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Is the University a Public Good?

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Presentation on theme: "Is the University a Public Good?"— Presentation transcript:

1 Is the University a Public Good?
Professor W. John Morgan UNESCO Chair of Political Economy and Education, University of Nottingham

2 The Idea of a University
‘Educating Leaders for 800 years!’ Poster advertising the University of Oxford outside Oxford railway station. What does this tell us about the changing ‘Idea of a University’ ? In Europe and North America, we associate this traditionally with: John Henry Newman and with Wilhelm von Humboldt. The ‘Idea’ was the social reproduction of élites assumed to serve the public good.

3 What is the Public Good? The modern university has evolved in parallel with changing definitions of the public good. According to early liberal theory, for instance, J.S. Mill, it was a good provided either because it was of benefit to the community as a whole or could or should not be provided privately e.g. national defence. As states and societies became more complex in terms of regulation and of welfare provision so the definition changed.

4 What is the Public Good? Policies were justified as claims upon public wealth either because of the specific benefits provided to recipients identified as being in need of state support e.g. student grants or because of the general benefits perceived for society as a whole e.g. an educated population. This was the dominant view that paralleled and supported the growth of the modern university.

5 What is the Public Good? Neo-liberalism has challenged this.
It argues that, economically, private investment and provision produces outcomes that are superior to those of public investment and provision. It argues also that, morally, individuals (and communities) should have the choice that this alternative provides.

6 What is the Public Good? Neo-liberalism argues that the combined social benefit from economic efficiency and choice leads in practice to a greater aggregate public good. It does not, however, take into consideration the impact on normative issues such as equality and social justice. What is the effect of this on the relationship between the contemporary university and the public good?

7 The Contemporary University
The contemporary university may be said to have three basic social functions. These are its contributions to: Human and social development in all its forms. Knowledge and learning societies. Economic development and employment. This includes entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship.

8 The Contemporary University
There is no longer a single organizational model. This raises questions of quality, relevance and capacity. The need for social cohesion means that public policy should ensure that the university is inclusive of all in society. This does not mean the same provision for all, but it does mean provision of opportunity for education of high quality whatever the target group.

9 The University & the Public Good
The economics of university education are based on the theory that it enhances human capital through developing individual knowledge and skills beyond embodied capacities. Such enhancement is the main economic benefit of the university to individuals. It is why students enrol and give of their time and resources. They expect a private return on this investment.

10 The University & the Public Good
Such returns are not simple of calculation and require sophisticated econometrics even to produce reasonable approximations. Essentially, however, students and their families invest in university education with a view to enhancing their career prospects. Some professions carry with them more vocational appeal and potential social benefit than others. This skews attempts at calculation.

11 The University & the Public Good
University education also enables its graduates to build their personal cultural and social capital which may be of employment benefit subsequently. This considers university education as a private investment good rather than a private consumption good. This is not to deny the considerable consumption benefits to individuals.

12 The University & the Public Good
It justifies, in part at least, public subsidies to students and to providers i.e. universities and colleges. The public also expects a return on its investment in terms of the contribution of the university to economic and social development generally. This is the social return or the public good.

13 The University & the Public Good
Governments can provide, subsidise, contract or regulate university education. As stated, they invest in it for the economic, social and cultural benefits it is seen to bring to nation-building and sustainability. However, much of this is found in indirect and intangible social benefits and externalities which are very difficult to calculate.

14 The University & the Public Good
It is claimed that university education:- Raises the productivity and incomes of all employees through knowledge transfer. Promotes technical change through research and development. Increases allocative efficiency and labour flexibility and mobility. Cultivates social cohesion, community values and stability.

15 The University & the Public Good
The employability of graduates is key to a healthy university system and to the contemporary public good. This is related to the quality of teaching; and to capacity for research and development The university has also a complementary responsibility to the public good through contributing to cultural and social cohesion.

16 The University & the Public Good
The university is both a creator of and repository of knowledge; and the incubator of sustainable economic and social development; and of intellectual and moral leadership; which brings me back to the University of Oxford poster where I began. Each of these has local, national and global dimensions.

17 The University & the Public Good
This was recognized by UNESCO at the World Conference on Higher Education in Paris, The communiqué concluded that the strategic role of higher education in human sustainable development was: ‘…crucial, and all the more so as we navigate through the economic crisis. Higher education systems must be expanded and strengthened to provide learning opportunities to all students regardless of their background.’

18 The University & the Public Good
In recent years there has been a re-consideration of the public role of the university and of the related issue of graduate employability. However, under the influence of neo-liberalism, this has emphasized the economic and market function of the university, rather than its social function. Certain questions deserve more consideration:-

19 What do we know about how the public view and value higher education?






25 Universities Week survey reveals the public are in the dark when it comes to universities A new Populus survey undertaken to launch Universities Week 2010 has revealed that the British public knows surprisingly little about universities in the UK. Only one in five people know approximately how many universities there are in the country, and one in six people do not rate them as major local employers. Less than one-in-five people recognise the wider impacts universities have on society.

26 The public role of universities is hotly contested
‘public’ vs ‘private’ benefit ‘market’ vs ‘social’ value ‘applied’ vs ‘abstract’ knowledge ‘academic freedom’ vs ‘regulation’


28 Accountability measures Shorter term benefits Medium term benefits
Longer run impacts Market benefits Jobs Starting salaries Social mobility Lifetime earnings Better savings management Income growth Per capita economic growth Private non-market benefits Degree completion rates Better health Less smoking Less obesity Less depression Child health Lower infant mortality Greater longevity Slower population growth More investment Political stability Sustainable environment Social / public benefits (benefits to others, to society at large and to future generations) Learning (test scores) Civic participation Racial tolerance Less cynicism Charitable giving Growth of civic institutions Larger middle class Less support for authority Rule of law Democratization Human rights Time to graduation Parenting (books etc) Child learning, college Intergenerational transmission Education increased Access / affordability Lower unemployment Education finance reform Universal access Lower crime Reduced inequality Less poverty Social cohesion (social capital) Lower prison costs Dissemination of new technology and knowledge New R&D Dynamic growth process

29 ‘the estimate that social benefit externalities constitute about 52% of the total benefits of HE is an approximate guide to how far the privatization of HE should proceed before public investment falls below the level conducive to optimum efficiency’ (p 255)

30 University Public Public Relations Public Engagement University Public

31 Engagement implies strenuous, thoughtful, argumentative interaction with the non-university world in at least four spheres: setting universities’ aims, purposes and priorities; relating teaching and learning to the wider world; the back-and-forth dialogue between researchers and practitioners; and taking on wider responsibilities as neighbours and citizens. Association of Commonwealth Universities


33 Discussion points How do we prepare graduates for employment that is both economically rewarding and socially useful? How do we balance the need for research to be socially ‘useful’ without curtailing curiosity and serendipity? What are the consequences of the growing relationship between publicly funded higher education and the private and corporate sectors? How should universities communicate their purposes to ensure wider societal support and understanding?

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