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The complex roles of universities in the period of globalization

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Universities worldwide are being called on to
fulfil more and more roles, often with fewer
resources. As a result, academic missions may
become dispersed and the quality of the work
may decrease. In this era, the function of uni-
versities as institutions devoted essentially to
teaching and research may be weakened by the
struggle to be entrepreneurial and market-rel-
evant (Ben-David, 1977; Clark, 2004; Geiger,
2004). The academic drift of the 21st century
raises concerns about the core functions of uni-
versities and how contemporary changes have
affected academic missions. This paper mainly
discusses research universities, which, as the
leading and most influential academic institut-
ions, have been most affected by this expansion
of roles (Neave, 2000; Altbach and Balán,
2007). The goal of this paper is to examine the
changing missions of universities and the
impact on academe worldwide.
THE CORE MISSIONS
Since their establishment in Europe in the 12th
century, universities have frequently been
asked to undertake essential roles. Only when
they were considered irrelevant were they iso-
lated, as when the Enlightenment largely
bypassed the European universities still mired
in disputes between Catholics and Protestants
from an earlier period (Perkin, 2006, pp.
172–3). Academic institutions have often been
in conflict with their societies over missions
and roles, and sometimes over ideology and
politics. This tension has contributed to the cre-
ativity of universities over time, but has at times
placed overwhelming burdens on them.
In the contemporary period, the teaching
mission of the university is a central responsib-
ility. The goal is to educate people to work
effectively in an increasingly technological
world – that is, to provide the technical skills
needed for a growing number of jobs and pro-
fessions that require sophisticated knowledge
and an education that instils the ability to think
critically. In many countries, general education
is also considered a key university goal. Teach-
ing has been the core role since the beginning.
However, this function has become more com-
plex and variegated, ranging from general
education for undergraduates to advanced doc-
toral instruction and supervision in the most
specialized fields.
Research is the other core function of uni-
versities, dating back to the establishment of
the University of Berlin by Wilhelm von Hum-
boldt in the early 19th century (Ben-David and
Zloczower, 1962). It has come to be the central
value of top-tier universities in all countries,
and academic rewards and institutional prestige
for individual faculty members are bestowed
largely on the basis of research productivity.
Research is defined in different ways by vari-
ous disciplines and can take many forms. Pure
research – the discovery of new knowledge – is
generally considered the gold standard in terms
of recognition and prestige. Nobel prizes are
won for pure research. Applied research –
increasingly emphasized as universities seek to
generate income from research output – applies
scientific discoveries to problems, commercial
products or related practical goals. Research in
the humanities may deal with interpreting texts
or gaining insights on literature. Historical
research may work from original data or may
reanalyse existing research. Research in many
scientific fields requires significant funding for
laboratories and equipment. In other discip-
lines, research may need only basic library or
internet resources. Research can thus take
many forms and have different purposes. The
focus on discovery, interpretation and original-
ity links the vast array of research themes,
methodologies and orientations.
UNIVERSITIES AS NATIONAL
INSTITUTIONS
Universities have from time to time functioned
as the central institutions for national develop-
ment. Nationalist ideologies, for example, were
nurtured in European universities in the 19th
century. Universities were seedbeds of nation-
alism in many colonized nations in the 19th and
20th centuries. In these cases, the ideas that led
to the establishment of modern nations were, in
THE COMPLEX ROLES OF UNIVERSITIES IN THE PERIOD OF GLOBALIZATION 5
I.1
THE COMPLEX
ROLES OF
UNIVERSITIES IN
THE PERIOD OF
GLOBALIZATION
Philip G. Altbach
Abstract
part, developed by the academic community. Nations also
used universities in their efforts to modernize. Hum-
boldt’s reformed University of Berlin was intended to
contribute to Germany’s national resurgence, as were the
imperial universities established in Japan following the
Meiji Restoration in 1868. Similarly, the American ‘land
grant’ public universities were designed to contribute in
terms of teaching, research and service to the develop-
ment of the USA following the end of the Civil War in
1865. In these cases, universities were integral contribu-
tors to national development.
Universities have also played a central role in the
growth of developing countries. In Latin America, the
emergence of national universities following indepen-
dence from Spain contributed to nation-building through-
out the continent. These universities not only educated the
nation but also provided ideas on national development
(Ordorika and Pusser, 2007). In other parts of the develop-
ing world, universities have played a similar historical role
– as incubators of nationalistic ideas, educators of the
emerging governing class and providers of the technical
expertise needed for nation-building (Ashby, 1966).
