Injecting enterprise into the old monastic vision

University Dynamics and European Integration
October 26, 2007

Why study the university? As the essays in this volume demonstrate, there is much to consider regarding the complex and venerable world of higher education. The university is a bequest of the Middle Ages, yet its medieval ethos remains vibrant in today's Europe. Any efforts to change the university into a modern enterprise cannot ignore its rich heritage, one that has survived such reform leanings before. As it happens, the university of Europe today is facing a barrage of reforms proposed by European policy-makers, who have great expectations for this old institution.

In its intent to make Europe the most highly innovative society in the world, the Lisbon Summit of 2000 touted the goal of a "Europe of Knowledge", based on a tripartite scheme consisting of education, research and innovation. The university is expected to play a central role in such plans and function as the spearhead of innovation throughout Europe. "Our best hope for keeping one step ahead of the rest of the world is our brain power," declared Janez Potocnik, European Commissioner for Science and Research. Is the university up to the task of giving Europe its competitive edge? Under great expectations, the university in Europe is under heightened scrutiny. The European Commission, aiming to match the competitive efforts of the US and upcoming economies such as those of China and India, has zeroed in on the university as a matter of central concern. Through policy documents and reports, policymakers have expressed the conviction that if the university is going to be efficient in advancing research knowledge into the marketplace, changes and wide reforms are needed.

University Dynamics and European Integration is a collaborative effort aiming to explore the visions underlying the attempts to reform the European University. Editors Peter Maassen, professor in higher education studies, and Johan P. Olsen, professor in political sciences - both at the University of Oslo - are joined by a team of researchers to explore the proposed changes. The book is organised under the four following visions for the university, set out in an earlier paper by Olsen, a well-known and prolific author in the area of institutionalism: a rule-governed community of scholars; an instrument for national political agendas; an internal representative democracy and a service enterprise embedded in competitive markets.

Each of the visions conforms to a chapter in the book, and the corresponding elaborations of them represent the bulk of the work. These are followed by a discussion on the European Reform Processes, as outlined in the Bologna Declaration and the Lisbon Summit. The book ends with an in-depth analysis on the processes, determinants and consequences of change within the university.

This work is a thought-provoking discussion that takes on not only the proposed changes and reforms that will affect Europe's universities but questions the very nature of the inquiry made by policymakers. Under the umbrella of modernisation, reforms are being preached to universities without much reflection on what is being asked.

Guided by the current of practices from the New Public Management discourse, the reformers are championing a university that functions as a modern enterprise. These reforms are aimed at altering the historic ethos of the university.

Maassen and Olsen chastise the European Commission for the lack of substantial research about today's university in Europe. The Commission's conclusions are based on "thin" data - "strong convictions based on weak evidence", claim the authors. Much of the research that guides policy- makers, they claim, is based on US universities; if so, the reforms called for amount to an actual Americanisation more than a contextualised transformation of the European university.

What needs to be discussed here is a consideration of "what kind of university for what kind of society". This book invites reformers to reflect on their intents. According to Maassen and Olsen, the call for entrepreneurship questions the Humboldtian ideal of a community of autonomous professors and doubts that self-governing scholars will produce the best results for society at large.

Maassen and Olsen are sounding the alarm about the proposed changes. Entrepreneurial expectations in the form of steering research toward pragmatic results within the marketplace threaten academic freedom. These reformers, the authors argue, seem unaware that they are questioning and seeking to change the very ethos of the university.

Calls for more entrepreneurial institutions are indeed a challenge to the ethos of the European university, which by tradition is monastic; the monks merely reflected on knowledge and shunned profit-making endeavours.

Can the university of Europe be fashioned more after the Puritan entrepreneurial model that founded Harvard? European policymakers have outlined this intent in proposed reforms and legislation. Policymakers have picked on a topic where academics have heartfelt things to say, and this work promises to be an invitation to a significant and interesting discussion.

Tito Correa is undertaking doctoral studies on the history of education, Cambridge University.

University Dynamics and European Integration

Editor - Peter Maassen and Johan Olsen
Publisher - Springer
Pages - 245
Price - £77.00
ISBN - 9781402059704

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