Similar to other European countries, the introduction of non-academic, especially managerial, criteria in higher education has shaped and altered Austrian universities since over a decade. This paper presents the results of a frame analysis of Austrian higher education debates from 1993 until 2010. It outlines how reforms in higher education were prepared and enhanced by a new policy discourse, with a special focus on the way gender equality is framed in reform debates. Our article describes three core frames: ‘from local to global’, ‘from ivory tower to business’ and ‘from civil servant to excellence’. We cluster these three frames around imaginations of space that are embedded in the normative foundations of academia, and discuss how this links up with arguments for gender equality. We furthermore propose to analytically separate two conceptions of the university: the ‘entrepreneurial’ and the ‘managerial’ university.