The higher education industry is booming, with over 100 million students worldwide and more funds flowing than ever before.
University websites gleam with images of happy students and wise mentors, and their managers put out upbeat accounts of innovations. Yet universities have never been unhappier places to work. Highly paid, corporate-style managers and cost-cutting governments have casualised the teaching workforce, outsourced much of the professional and support work, and created widespread distrust.
Student mobilizations have closed down universities from South Africa and India to Latin America. Staff and faculty strikes, once unheard of in universities, have rocked campuses even in the richest countries. And there’s an angry - sometimes anguished - debate inside universities. Critics speak of outdated pedagogy, exploitation of young staff, distorted and even faked research, outrageous fees, outrageous pay for top managers, corporate rip-offs, corruption, racism, and mickey-mouse degrees.
Despite this, higher education is booming. The official figures for 2015 showed more than 200 million higher education students enrolled worldwide. Simon Marginson, a noted analyst of the political economy of universities, has observed that many countries are now approaching a high-participation system where more than half the relevant age-group go into higher education.
And Universities represent, collectively, a tremendous social asset, which educate the professions on which public health, public education, modern communications and social services rely. They produce most of the technical knowledge that goes into economic change, and are the source, directly or indirectly, of much of the critical thinking and imagination in culture and politics.
The Good University is not a research report, but rather, an argument for change and a search for a better logic and new paths of practice. We are not cursed forever with the current models; we can design universities worth building, and think practically about how to build them. This does not mean working in an enclave. Universities are linked to the state, the economy, the public culture and the wider education system, so creating good universities implies a broad agenda of democratic change. Universities capacity for challenge, critique, invention and growth has survived, but it has to be fought for.