The impact of neoliberalism on academics and students in higher education

A call to adopt alternative philosophies

  • Anibeth Desierto Curtin University of Technology
  • Carmela De Maio Edith Cowan University


In adopting neoliberalism, higher education institutions may view students as consumers rather than learners. This sits uncomfortably with humanistic and critical teaching philosophies which view learning as contextualised within a caring environment. In this environment, students become effective, lifelong learners who can contribute to a better society. However, although humanistic educational philosophies, such as Vygotsky’s social-constructivist approach and Freire’s pedagogy of care appear to resonate with academics and students, we argue that neoliberalism and its associated issues are predominant in higher education. This paper discusses the effects of neoliberalism in higher education. It outlines the financial, economic and psychological toll on both students and academics in a climate of increasing casualisation of the workforce and loss of employment; factors which not only impact on students and academics but also on the viability of universities themselves. Finally, we suggest that higher education institutions and universities emphasise alternative philosophies that nurture and support higher education students and their learning.

Author Biography

Anibeth Desierto, Curtin University of Technology

1/ Professional Experience

Tutoring & teaching in these areas:

psychology, education and Indigenous education, sociology, anthropology,  (Centre for Aboriginal Studies, Curtin University)

science communications, Indigenous Science & STEM (Faculty of Science & Engineering, Curtin)

academic writing, humanities and communications (enabling programs, UniReady, Curtin) & bridging programs (Curtin English)

first year criminology research and writing (Humanities, ECU)

ESL (Academic, General & Business English, IELTS, TOEFL, TOEIC, University of Cambridge English Exams from First Certificate to Proficiency) at the University of Western Australia 

2/ Education

Masters of Education, Language & Literacy, Deakin University (2005)

Masters in Applied Linguistics, UWA (1998, unfinished)

Hons. in Asian Studies (Murdoch University)

BA (Politics & History) (Curtin University)

3/ Interests

I am a keen writer and have been fortunate to have had some opportunities to write including writing a preparatory English program (currently available as a Challenge app for all Curtin University students), bridging program content (for my work in Sydney) and designing ESL programs for intermediate to advanced Academic English, specialist ESL and IELTS/Cambridge Exams preparation.

I have also been able to publish some of my work:

Book (Co-Authored)

Kin, Y. & Desierto, A. (2016).  Legal problem solving and syllogistic analysis: A guide for foundation law students.  LexisNexis, Butterworths.

Book Chapter (forthcoming) Desierto, A. & De Maio, C. (2020) for Springer volume on higher education and student support

Journal Article

De Maio, C. & Desierto, A. (2016). First year business students' perceptions of academic support through embedding. A practice report. Student Success7(1), 57-64.

Conference Paper

Desierto, A., De Maio, C., O'Rourke, Sharp, S. (2018).  Deep or Surface? The learning approaches of enabling students in an Australian public university.  STARS Conference, Auckland, New Zealand, 8-11 July.

Desierto, A. (1998). UWA expectations of academic writing at Australian universities: Work in progress. In Black, B. and Stanley, N. (Eds), Teaching and Learning in Changing Times, 91-95. Proceedings of the 7th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, The University of Western Australia, February 1998. Perth: UWA.

4/  I am currently working at Curtin as an academic (sessional) and have done so for almost a decade.  Prior to this, I was teaching ESL overseas, at a company in Sydney, at the University of Western Australia and at Curtin University for almost 10 years as well as briefly working at Edith Cowan University as a unit coordinator and learning adviser.






How to Cite
Desierto, A., & De Maio, C. (2020). The impact of neoliberalism on academics and students in higher education: A call to adopt alternative philosophies. Journal of Academic Language and Learning, 14(2), 148-159. Retrieved from