The Future University: ideas and possibilities (ed. Barnett 2012)

Chapter notes (I)

This post, and several to follow, is part of my readings on the purpose of university in the 21st century (two previous posts can be found here and here) and also of my preparations for a forthcoming lecture.

What I like about this edited collection is that it draws on international perspectives on higher education, thus going some way towards countering the tendency of some media discourses to foreground Anglo-centric predictions.

Rothblatt’s vision is one of a fluid university with networking possibilities (p. 25).

Post-war (1945) higher education in Europe and the US led to widening participation which disrupted the elite privilege of the few, but also brought with it ‘remedial’ approaches to teaching and learning with an emphasis on learning ‘skills’. This led to universities losing some of their autonomy as they tried to preserve quality (aka standards) as well as equity, an issue also broached by David Russell here.

The university of the future must reconcile quality (excellence) with equity. Perhaps this is already happening as students seek out ‘professors’ rather than ‘universities’ in deciding where to study, a phenomenon knows as Wandervogel in German.

Another possible future involves universities sharing courses across campuses and internationally, so that the loss of humanities or MFL departments, for example, becomes a local loss, not a global one.

No single idea [of the univeristy] prevails, but many exist. The extent to which they are actually operable […] is impossible to determine. Some see the essence of a university in Newman’s terms, or better yet, the essence of knowledge as excellence; others as discovery, others as the life of the mind. Still others speak of the university as an agency for problem-solving. Politicians want a commitment to economic development. Political activists see the transformation of society on partisan grounds. Conservatives prefer to speak of tradition. Ronald Barnett states the ideal as open discussion, the free exchange of views and respect for them (p.24)

Morley’s vision for the future university can be summed in her concluding sentences (p. 35):

There is a lot of talk about how higher education can contribute to wealth creation*. The University of the Future should also consider opportunity and wealth distribution.

*[Currently, the vision embodied in the UK government’s 2015 Green Paper]

She captures the current identity crisis as follows (p.27):

Higher education is caught between hypermodernism and archaism. It is characterised by the development of global, entrepreneurial and corporate universities and speeded up by nomadic public intellectuals. There are new student constituencies, literacies and modalities of communications. Borders are dissolving and academic (hyper)mobility is promoted. However, the hyper-modernisation of liquified (Bauman) globalisation, and edgeless universities (Bradwell) are often underpinned by the stasis, archaism and desiccation of poor quality employment and learning environments, unequal employment regimes, elitist participation practices and globalised gender inequalities. These factors are to deteriorate further in times of economic crisis.

Increases in tuition fees and audit cultures “can stifle creative thinking” (ibid); they also discourage access for the many, leading to social immobility and disempowerment. Moreover, any increasing diversity in the student population should also lead to increased diversity in assessment practices and to the inclusion of new literacies and modalities.

The future university “needs to strike a delicate balance by speaking to diverse generational and geographical power geometries while simultaneously safeguarding academic values and standards” (p. 32).

More notes on the other chapters  to follow.






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