Social policies are, to an increasing extent, shaped by international standards and regulations. This international standard-setting can be seen as an attempt to grapple with the challenges of globalisation. However, what is unclear is how far the pressures of globalisation and the processes of international standard-setting leave any scope for policy choice, whether at international, national or sub-national level. This paper focuses on the specific case of higher education. It argues that the development of international standards and the convergence of national standards must be understood by reference to the interests and strategies of various stake holders, including national governments, social elites and higher education institutions themselves. International markets and international standards are politically constructed and neither globalisation nor international standard-setting can be seen as inexorable and apolitical processes.