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Higher Education As a Public Good

Critical Perspectives on Theory, Policy and Practice


Edited By Ourania Filippakou and Gareth Williams

Higher education is likely to involve the majority of people at some time in their lives in the twenty-first century. The main drivers of expansion in the previous century were a belief that widening access promotes social equity and the advance of knowledge as the main factor underpinning economic success for individuals and societies. However, universal higher education in rapidly changing economies raises many questions that have been inadequately treated by previous authors. This volume focuses on the question of whether it is appropriate and inevitable that higher education systems are becoming so large and so diverse that the only realistic way they can be analysed is as aggregates of market-like transactions. Most of the authors are not satisfied with this conclusion, but they recognise, from several disciplinary perspectives, that it is no longer possible to take it for granted that higher education is intrinsically a public good. Are there convincing alternatives?


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Part Two. Models and Policies


Part Two Models and Policies In broad terms higher education has always served three social functions. It has enabled some individuals to develop their abilities and interests to a high level. It has provided well-educated people to serve and reproduce powerful groups in society, the emperor and his court in ancient China, the medieval church in Europe, the nation states which emerged in more recent centuries and, some would say, global capitalism today. Third, there has also always been a subsidiary public function which has grown in importance from the time of the eighteenth ‘enlightenment’, the capacity to act as well-informed and intelligent prophets, explorers and critics of existing societies. These functions are the core of the public and private roles of universities, the advancement of individuals and collective sustainability and progress. Higher education institutions have been organised to perform these func- tions in a variety of ways at different times and in different parts of the world. Sometimes a powerful state has attempted to control closely how its most promising individuals are educated and trained, sometimes there has been an unwritten compact which allows universities a very considerable degree of freedom with an understanding that they will not embarrass or undermine the powerful groups too much. Sometimes these arrangements have been enforced through legal and administrative fiat, occasionally by military force, and in the past half century mainly through control of the terms on which universities receive financial resources necessary for their survival. In this section a variety of...

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