A fascinating article by Nigel Thift, Vice Chancellor of Warwick University, about the ongoing tension which the university system must resolve:
Budgets. There is not enough money to go round every institution that wants to be a University of the old school but only a few brave institutions are willing to strike out in new directions.
Social inclusion. In one way the growth of mass higher education systems may actually have reinforced the relative position of elites in that some universities can function as positional goods which illustrate the recipient’s status to an even greater extent than before.
Star Player syndrome. The position of the top institutions has generally been cemented at the expense of institutions farther down the hierarchy by the way in which these institutions can draw money (and therefore talent) to them, and by rankings.
Arts and humanities. The arts and humanities feel threatened by the growth of big science and medical schools but they have yet to find arguments with enough traction to produce the level of public support or a sufficiently generally accepted level of cultural importance that, quite rightly, they feel they need.
The role of the state. The degree to which mass higher education should be regarded as a public good clashes with states (and taxpayers) willingness to pay for it. This tension has become a moment of political contest in many parts of the world but the resolution tends to stay political instead of being founded in principle.
The third sector. Higher education is surrounded by a list of secondary players who are having primary forms of influence: recruitment consultants, management consultants, league tablers, think tanks, and so on. Unlike universities, the position of these players is generally unregulated and this must clearly be a concern as the global financial crisis has only too clearly shown.
Research careers. Universities are producing large number of researchers who are unlikely to all have a sustained research career. Even though many of these will find excellent jobs in other sectors this must remain a concern.
World problems. As I have noted in an online debate, universities are key to solving many of the world’s problems but the lifeboats have holes in them. In particular, it is not clear that universities are optimally organized to solve these problems in their current manifestation.
Categories: Higher Education