ANIE Network | Fees, disruption and the meaning of the university
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Fees, disruption and the meaning of the university

The history of the itinerant scholar can be traced through the founding of various schools in the early centuries. A major shift occurred around 1000, in Italy, when the first universities were founded under the sponsorship of governments and religious organisations. This marked the point at which the interests of a larger public influenced the formation of and activities within the ‘Ivory Tower’.

In the United States, the second major transformation occurred in the mid-19th century with the passage of the Morrill Acts, which established major public universities through the sale of government lands.

This action was precipitated by two critical realisations. The first was the need to develop research and training to support the country’s economic development, primarily agriculture. More importantly, it was understood that individuals needed education and training beyond secondary school in more substantive ways than could be provided through vocational and technical programmes.

While public universities had coexisted alongside private ones up until then, this action recognised that there was a need to increase the capacity to advance knowledge and education for a broader swathe of the population.

Universities in society

From that point, universities essentially fell under the public purview in the same way as any other division of education. Funding decisions were no longer passed unquestioningly and all activities within the Ivory Tower were influenced by larger societal interests. This was an important change and recognised that degrees and certificates issued by universities provided entrance and advancement into the larger economic and civic life of society.

This is now recognised globally. Government decisions, particularly with regard to tuition and other admissions costs, determine who can be excluded and who has access to higher education. Specific education programmes are also determined by both universities’ capital expenditure and operational budgets.

This also influences decisions about who is admitted, as can be seen in recent efforts in the US to reduce tuition costs and globally with various student protests about fees. The links between government intervention and admission and employment issues are also a factor in the current debate around oversupply of graduates and employability. Continue Reading…

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