The University and the State in a Global Age: renegotiating the traditional social contract?

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This article is based on the Keynote Address to the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER), Dublin, Ireland, 7-10 September 2005. It argues that we are facing the simultaneous renegotiation of the major post-war social contract (concerning the welfare state) in Europe and the renegotiation of a smaller-scale modern social pact: the pact between the university and the nationstate. It suggests that the current, and especially future, transformations of the university are not fully clear outside of the context of transformations to the state (and to the public sector) under global pressures. These pressures, both directly and indirectly, will not leave the university as an institution unaffected. Thus it is more useful today than ever before to discuss the future of the university in the context of the current transformations of the state. The study is divided into four sections: a brief introduction; a section on the university and the welfare state in Europe; a section on the university and the nation-state in Europe; and tentative conclusions. The institution of the university seems already to have found it legitimate and necessary to evolve together with radical transformations of its social setting. For in the new global order, against the odds, universities are striving to maintain their traditionally pivotal role in society. The role of universities as engines of economic growth, contributors to economic competitiveness and suppliers of well-trained workers for the new knowledge-driven economy is being widely acknowledged. But it is undoubtedly a radical reformulation of the traditional social roles of the university. The main reasons for these transformations of the university include the globalisation pressures on nation-states and its public services, the end of the ‘Golden Age’ of the Keynesian welfare state as we have known it, and the emergence of knowledge-based societies and knowledge-driven economies. More generally, the processes affecting the university today are not any different from those affecting the outside world; under both external pressures (like globalisation) and internal pressures (like changing demographics, the ageing of societies, maturation of welfare states, post-patriarchal family patterns and so forth), the processes in question are the individualisation (and recommodification) of our societies and the denationalisation (and desocialisation) of our economies. On top of that, we are beginning to feel at universities the full effects of the universalisation of higher education and the increasing commodification of research.




modern university, higher education, welfare state, nation-state, comparative research, social contract, higher education policy, welfare policies, globalization, globalization and higher education, globalization and universities, globalization impact, global pressures, social policies, university and the state, university - state relationships, public policy, transformations of the state, public services, reforms, knowledge economy, denationalization, desocialization, commodification of research, Bill Readings, The University in Ruins, The University and the State, higher edcuation research, Golden Age, social pact, Ulrich Beck, What is globalization?


European Educational Research Journal, Volume 4, Number 4, 2005, 324-341.



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Uniwersytet im. Adama Mickiewicza w Poznaniu
Biblioteka Uniwersytetu im. Adama Mickiewicza w Poznaniu
Ministerstwo Nauki i Szkolnictwa Wyższego