Academics and the Real World

Academics and the Real World

Academics and the Real World

Academics and the Real World


• What are modern universities for?

• How can universities preserve their integrity when they have to bid for commercial funding?

• Are academics out of touch with the 'real world'?

Gillian Evans examines how far the traditional purposes of the universities are still relevant to their encounters with the changed priorities of the modern world. Increasingly, it seems, academia is expected to engage with the 'real world'. For instance, university teachers are being asked to cultivate the entrepreneurial spirit in their students; researchers are more likely now to be doing the kind of research that has practical applications and is funded by commercial sponsors; and university administrators have been encouraged to adopt management models from private business. Against this background, Academics and the Real World explores the core values of universities, the pressure on them from government policies, the threat to the integrity and independence of their research from their partnerships with large corporations, and the problems they are having in running themselves efficiently whilst maintaining their identity. It probes at the crucial question of what should be the nature of the relationship between universities and their wider society.


The bones of this book are briefly set out. Universities are there to teach students and award degrees; and society needs a qualified workforce. Universities are places where research can seen to be done independently; and society gets the benefit. To support these activities, universities have to be extensive and complex, and so they need a proportionately large amount of administration or ‘management’. This threefold division provides the core structure for the present study of the changing relationship between universities and society. Despite encouragement to universities to find resources elsewhere, society still provides substantial public funding to run universities, and that entitles it to put plain, pragmatic considerations such as these in the forefront of its thinking.

Yet there is an ‘idea of a university’, as John Henry Newman realized in the nineteenth century when he faced the task of ‘inventing’ a new one in Dublin. Our starting-point in Chapter 1 must be whether there are continuities in that ‘idea’ which make them still central to the academic endeavour. Not to examine those would be to risk casting aside the very core of what has kept it all going century after century.

‘A great deal of what I’ve written about education has been an attempt to recapture my own pastoral myth,’ admits Northrop Frye, and anyone looking backwards risks a similar charge. in defiance of that risk, and because it does not make sense to approach the present day without asking how we got here, the first part of this study is concerned with the ideas about the value of work which has traditionally underpinned the scholarly endeavour of thought and analysis and inquiry and discovery, and helped to form the first universities. Our question is how far they continue to inform them in their encounter with the changed priorities of the modern world. That is why the title of this book includes ‘and the real world’. There has probably never been an era in which the world outside universities has felt so free to tell them what to do, and cited so freely in doing so the ‘public’, and increasingly the ‘commercial’, interest which currently sets the agenda. It may not do so indefinitely. It is this question whether universities face permanent . . .

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