National universities in many parts of the developing
world continue to serve as central institutions for nation-
building, research and training. In Mexico, for example,
the National Autonomous University of Mexico
(UNAM), the main national university, produces most of
the nation’s published research and has traditionally educ-
ated the nation’s political and intellectual leaders
(Ordorika and Pusser, 2007). These state-sponsored uni-
versities are still central to national development, despite
the emergence of diversified academic systems in many
developing countries.
CENTRAL ACADEMIC ROLES
From the outset, universities have provided vocational
education and training for the top professions, thus devel-
oping a direct long-term link to the economy and to the
practical needs of society. Due to the ever-increasing
sophistication of the economy, academic institutions have
been obliged to provide training for a growing number of
professions. The first universities formed centres of learn-
ing for the core professions of the time: law, the priest-
hood, medicine and the academic profession itself.
Today’s universities are largely responsible for educating
business executives, engineers, architects, social work-
ers, veterinarians and many other professionals. Special-
ized academic institutions provide training for certain
professionals, such as school teachers in a number of
countries and military officers in many; these institutions
may have university status. The vocational role of higher
education has become universal and more complex. In
most cases, this function combines applied training with
education in relevant basic academic disciplines.
THE PRESERVATION AND DISSEMINATION OF
KNOWLEDGE
Even in the age of the internet, universities are reposito-
ries and organizers of knowledge. Academic libraries
have traditionally been centres for preserving and organ-
izing the cultural and intellectual heritage of a society.
Libraries not only collect books and journals (the essen-
tial elements of knowledge), they also organize scholarly
and scientific material of all kinds for effective use and
preserve it for future generations. Even in the age of dig-
ital storage, libraries remain essential parts of universi-
ties and of the organization and preservation of
knowledge (Baker, 2001). Universities help to organize
knowledge, without cost to either the academic commun-
ity or the general public. Thus, universities constitute an
alternative to the growing commercialization of know-
ledge by for-profit service providers. The Massachusetts
Institute of Technology’s ‘open courseware’ project,
which provides much of the content of most MIT courses
on the internet, is an impressive example of how free
access to knowledge can be provided by harnessing the
intellectual work of the faculty and by organizing and dis-
seminating material.
Universities preserve other cultural and scientific arte-
facts, ranging from works of art to collections of insects.
Universities often sponsor museums and provide access
to a wide audience. These museums are repositories that
are often linked to the institution’s academic pro-
grammes. In many countries with limited resources and
little expertise in preserving cultural and historical treas-
ures, universities are the only institutions capable of col-
lecting, cataloguing and preserving such items. For
example, Mexico’s UNAM serves as the nation’s national
library and sponsors several respected museums.
UNIVERSITIES AS INTELLECTUAL CENTRES
Universities almost everywhere have become key cre-
ative institutions. Many professors, in addition to their
teaching and research, involve themselves in the intellec-
tual life of society as commentators, experts or analysts.
Some are public intellectuals. The work of many acad-
emics can be seen on the opinion pages of major news-
papers or on serious television talk shows. Academic life
provides time, intellectual stimulation, debate and, in
most countries, the protection of academic freedom,
which encourages participation in societal debate and
analysis (Altbach, 2007).
6HIGHER EDUCATION IN THE WORLD 3
Academics also serve as experts on a wide variety of
topics. Professors are asked to provide analysis for the
government, the media and the public on topics ranging
from space exploration to Egyptian mummies. Scientists
provide expert analysis of environmental issues. Sociol-
ogists analyse social conflict. University professors are
the largest community of experts in any society, and many
play key roles in interpreting science and scholarship for
a wide audience. Professors sometimes bring their exper-
tise directly to the government by serving as ministers or
taking other posts. They occasionally run for public
office. They often engage in oppositional politics by prov-
iding ideas or analysis and sometimes by participating
directly in political activism.
Academics have from time to time been involved in
social and political movements. They were engaged in
the rise of nationalism in Europe and in many develop-
ing countries. They were key participants in the European
revolutions of 1848 and in the Latin American reform
movements of the early 20th century that led to the Cor-
doba Reforms of higher education and to significant dem-
ocratic change.
