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Higher Education As a Public Good

Critical Perspectives on Theory, Policy and Practice

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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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II. In Search of a Public: Higher Education in a Global Age

Introduction

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II.  In Search of a Public: Higher Education in a Global Age

RONALD BARNETT

Does not the juxtaposition of ‘public’ and ‘higher education’ in the twenty first century have an element of spuriousness about it? For where, in a global age, is the public in question? And what might it look like? Is there not something faintly mythical in calling up the trope of ‘the public’ in the contemporary world? This chapter will explore and rebut such pessimistic sentiments, claiming at least that such melancholia should not be embraced too readily. The internet, the fuzzy formation of global communities, the (admittedly) hazy idea of the student as ‘global citizen’, the idea of a ‘socialist knowledge’, the idea of the new formation of a ‘public sphere’ (as, in effect, ‘public spheres’) and the idea of a university of wisdom: these are only some of the straws in the wind that together suggest, so far as higher education is concerned, that not only can mileage be detected in there being a connection between higher education and the idea of a public, but that that connection offers new possibilities that expand the horizon of higher education itself.

In the UK, at least, a debate is struggling to get going as to whether, and in what ways, higher education might be considered to be a public good. The debate is being promoted largely by those wanting to develop a riposte to the marketisation of higher education...

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