Putting the university to work: the subsumption of academic labour in UK's shift to digital higher education

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This paper considers how the formal and real subsumption of academic labour in UK higher education are exposed and exacerbated by the move towards online teaching, assessment and communication. These processes have been expedited by the COVID‐19 pandemic outbreak and attention is drawn to the technology‐driven organisational and operational innovations that are transforming academic divisions of labour and labour processes. These changes, particularly in relation to the separation of research and teaching, and to the deprofessionalisation, modularisation, and outsourcing of the latter, are the focus of the paper. We argue that the formal subsumption of knowledge production (research) through commercialisation dovetails with a real subsumption of socially reproductive work (teaching) that is undergoing qualitative transformation in an increasingly marketised higher education sector. We show how digitalisation actively contributes to the growing standardisation and flexibilisation of work, deepens long‐standing gendered divisions of labour, and dissolves even further the blurred work/life boundaries for precariously employed workers. These new hallmarks of the contemporary subsumption present new challenges to workers and their collective organisations in Higher Education.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)381-397
Number of pages17
JournalNew Technology, Work and Employment
Issue number3
Early online date21 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - 21 Mar 2022


  • digital technologies
  • academic labour
  • real subsumption
  • Covid-19


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