Universities and their public purposes

Nigel Thrift, sometime geographer and all round theorist, who is now Vice-Chancellor at Warwick, has a short note on The Chronicle of Higher Education blogsite WorldWise note on the complexity of the tensions shaping Higher Education today. Apart from the slightly sneering dismissal of ‘critique’ as a posture to adopt in relation to current changes to University financing in the UK context, this is a rather succinct summary of the complex relations into which ‘The University’ is woven. It is also a useful reminder of the degree to which the transformations triggered by post-election decisions in the UK are part of rather longer, more broadly shared processes of reconfiguration in global higher education. One thing that Thrift’s list of tensions brings out is how they all revolve around the basic tension of being (at least in part) publicly funded institutions which are expected to or aspire to deliver a complex and contrdictory range of public ‘goods’  – world class research, economically useful teaching and learning, social mobility, relevant solutions to all sorts of worldly problems. Rather than there being a single model of ‘the public’ to which Universities are expected to be responsive and accountable, Thrift’s list of tensions indicates the diverse range of public purposes and constituencies which have a stake in the future of higher education. Anyway, Thrift promises future posts focussing in more detail on these different tensions, which should be interesting to follow.

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