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The Idea of the University

Contemporary Perspectives


Edited By Ronald Barnett and Michael A. Peters

The Idea of the University: Contemporary Perspectives, Volume 2 is a companion to The Idea of the University: A Reader, Volume 1, which presents readings from the major texts on the idea of the university over the last two hundred years. This volume consists of essays from the leading contemporary scholars of the university across the world. The essays examine ideas of the university that lie tacitly in its national and global framing, and offer creative ideas in taking the university forward, both on a regional and on a world-wide basis. Specific lines of inquiry include those of citizenship, cosmopolitanism, wisdom, ecology and freedom.

The thirty chapters in this volume have been invitingly grouped to offer intriguing ways into the material, which in turn opens the way to very large conceptual and theoretical issues. In an era of marketization, can universities attend to any global responsibilities? Might regionalism—in Europe, in South America, in Africa—prompt new ideas of the university? What understandings of knowledge are feasible in a digital age? Amid local, national, regional and worldly callings, how might citizenship be construed?

In a final section, a space opens for more speculative inquiries as to the conceptual possibilities ahead: Just what ideas of the university might feasibly be entertained for the twenty-first century? Might it be envisaged that the university has both responsibilities and possibilities in playing a part in bringing about a better world? Those concluding chapters in The Idea of the University: Contemporary Perspectives respond in original ways and all in an optimistic fashion.

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Chapter One: University under Attack?: Politics, Contestation and Agency beyond the ‘Neoliberal University’ (Jana Bacevic)


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University under Attack?

Politics, Contestation and Agency beyond the ‘Neoliberal University’


Introduction: university under attack?

Anyone acquainted with the world of higher education and research could have hardly failed to notice a change in the ways we talk about universities. On the one hand, universities are promoted as drivers of economic growth, engines of innovation and promoters of social integration. On the other hand, universities across the world have become centres of protest against the privatisation and marketisation of higher education, rising tuition fees and the linking of higher education to economic competitiveness. The present moment seems to be defined by a crystallisation of different, and frequently opposing, views on what a university is and can be.

Many critics have taken these processes to mean that the university is ‘in crisis’. Although ‘crises’ when it comes to universities are not particularly novel, there is a sense of a decisive and qualitative shift in what it means to be a university—in other words, in the ontology of the university (cf. Barnett, 2011; Delanty, 2001; Readings, 1996). The influential Anglo-American sociologist Michael Burawoy, for instance, writes that ‘[T]he university is in crisis, almost everywhere. In broadest terms, the university’s position as simultaneously inside and outside society—both a participant in and an observer of society—has been eroded. With the exception of a few hold-outs the ivory tower has...

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