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Higher Education As a Public Good

Critical Perspectives on Theory, Policy and Practice


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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V. Institutionalising the Public Good: Conceptual and Regulatory Challenges



V.  Institutionalising the Public Good: Conceptual and Regulatory Challenges1


The language of crisis is often used to depict trends and developments in contemporary higher education. Debates about higher education and the public good are premised on the view that one non-monetary aspect of the crisis stems from absent or weak public good dimensions in current transformations of the nature and terms of the ‘social compact’ between higher education and society. Such transformations, it could be argued, require the more strategic insertion of the normative claims and agendas of the public good, not only into the purposes and policies of higher education but also into its strategies and practices. The public good discourse signals a ‘contest of purposes’ (Clark, 1995) and competing expectations about the social dimensions of higher education. Both externally driven calls for greater higher education responsiveness as well as internally defined higher education goals and purposes are now routinely framed within the entrepreneurial demands of the ‘knowledge economy’ on the one hand and the broader ‘social good’ aspirations of the ’knowledge society’ on the other (Sorlin and Vessuri, 2007). Multiplying demands for societal accountability also contend with the growing global power of competitive reputational systems as rankings and research assessment systems become increasingly ’naturalised’ as definitive measures of academic worth and institutional ‘excellence’ in the reputational economy (Hazelkorn, 2011). In an era of globalisation and internationalisation, the above-mentioned trends themselves reflect the mediations of local, national and regional specificities of...

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