Students also participate in intellectual, social and pol-
itical life beyond the campus. Student activist movements
frequently stimulate political conflict and sometimes
reform or even revolution – for example, in the European
nationalist movements of the 19th century, the indepen-
dence struggles in developing countries, and the activist
movements of the 1960s and 1970s worldwide. Univer-
sities provide an atmosphere of ideas, freedom and debate
that stimulates student activism and social involvement.
Academic institutions frequently sponsor journals and
other publications that contribute to intellectual life.
Some even own or manage television and radio stations.
These enterprises help to educate people and add to the
wealth of ideas in society. Universities, as non-profit
organizations with guarantees of academic freedom, are
uniquely suited to provide the autonomy for both indiv-
iduals and groups to engage in intellectual creativity, dia-
logue and analysis.
UNIVERSITIES AS INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTIONS
Academic institutions operate in a global environment
and bring science and scholarship from around the world
to a local community. Universities are the central links
with the international scientific community. They have
the necessary intellectual and scientific infrastructure,
through information and communication technologies
(ICTs) and informal networks. Professors are involved
with international research in their disciplines and fields.
Academic institutions are engaged in exchange pro-
grammes, the hosting of international staff and students,
collaborative international research projects, and other
activities. More than any other segment of society, uni-
versities are engaged constantly in the international
exchange of ideas, data and knowledge.
In developing countries, universities are the central
link to world science, scholarship and intellectual life. In
much of Africa, where internet infrastructure remains
inadequate, universities are the best-connected institut-
ions. Academic communities use the main international
languages of science, and many in the academic com-
munity have studied abroad.
ACCESS AND EQUITY
Universities provide the education needed for most skilled
occupations and professions in society. For almost a cen-
tury, universities have also been seen as instruments for
social mobility – a way for individuals to obtain the skills
they need to improve their incomes and status. Massifica-
tion has, of course, brought access to a wider section of
the population. Many countries and academic institutions
have also developed strategies to enhance access for
underserved populations – racial, religious and ethnic min-
orities, women and low-income groups. Scholarship, bur-
sary and loan programmes, as well as a variety of
affirmative-action efforts, have been put into place. Access
to higher education is recognized as an important societal
goal. Almost everywhere, even in countries where a large
proportion of the relevant age cohort has access to post-
secondary education, problems of equity remain. Typi-
cally, higher status socioeconomic groups have greater
access than others. In developing countries, the goals of
both access and equity remain to be achieved. In the North,
while access is widespread, equity is still problematic.
ENGINES OF ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
From their origins, universities have stimulated local
economies. Any university generates economic benefits
for its community through local purchases, property
investment and expenditures by students and faculty.
Starting with the Humboldtian reforms in Germany, the
rise of the ‘land grant’ universities in the USA, and the
establishment of the Japanese imperial universities in the
19th century, universities have been designed to contrib-
ute directly to economic development. Universities sup-
port knowledge- and technology-based industries that
make use of the knowledge produced by the institutions –
including skills of graduates and scientific innovations.
Universities have contributed to this development by
establishing science parks and even by investing in com-
panies that use university-based knowledge. Universities
are often included in government economic plans. Societ-
ies increasingly count on universities to contribute both
THE COMPLEX ROLES OF UNIVERSITIES IN THE PERIOD OF GLOBALIZATION 7
directly and indirectly to economic and technological
development. China is an excellent example of a country
where academic institutions have been recognized as cen-
tral to development; several key Chinese universities have
built science parks and established companies to take
advantage of academic research (Ma, 2007).
GENERAL EDUCATION
In a few countries, such as the USA, universities have
from their origins provided first-degree students with a
broad general education in the liberal arts and sciences.
The idea of general education, as it has evolved, is to
provide students with a broad grounding in the basic
knowledge they need in contemporary society and also
with skills in logic, critical thinking and writing. The cur-
riculum in much of the world has traditionally been based
on specialized knowledge in specific disciplines and has
not included general education. There is now more dis-
cussion of the role of general education, and some coun-
tries have added this to the university curriculum.
HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES
Medieval universities were established to educate men for
the legal, medical and religious professions. They also pre-
served knowledge through their libraries and undertook
the specific work of translating scientific and other literat-
ure from Arabic to Latin and disseminating it in Europe.
