This research is based on an empirical study exploring how academics make curriculum decisions and their perceptions of the influences that shape their decisions. Interviews were held with 20 academics from diverse disciplines, who were both research active and committed to teaching. The higher education curriculum was conceptualised as a field of decision-making shaped by academics’ beliefs about educational and contextual influences. The study identified five distinctive curriculum orientations representing coherent patterns of curriculum decisions aligned with academics’ beliefs about educational purposes. Case studies are presented to elucidate each of the curriculum orientations. Curriculum orientations were also found to shape academics’ responses to educational change. The following higher education change drivers are explored: graduate employability and the skills agenda, teaching–research relationships, changing understandings about teaching and learning, educational technologies and flexible delivery. The findings suggest implications for institutional curriculum change initiatives and academic development programmes.