‘Globalisation’ is all too often understood as a monolithic process that produces broadly similar outcomes in a wide range of settings. This examination of the impact of globalisation on the restructuring of public sector universities in South Africa in the 1990s demonstrates that the picture is far more complex. Over the last thirty years, globalisation has been intertwined with neoliberal capitalist economic and ideological restructuring. This is refracted, in the first instance, through State policy, and, in the second, through specific local sites of power relations and class struggles that are, in turn, structured by the resources and responses of different actors. While the neoliberal component of globalisation has played a decisive role in shaping State higher education policy in South Africa, the actual implementation of the model of the market-orientated university receiving minimal support from a deficit conscious State has varied considerably between universities. Using a case study of the rise of support service outsourcing in the campuses, this paper demonstrates that management capacity and labour resistance play a central role in explaining divergence in the sector. The conclusion is that local struggles play a central role in shaping the extent to which globalisation is able to shape given sites of social relations, and that globalisation is refracted through, and reproduces, existing configurations of power.