Higher Education Between Myth, Enlightenment and Ideology: Private Business Schools in Germany Under the Spell of Neo-Liberalism

  • Volker Rundshagen

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Business (DBA)


Financial crises and corporate scandals are eroding trust in corporate capitalism, and the role of business schools, educating protagonists of that system, is increasingly scrutinised. One of the arguments is that we are currently witnessing the rise and dominance of neo-liberalism. This thesis illuminates the notion of the latter as ideology, and explains it through the social theory concepts of myth, enlightenment and late modernity. It then considers the transition of Germany’s higher education sector, where private business schools are taking off in a boom-phase within a neo-liberal political environment largely shaped by European Union policies. Within the realm of critical discourse analysis, five purposefully selected cases are studied to reveal the extent to which neo-liberal ideology has permeated private business schools in Germany. Accreditation reports issued by a quasi-governmental science council and also the schools’ websites with their text and imagery are content-analysed. The core themes of performativity and consumer orientation emerge as essential vehicles of far-reaching neo-liberal permeation of all cases. However, there is neither a linear process nor a unified level of ideology infiltration. This level varies across business school philosophies: it is higher where Anglo-Saxon role models are pursued and lower where alternative philosophies drive the institutions. There are complex interrelations between business schools, students, lecturers and the accreditation body. Self-referential myths of neo-liberal origin build a base mesh with the tendency to turn all these stakeholders into recipients, enactors and thereby also disseminators of the already dominant neo-liberal ideology. However, it is also shown that there are moral obligations as well as leeway to resist. With these insights, this thesis contributes to an understanding of ideology dissemination through business schools in general, and it provides a new basis to evaluate societal implications of the extending sector of private business schools in Germany in particular.
Date of Award28 Jun 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorRajani Naidoo (Supervisor) & Yiannis Gabriel (Supervisor)

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