Introduction In recent years debates about the wider purpose of the university have been dominated by accounts of ‘academic capitalism’ (Slaughter and Rhoades, 2004). These debates focus attention on the marketisation of the university, new partnerships with industry and government, the growth of entrepreneurial practices, and the increasing quantification of academic outputs. Correspondingly the sociology of education literature is often deeply pessimistic (Deem et al., 2007; Docherty, 2011; Martin, 2011; McGettigan, 2013). In accounts of the so-called ‘neoliberal university’ attention is consistently drawn to processes of global competitiveness, the ever-increasing encroachment of ‘audit culture’, and the rise of individualistic academic subjectivities. There is also concern about private sector actors entering the space traditionally occupied by universities and what these changes might mean, particularly for the social sciences, arts and humanities (Shore and McLauchlan, 2012).