Dualisms pervade the language of higher education research providing an over-simplified roadmap to the field. However, the lazy logic of their popular appeal supports the perpetuation of erroneous and often outdated assumptions about the nature of modern higher education. This paper explores nine commonly occurring dualisms: collegiality/managerialism, student-centred/teacher-centred, deep learning/surface learning, academics/non-academics; research/teaching, old universities/new universities, liberal/vocational, public universities/private universities and higher education/further education. Illustrated by reference to a range of international contexts, it is argued that over-reliance on dualisms among higher education scholars has adverse effects including narrowing the possibilities of research design and inhibiting intellectual advancement within the field. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.