The ‘academic orthodoxy’ (Brookfield 1986) of student engagement is questioned by Zepke, who suggests that it supports ‘a neoliberal ideology’ (2014: 698). In reply, Trowler argues that Zepke fails to explain the mechanisms linking neoliberalism to the concepts and practices of student engagement (2015: 336). In this article, I respond to the Zepke-Trowler debate with an analysis of student engagement policies that illuminates the role of discourse as one mechanism linking neoliberal values with practices of student engagement. Through a corpus-based Critical Discourse Analysis, I demonstrate a persistent and alarming omission of human labour from university policy texts. Instead, the engagements of students and staff are attributed to technology, documents and frameworks. Student engagement is discussed as a commodity to be embedded and marketed back to students in a way that yields an ‘exchange value’ (Marx 1867) for universities.