By Michele Martini & Susan L. Robertson

Drawing on empirical data this paper explores how a new articulation of meritocracy has emerged over time in UK Higher Education. To this end, we analyze the five major HE reports produced in the UK between 1997–2010. The proposed analytical design combines semantic mapping, natural language processing (NLP), and critical discourse analysis to identify the key actors in the sector, the nature of their agency, and changing roles. Despite more rosy accounts of social mobility and democracy in the UK offered by commentators such as Mandler (2020), we argue that higher educational policies in the UK have progressively shifted towards a neoliberal meritocratic paradigm established through: (a) the construction of a conceptual level playing field in the domain of education; and (b) its mobilization as a legitimizing basis of neoliberal meritocracy that selects “effort” as a discriminating variable.
Accordingly, we argue that by assuming ontological equality between actors as a hegemonic truth, neoliberal meritocracy both constitutes and legitimates the culture of the new capitalism, and the role of higher education policies in the UK in this.

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