By Susan L. Robertson and Michele Martini

This paper examines the production of multiple trajectories of privatisations in UK higher education over the past two decades. Using corpus linguistics and critical discourse analysis as methodologies, we show how six key higher education reports since 1997 discursively set into motion those structural selectivities (Jessop, 2005) which are strategically selective of different modalities of privatisation and their social relations (Martini &This paper examines the multiple forms of privatising in UK higher education over the past three decades which have emerged from a series of crises beginning in the 1970s (Robertson 2020). In doing so we make the argument that the simple binary of privatising that characterises much of the literature on privatisation in education – of endogenous (in) and exogenous (of) does not fully grasp other modalities of privatising increasingly visible in the sector as a result of the expansion, intensification and regulation of markets in HE that include the unbundling of HE services, the normalisation new providers inside the sector the  and the rise of platforms and algorithmic governance. Using corpus-driven social network analysis as a methodology, we explore the semiotic innovations in four key higher education reports published in the UK since 1997. Discursively these reports set into motion a set of structural selectivities (Jessop, 2005) which are strategically selective of different modalities of privatising of HE (Martini & Robertson, 2021). Across the reports and in relation to moments of both organic and conjunctural crises we show the (1) discursive reimagining of the idea of the university and how it is to be governed; (2) recalibrating of the purposes of knowledge as the engine to power a new regime of accumulation; (3) instituting a HE market, the constituting the consumer, tightening regulatory control,  legitimating new alternative (mostly for-profit) providers; and (4) the amplification and intensification of novel modes of privatising, including algorithmic market-making, arising from the global pandemic. We argue that each of these modalities has emerged out of crises, producing a radical, ontological, shift in the social relations and subjectivities that constitute UK HE. These different modalities of privatising have rapidly escalated because of the pandemic and in our view will heighten crisis tendencies in the sector because of the deep penetration of capitalist logics and social relations.