© 2018, © 2018 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. This paper explores the relationship between the creative economy and universities. As funders, educators and research bodies, universities have a complicated relationship with the creative economy. They propagate its practice, ‘buying-in’ to the rhetoric and models of creative value, particularly in teaching, research and knowledge exchange. Third mission activities also play a role, seeking to affect change in the world ‘outside’ academia through collaboration, partnerships, commercialisation and social action. For arts and humanities disciplines, these practices have focused almost exclusively on the creative sector in recent years. This paper asks how the third mission has been a site where universities have modified their function in relation to the creative economy. It considers the mechanisms by which universities have been complicit in propagating the notion of the creative economy, strengthening particular constructions of the idea at the level of policy and everyday practice. It also briefly asks how a focus on alternative academic practice and institutional forms might offer possibilities for developing a more critical creative economy. The argument made is that the university sector is an important agent in the shaping and performance of the creative economy, and that we should take action if we wish to produce a more diverse, equitable space for learning, researching, and being under the auspices of ‘creativity’.