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Knowledge without Borders: Higher Education: Human Right or Tradeable Commodity? Professor W. John Morgan UNESCO Chair of Political Economy and Education,

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Presentation on theme: "Knowledge without Borders: Higher Education: Human Right or Tradeable Commodity? Professor W. John Morgan UNESCO Chair of Political Economy and Education,"— Presentation transcript:

1 Knowledge without Borders: Higher Education: Human Right or Tradeable Commodity? Professor W. John Morgan UNESCO Chair of Political Economy and Education, University of Nottingham

2 The Idea of Human Rights This asserts that all persons have an equal right to the same treatment-- regardless of differences in race, ethnicity, language, religion, sex, politics, physical capacity or social or economic status. Such differences are seen as ethically irrelevant and do not affect the essential nature and worth of a person.

3 Natural Rights and Special Rights Human rights or natural rights must be distinguished from the special rights that arise from a legal contract, a constitution, a particular relationship e.g. Parenthood. Special rights apply only to those who fulfil certain conditions e.g. signing a contract, being a citizen, having a child. The former are unconditional; the latter conditional.

4 Rights and Obligations Rights bring with them correlative obligations. Rights must be respected & fulfilled. Individuals & groups must have the liberty to exercise rights. Human rights relate to those liberties which are essential to a human quality of existence. Special rights bind relationships.

5 Human Rights & Society Human rights are not culturally relative but universal & inalienable. Human rights & obligations morally bind people together in a commonly supportive society i.e., for the public good. Human rights are not granted for purely utilitarian ends.

6 Universal Declaration of Human Rights Proclaimed on 10th December 1948. Comprises a Preamble & 30 Articles. It is not legally binding, but a starting point for establishing common international norms & standards. However, governments can & do interpret the Declaration in different ways.

7 Article 26 Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary & fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical & professional education shall be made generally available & higher education shall be equally accessible on the basis of merit.

8 Debate on Human Rights Debate & dispute arise over the extension of human or natural rights and how they are distinguished from special rights. Is there a natural human right to education as distinct from a special right? If so, how much education, of what type, and how should it be financed? This necessarily brings in utilitarian considerations.

9 What is the Public Good? The modern university has evolved in parallel with changing definitions of the utilitarian concept 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 e.g. street lighting or drainage 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.

10 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.

11 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. Education may be thus be seen as a tradeable commodity.

12 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?

13 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.

14 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.

15 Higher Education as a tradeable investment commodity The economics of higher 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 what is seen as a purchase of a tradeable investment commodity.

16 Higher Education as a tradeable investment commodity 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 e.g. teaching or nursing. This skews attempts at calculation.

17 Higher Education as a tradeable investment commodity 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.

18 The State and Higher Education 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 higher education to economic and social development generally. This is the social return or the public good.

19 The State and Higher Education Governments can provide, subsidise, contract or regulate higher and university education. As stated, they also invest in it for the economic, social and cultural benefits it is believed to bring to nation-building and to sustainability. However, much of this is found in indirect and intangible social benefits and externalities which are very difficult to calculate.

20 Higher Education & the Public Good It is claimed that higher 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.

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

22 Higher Education & 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; Each of these has local, national and international or global dimensions.

23 Higher Education & the Public Good This was recognized by UNESCO at the World Conference on Higher Education in Paris, 2009. 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.’

24 Higher Education & the Public Good In recent years there has been a re-consideration of the public role of higher education and of the university in particular, 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:-


26 “ ” 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.

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


29 Discussion points Can we resolve the dilemma of Higher Education being both a special human right and a tradeable investment commodity? If so, how? How do we prepare graduates for employment that is both economically rewarding and socially useful? 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?

30 Thank You! W. J. Morgan

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