Rising wealth and social inequalities around the world place great pressure on social researchers to interpret and explain the impact. However, it is equally important to recognise that scientists too have been part of the reproduction of social inequalities. This article expands on Burawoy's (2015) appeal to social scientists to acknowledge that social inequalities are not only external to the social science community specifically – and the scientific community more generally – but they also pervade academic labour and the way universities are managed and reformed. By taking the case of Indonesia, the largest economy in understudied Southeast Asia, this article reveals types of social inequalities reproduced and sustained through policies and practices within universities. These inequalities are the exclusionary effects of internationalisation, selective inclusion and corporatist bureaucracies, as well as regional inequalities in terms of infrastructure and capacity. We problematise the detrimental effects of marketisation in higher education on academic imagination and how it extends authoritarian developmentalism (1966–1998) to suit neoliberal demands. The article ends with propositions on how academics from the Global South can better understand their social position in an increasingly networked yet disconnected world skewed by multiple configurations of social inequalities.