Sunday, April 11, 2010

A thought about universities

Source: "Does the University Have a Future in the Network Society?" Ian Angus, Truthout, Sunday 11 April 2010

This is an interesting article. I quote one of many interesting paragraphs:
The double, inside/outside relationship of the modern university to society meant that the university was both a social institution and a relatively independent standpoint from which the whole (of society, history and nature) could be represented in the form of knowledge. The end of the double relationship means that the university is in danger of being subsumed within society to become exclusively, one-sidedly, a servant of social interests. We can see emerging a university thoroughly immersed in socio-technical networks identical with those of the society as a whole. This indistinction between university and society implies the end of a standpoint from which one can represent the whole in the form of knowledge and the beginning of the production of forms of knowledge that have a directly social function. Knowledge-production becomes an action alongside other actions rather than a representation of the whole field of action.
The author points out, correctly I believe, that the role of the university is changing, both as higher education becomes far more common and as the evolving global information infrastructure results in changes in information and knowledge systems.

He seems especially concerned with the changing role of the university in the creation of technological knowledge. I suggest that technological knowledge has always been created primarily in industry, but now there are increasing efforts to utilize technological departments in universities for the creation of technological knowledge.

He is also concerned that the public university is increasingly facing competition from private universities (and I suppose that public financing is increasingly being supplemented by private financing of higher education).

He is most concerned I think with what he perceives to be a decline in the role of the university as a producer of public knowledge. I suggest that it is important to think about this phenomenon in terms of a classification of knowledge.
  • Technological knowledge that is best utilized within private industry probably should not be "public" in the sense of being placed in the public domain, but rather should be protected by intellectual property rights to enhance the probability that corporations will invest in its commercialization.
  • Policy relevant knowledge, such as that from much of social science research, should be made available to policy makers and its import conveyed to the general public.
  • There is also a large component of knowledge that is probably neither suitable for commercialization nor potentially improving policy, and this body of knowledge might be seen as common property knowledge.
The proliferation of colleges and universities will tend to increase the production of the latter two kinds of knowledge in the higher education system. One might think that the proliferation of private colleges and especially the increased demand for higher education coupled with the reduced public support for higher education would reduce the production of policy relevant and common property knowledge.

Some things that we might look too are:
  • Increased public support for the creation of policy relevant knowledge in institutions of higher education.
  • New modalities for the popular dissemination of policy relevant knowledge, especially new ways to finance the translation and transmission of such knowledge.
  • Ways to better acknowledge the value of contributions to common property knowledge.
I wonder whether we are producing and recognizing the great public intellectuals who can revolutionize our understanding of critically important public issues, as did the political philosophers of the Enlightenment, those who led the intellectual battle against slavery, or those who like Gandhi and Mandela reconceptualized colonial and race relations.

1 comment:

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