The unbundled university: researching emerging models in an unequal landscape

Bronwen Swinnerton, Taryn Coop, Mariya Ivancheva, Laura Czerniewicz, Neil P. Morris, Rebecca Swartz, Sukaina Walji, Alan Cliff

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

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As higher education (HE) undergoes a massive expansion in demand in most countries across the globe and experiences financial pressures, the sector is evolving rapidly. Market pressures encourage the search for additional income and new forms of provision, and online programme management (OPM) companies are increasingly entering the sector as they identify market opportunities. At the same time, the HE sector has seen the appearance of many flexible online courses and qualifications delivered by new configurations of providers and partnerships, through a process of 'unbundling'. This chapter reports on the data on South African HE from the research project 'The Unbundled University: Researching emerging models in an unequal landscape'. Using a new dataset, mapping or social cartography is employed to bring a novel perspective to uncover patterns of new provision and the partnerships between OPMs and institutions and their relationship to differentiation in the HE sector. Significantly, the maps reveal relationships between universities and OPMs which appear to reflect existing differentiation between institutions, insofar as OPMs presently partner almost exclusively with historically advantaged, traditional universities, with high international ranking and reputation. This chapter argues that such partnerships have the potential to reinforce the power asymmetries already at play.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMobility, Data and Learner Agency in Networked Learning
EditorsNina Bonderup Dohn, Peter Jandrić, Thomas Ryberg, Maarten de Laat
Place of PublicationCham, Switzerland
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9783030369118
ISBN (Print)9783030369101
Publication statusPublished - 27 Mar 2020

Publication series

NameResearch in Networked Learning
ISSN (Print)2570-4524


  • higher education
  • South Africa
  • digital technology
  • marketisation
  • unbundling
  • online programme management companies
  • inequality
  • data visualisation
  • social cartography


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