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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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VII. The Paradoxical University and the Public Good



VII.  The Paradoxical University and the Public Good


This chapter exposes some of the conflicts of values and current practices that act to limit the capacity of the university to contribute to the public good in the twenty-first century. The chapter is based on the premise that universities should be exemplars of how to live and work in open democratic societies. That they are not, cannot be wholly attributed to outside influences such as government agendas, or the demands of industry and the professions. Universities themselves must take responsibility for critical self-evaluation leading to change. Embedded in university life are some key contradictions which trap higher education in the past. These include the juxtaposition of equality and meritocracy, the pursuit of democracy in autocratic institutions, the desire for creativity trapped by positivistic thinking, the conflict between collaboration and competition and the respective positions of university members (academics, students and professional staff) within it. Using examples from innovative initiatives to break down hierarchies, develop inclusivity among staff and students and to involve students in the academic project of the university the chapter highlights ways in which higher education can and is taking a proactive stance to prepare students for an unknown future.

The complexity and ambiguity of twenty-first century society is nowhere more apparent than in the contemporary university. Higher education exists within a range of forces which pull it in contrary directions and which affect all aspects of its functioning....

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