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Can Universities Solve the Problem of Knowledge in Society withou Succumbing to the Knowledge Society? (2)

April 9, 2014

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STEVE FULLER, Policy Futures in Education, Volume 1, Number 1, 2003 (

“The corporate origin of universities is of more than historical interest. The oldest and most successful US universities were founded by British religious dissidents for whom the corporate form of the church was very vivid. From the seventeenth century onward, American graduates were cultivated as ‘alumni’ who regarded their time in university as a life-defining process that they would wish to share with every worthy candidate. The resulting alumni endowments, based on the Protestant ‘tithing’ of income, have provided a fund for allowing successive generations to enjoy the same opportunity for enrichment. In return, the alumni receive glossy magazines, winning sports teams (which the alumni worship every weekend), free courses, and nominal – and occasionally not so nominal – involvement in university policy. Two- thirds of Ivy League students have their education subsidised in this fashion. Moreover, the leading public American universities display similar, and sometimes even stronger, tendencies in the same direction. Thus, UCLA, the University of Michigan, and the University of Virginia are ‘public universities’ that are 70% privately funded, relatively little of which comes from full payment of student fees.

In contrast, the two main strategies for ‘privatising’ the universities in former welfare state regimes – market-driven tuition fees and income-based graduate taxes – operate with a long-term strategy for institutional survival that is nothing more than a series of short-term strategies. At most, these compulsory payment schemes would enable universities to replace the capital they invest in their students, but they would also provide little incentive for graduates to contribute more than had been invested in them. If anything, such fees and taxes could become a source of resentment, non-compliance, and even overall fiscal failure, since in a world where knowledge is pursued as a positional good, it becomes harder to justify high quality university education on a short-term value-for-money basis.”

[op. cit., p.122]

Manuel J. Matos‘s insight:

An interesting analysis that makes you think about mission and the means available for that purpose.

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