Universities have been subject to different forms of exter-
nal authority. In the 13th century, the Roman Catholic
Church and the French monarchy founded the University
of Paris, one of the first and most significant universities.
In Italy, students were instrumental in establishing univer-
sities in Salerno, Padua, Bologna and elsewhere, and had
a dominant role in governing them. Medieval universities
were mainly focused on professional education, but they
also had other functions. They engaged in intellectual,
religious and, occasionally, political life. For example, the
University of Paris helped to settle a schism in the Catholic
Church in 1409 (Perkin, 2006, p. 168). In the 16th century,
the ideas that led to the Protestant Reformation came from
the universities in Germany. Universities thrived when
they were engaged in professional education and the intel-
lectual life of society.
When universities cease to be engaged with society
and with the emerging scientific and political develop-
ments of an era, they tend to be moribund. Beginning in
the 17th century, most European universities turned
inward. They played almost no role in the Enlightenment
and were in the doldrums. Their role was limited to train-
ing priests and a few civil servants (Perkin, 2006, p. 173).
The tremendous creativity of the Enlightenment and the
technological innovations of the Industrial Revolution
largely took place outside of the universities. The idea that
universities were truly ‘ivory towers’ designed to be sep-
arate from society, unwilling to open their doors to the
emerging middle classes, meant that universities were
largely uninvolved in the dynamic scientific and political
developments of the era. With only a few exceptions, uni-
versities received little public financial support because
they were not perceived as contributing significantly to
society. Napoleon, for example, was so unimpressed with
the French universities of the ancien régime that he abol-
ished all of them – and replaced them with the vocation-
ally oriented grandes écoles.
When Wilhelm von Humboldt reformed the Univer-
sity of Berlin in 1810, the modern research university was
established. First in Germany and then elsewhere, acad-
eme began to recover. Research universities were not only
committed to bringing research to the centre of the acad-
emic enterprise but also to linking research to applied sci-
ence and national development. Towards the end of the
19th century, American land grants expanded the research
university concept to include the role of direct service to
society and the key function of engagement with agricul-
ture and industry. These developments, pioneered in Ger-
many and the USA, spread elsewhere and brought
universities back to the centre of society. Since the early
20th century, universities or university-related laborator-
ies have been involved in key scientific and intellectual
developments in most countries. The development of
radar, atomic energy and many pharmaceuticals illus-
trates this point.
Historically, scientific research has not always been
conducted mainly in universities. The ‘academy of sci-
ence’ model – used in the former Soviet Union and to
some extent still in practice in Russia, China and differ-
ently in the National Centre for Scientific Research sys-
tem in France – concentrated research in scientific
institutes that were separate from universities (Vucinich,
1984). Universities were mainly focused on teaching and
did not have significant funding for research. It is gener-
ally agreed that separating research entirely from teach-
ing is not the best way of organizing either, and there is
a worldwide trend towards combining the two functions
in universities.
Clark Kerr coined the term ‘multiversity’ to capture
the historical evolution of the modern university (Kerr,
2001). He pointed out that the American research univer-
sity, considered by many the most influential contempo-
rary academic model, combines the English collegiate
tradition, the German research idea and the American
value of service to society. The American variant of the
8HIGHER EDUCATION IN THE WORLD 3
German research university has, over time, taken on
many new roles and is without question a key pillar of the
knowledge economy.
THE IMPLICATIONS OF MASSIFICATION
Since the Second World War and especially after the
1960s, enrolment in higher education increased dramati-
cally worldwide, doubling from 40 million in 1975 to 80
million in 1995 and perhaps reaching 150 million in 2007.
While much of the growth between the 1960s and 1990s
occurred in developed countries, current growth is mainly
in developing countries. The proportion of the age group
participating in higher education has increased from 10%
or less in most developed countries to over 50% today,
although some of the poorest countries still enrol just a
few per cent of the relevant age group; worldwide, the
proportion is about one quarter (Higher Education in the
World 2007, p. 384). In developing and middle-income
countries, where participation rates remain modest – 20%
in China, somewhat less than 10% in India and just a few
per cent in much of sub-Saharan Africa – expansion is
gearing up. Only the USA and to some extent Canada had
mass higher education systems prior to the 1960s (Trow,
2006). Most of the growth of the coming half-century will
happen in developing and middle-income countries (Task
Force on Higher Education and Society, 2000).
