This paper critically interrogates the understanding of economics guiding higher education globally. It argues that dominant understandings of economics are narrow, reductive and adverse to democracy and social justice and offers alternative economic ideas for re-imagining global higher education. Alternative ideas about economics and the economies of higher education are discussed in a spirit of re-creating the social imaginary, offering a ground for collective action that more adequately articulates democratic and human concerns, while critically challenging neoliberal reforms. Such alternatives are not complete solutions to the problems of higher education under neoliberalism, but they are arguably necessary interventions to enable a fuller, more democratic debate about higher education and its roles with respect to democracy, social justice and the common or public good. These alternatives move us beyond the current neoliberal paradigm of competitive individualism, to face questions of social justice, the public interest, the role of science, the nature of the academy, and, most urgently, how sustainable human development might be secured.