The Unbundled University: Researching Emerging Models in an Unequal Landscape

This is a joint project with University of Cape Town, they are funded by the National Research Foundation.

This project examines the profound confluence which constitutes the unbundled university – the intersection of increasingly disaggregated curricula and services, the affordances of digital technologies, the growing marketisation of the higher education sector itself and the deep inequalities which characterise both the sector and the contexts in which they are located.

Each of these aspects contributes to the complex ways in which the nature of Higher Education is itself evolving. For example, the past few years have seen the appearance of many flexible online courses and qualifications, delivered in new configurations of providers and partnerships, including by parties new to the sector. Whilst these changes may offer opportunities for increased numbers of learners to access education and thus contribute to economic prosperity, there is very little empirical research about the nature, process and impact of unbundling and rebundling, as it is playing out in the rapidly reconfiguring sphere. This project will explore how these formulations are coming into being, how opportunities are being exploited and whose interests are being served in both south Africa and the UK.


The project is still developing  and evaluating its impact, although it is expected that it will impact on a range of areas including policy and practice, as well as a range of stakeholders including policy makers, those working in HE – both academics and key decision makers, private providers, students and other researchers working in this area.

Publications and outputs

Czerniewicz L, Mogliacci RJ, Walji S, Swartz R, Ivancheva M, Swinnerton BJ, Morris N. 2018. Negotiating the new normal: How senior decision makers in higher education perceive marketisation in the sector. HERDSA Annual Conference, 2018 Research and Development in Higher Education: [Re] Valuing Higher Education HERDSA 41 

Swinnerton B, Ivancheva M, Coop T, Perrotta C, Morris NP, Swartz R, Czerniewicz L, Cliff A, Walji S. The Unbundled University: Researching emerging models in an unequal landscape. Preliminary findings from fieldwork in South Africa. Networked Learning 2018 Proceedings of the 11th International Conference on Networked Learning 2018 , pp. 218-226 

Swartz R, Ivancheva M, Czerniewicz L, Morris NP. (2018)Between a rock and a hard place: Dilemmas regarding the purpose of public universities in South Africa. Higher Education.

The Unbundled University. Briefing No. 1

The Unbundled University. Briefing No. 2

Project website