Massification was, without question, the dominant
force in higher education in the latter half of the 20th cen-
tury and will continue to have an impact in the 21st cen-
tury. The emergence of mass higher education systems
with different kinds of post-secondary institutions serving
diverse segments of students has been a revolutionary
change. Nevertheless, this shift occurred in most countries
without much planning. For centuries, higher education
was considered the preserve of a small elite, and academic
institutions tended to be small and fairly uniform. Mass
higher education meant not only an expansion in the num-
ber of students but also a dramatic increase in the number
and kinds of academic institutions. Massification necessi-
tated the emergence of a differentiated academic system
with institutions serving separate purposes.
The emergence of post-secondary institutions with dif-
ferent purposes, goals, students, facilities and academic
staff has altered the landscape of higher education world-
wide. New kinds of institutions with different missions
have extended the role of higher education in unprece-
dented ways. Vocationally oriented academic institutions
have absorbed much of the mass demand in many coun-
tries. In the USA, community colleges, which are mainly
vocational and typically require only a high school
diploma for entry, prepare students for many kinds of jobs
that call for technical training. Community colleges also
provide general education courses that can lead to trans-
fer to a four-year baccalaureate college or university. One
of the most effective elements of the US higher education
system is the coordination between the various kinds of
institutions, which allows students to transfer from one
kind of institution to another and take their academic
credits with them (Altbach, 2001). Not only do commun-
ity colleges allow almost universal access, they provide
vocational training in a wide range of fields and, for a
minority of students, upward transfer options within the
system. There is a wide array of entry-level post-second-
ary institutions around the world, such as the Fach-
hochschulen in Germany, the instituts universitaires de
technologie in France and many others. While these instit-
utions do not generally provide the relatively easy mobil-
ity of the American community college, they do satisfy
important access and vocational needs in society. Many
countries, including China, are examining the commun-
ity college model.
There has also been an expansion of a relatively broad
range of baccalaureate and master’s-degree-equivalent
universities, which provide access and meet new acad-
emic needs. These universities represent both the public
sector and the rapidly expanding private sector. At times
their curricula are specialized. In general, these universi-
ties have modest entry requirements so as to provide
fairly wide access to students. They focus mainly on
teaching but often have some interest in research, and are
frequently involved in a range of social service activities.
Research universities form the pinnacle of the acad-
emic system, typically serving only the most able stu-
dents and constituting only a modest number of
institutions (Clark, 1995; Altbach and Balán, 2007). As
the most complex institution in the system, the research
university combines both basic and applied research with
teaching at a range of levels, from baccalaureate to doc-
toral. Research universities generally offer specializa-
tions in the mainstream academic disciplines, and many
also have professional schools in fields such as law, man-
agement, medicine, engineering and education. Interdis-
ciplinary research programmes and institutes in
emerging fields such as biotechnology, as well as science
parks and other links with industry and commerce, add
to the complexity of research universities. In most coun-
tries, these universities obtain the largest proportion of
research funds – often 80% or 90% of all R&D money
available to higher education.
In increasingly complex academic systems, specialized
academic institutions have emerged, three of the most
famous being the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technol-
THE COMPLEX ROLES OF UNIVERSITIES IN THE PERIOD OF GLOBALIZATION 9
ogy, which focus on engineering and related disciplines;
INSEAD, a prestigious school of management in France;
and the University of California at San Francisco, which
focuses on medicine and the biomedical sciences. Special-
ized schools in law, veterinary science, pedagogy and
many other disciplines also exist in academic systems.
Whether created by the government or having emerged
over time to meet perceived market needs, academic sys-
tems are by now highly differentiated in most countries.
They are the result of both massification and the educat-
ional and research needs of modern society.
Mass higher education has brought with it greater
inequality in academic systems – disparities between the
high-quality universities at the top and the many modest
or low-quality mass-access institutions at the bottom. It is
likely that the top institutions have improved in indus-
trialized countries, while worldwide the bottom sector has
declined in quality. Massification inevitably creates more
variations and diversity in academic systems. It creates
opportunities for access that are unprecedented in world
history, but at the same time it creates systems that are
less equal and more difficult to support financially.
