Leadership, excellence and the marginalisation of refugees in Higher Education

Cook, Ian M.; Rajaram, Prem Kumar and Clarke, John (2023). Leadership, excellence and the marginalisation of refugees in Higher Education. Soundings, 84/85 pp. 44–57.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.3898/soun.84-85.03.2023


In this article we trace the changing fortunes of an education initiative for refugees and other displaced people located at Central European University (CEU). The programme (OLIve - the Open Learning Initiative) has shifted: instead of being celebrated as an innovative response to the 'migrant crisis' of 2015 it was marked for closure by CEU's leadership in 2023. We locate this change in OLIve's fortunes in CEU's adaptations to the changing conditions of higher education, not least the potent combination of dynamics of marketisation and managerialisation. We suggest these have produced a reorganisation of power and authority within the university, encapsulated in the person of the Leader - and the organisational phenomenon of 'leaderism'. The Leader both announces and embodies the pursuit of 'excellence' as the core mission of the university, underpinned by the accumulation of financial and cultural capital ('prestige'). We trace some of the ways in which this mission reorganises the landscape of the university, marginalising those deemed non–excellent and the programmes that might support them. We suggest that these dynamics remain contested and contestable in important ways.

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