness to the market and increasing competition. It does not only promote efficiency but also increase funding in institutions which can be important in advancing disciplines that would otherwise get underfunding from the government (Veugelers, Callaert, Song &Van Looy, 2012, p. 451). Although being responsive to the market trends tends to lower intellectual capacity of students because it does not necessary focus on critical thinking, it is an important strategy considering global competition requires skills and knowhow in any field. 

Definitely, practicality of any education in life and in the field is the much needed aspect of higher education. Commercialisation does not necessarily lower the quality of higher education in the UK, but instead it helps all the stakeholders in the community, corporate environment, government, and education sector to interact in improving the level of education (Rothaermel & Agung, 2007, p. 703). Challenges like change in the leadership structure, mode of teaching and learning, as well as improving research approach can be addressed effectively to make the benefits of commercialization achievable. 


The ethical issues and problems associated with commercialization of the university education in the UK can be and will be resolved as the market forces in the education sector stabilize over time. Eventually, the effects of commercialisation will be positive. Bringing the connection between the industry and higher education is not only important but is also inevitable if higher education has to remain the driving force of economic growth by supplying the market with skilled labour and expertise. However, the challenges must be addressed objectively by appreciating that higher education and industry maintain a mutual relation with each considerably relying on the other for survival in the competitive global arena.


Importantly, commercialisation is the best way of improving the quality of the UK universities in the reality of reduced-government funding in higher education. Although being responsive to the market is good, the government should ensure that vocational training does not erode education which improves critical thinking and public-good.

Another discipline of much importance that should not be eroded through commercialisation is research. While corporate and private sector may be interested more in funding research that support their markets, the government should increase its funding in fields that support intellectual progress in fields that may not be of interest to the private sector. 

Decision-making is an important aspect of higher education that must not be delegated fully to the corporate trustees. Even with commercialisation, the success of higher education requires the collaboration of various stakeholders including students, government, the society, and the institutions all of whom should be involved in decision-making as opposed to the centralised method used in the corporate. 

Finally, we must point out that commercialisation of higher education is a feasible idea that must be reinforced with proper government policies to align the responsiveness to the labour market with other fair, just, intentional, and thoughtful societal and public-good values.

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  1. Bok, D, 2003, Universities in the marketplace: The commercialization of Higher Education, Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford 
  2. Brown R., 2011, Higher Market and the Market, Routledge, Tailor & Francis, New York. 
  3. Hefce, 2015, Higher Education- Business and Community Interaction Survey, Department for Business, Energy, & Industrial Strategy.
  4. Hunt S, 2016, The entry and experience of private providers of higher education in six countries, Centre for Global Higher Education. Economic and Social Research Council. Institute of Education, London. 
  5. Johnson MP. 2016, Success as a Knowledge Economy; Teaching, Excellence, Social Mobility and Student choice, state for business, innovation, and skills. Ministry for state for university and Science.
  6. Kezar J.A, Chambers T.C, & Burkhardt J.C, 2005,  Higher Education for the Public Good: Emerging Voices from a National Movement, John Willey & sons 
  7. Rothaermel, F. T. and D. N. Ku (2008). “Intercluster innovation differentials: The role of research universities.” IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management 55(1): 9-22.
  8. Rothaermel, F. T. & S. D. Agung, (2007). “University entrepreneurship: a taxonomy of the literature.” Industrial and Corporate Change 16(4): 691-791.
  9. Van Looy, B. (2009), The role of universities within innovation systems: An overview and assessment,” Review of Business and Economics, vol. 1.
  10. Veugelers, R., Callaert, X. Song, B.Van Looy, 2012, The participation of universities in technology development: do creation and use coincide? An empirical investigation on the level of national innovation systems, Economics of Innovation and New Technologies, 21, 5-6, 445-472.
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