THE PROBLEM OF THE PUBLIC GOOD
One of the serious debates about higher education in the
past several decades relates to whether it is a public good –
one which adds value to society by educating its people,
who will then be productive citizens – or a private good –
one which mainly benefits individuals, who earn more
money and enjoy other advantages as a result of their
education (Bloom et al., 2006). The logic of the debate is,
of course, that if higher education is a private good, then
those who benefit from it – the students – should pay. If
higher education is mainly a public good, then society has
a responsibility to provide support. The argument is as
much one of philosophy, ideology and politics as it is of
economics. Those advocating the private-good stance are
motivated both by their interpretation of economic reali-
ties and by a belief that the state cannot afford to pay most
of the cost of mass higher education. In recent years, priv-
ate-good advocates have prevailed to a significant degree.
As a result, higher education budgets in many countries
have stagnated or been reduced. Public academic institut-
ions have been asked to fund an increasing portion of
their costs by increasing tuition fees, becoming more
commercialized and selling their services to the market
(Kirp, 2003; Geiger, 2004).
The cost of providing higher education has increased
greatly in recent decades. The demands of mass access
combined with the increased costs of research universities
have placed greater pressure on the state to provide fund-
ing. Due in part to the private-good ideology, public auth-
orities in many countries have shifted the financial
responsibility for higher education to the ‘users’, that is,
students and their families. In some cases, loans and other
funding programmes have been introduced to lessen the
financial burden (Johnstone, 2006). Whether it is in fact
beyond the financial ability of the state to support
expanded access to higher education is arguable. In any
event, most countries have in fact chosen to shift a sig-
nificant part of the financial obligation to students.
One problem with the contemporary emphasis on the
private good is the fact that research universities are pub-
lic-good institutions. While their graduates benefit from
their academic preparation and degrees, much of the work
of research universities emphasizes the public good.
Basic research, for example, may in the long run result in
commercially valuable products, but the research itself
generally yields little direct profit. Basic research is a pub-
lic good and therefore requires support. Research univer-
sities require basic research infrastructure, including
talented (and often highly paid) professors, up-to-date
laboratories and other facilities, and graduate and often
postdoctoral programmes. They must have an academic
culture that fosters a research-oriented environment (Ben-
David, 1991). Furthermore, many of the services per-
formed by research universities are non-commercial.
Research universities have been asked to commercialize
their research and other activities. This may distort their
most important missions and in the long run weaken them
(Washburn, 2005; Sörlin and Vessuri, 2007). Research
universities also sponsor a wide array of service and out-
reach activities, including concerts, performances, art
exhibitions and occasionally museums. These activities
have little commercial potential.
Mass higher education is intended to provide access
to students from all social classes. While it is possible for
students from wealthier segments of the population to pay
tuition fees for higher education, students from poorer
backgrounds may find the costs unaffordable and may be
reluctant to take out student loans. Without arrangements
for scholarships and grants, a private-good approach may
in some ways limit access to higher education for a sig-
nificant part of the population.
The idea of the public good as a key factor in support-
ing higher education relates directly to the roles that acad-
emic institutions can play in society. Many of the
complex activities of post-secondary institutions – from
cultural and outreach activities to the most advanced basic
research – are directly linked to the public good.
10 HIGHER EDUCATION IN THE WORLD 3
CONTEMPORARY CHALLENGES
In playing the complex and highly important roles that
have been discussed in this paper, universities face sig-
nificant challenges. The public-good ideal has been
called into question and a variety of related problems
have emerged.
Private higher education is rapidly expanding in many
parts of the world and now enrols more than half of all
post-secondary students in much of Latin America, the
Pacific Rim and other areas (Altbach and Levy, 2005).
With the exception of some institutions in the USA and
Japan and a handful of other examples, private academic
institutions are seldom high-prestige universities, have
limited purposes and programmes, and depend exclu-
sively on tuition income for survival. Many are either
formally or informally for-profit schools. The private
sector in higher education is, almost by definition, a priv-
ate good, that is, students are charged for a specific
higher education programme that they hope will contrib-
ute to their career and advancement. With few excep-
tions, private institutions have neither the commitment
nor the ability to participate in research or service roles.
They can seldom build the facilities needed for advanced
research, they rarely offer advanced degrees in the sci-
ences or other fields that require expensive facilities, and
they are largely uninterested in the cultural and social
roles of higher education.
The privatization of public higher education has also
contributed to narrowing the roles of universities. In
many countries, public universities now receive a smaller
proportion of their budgets from government sources. As
a result, they must generate their own income from tuition
fees, research, consulting, commercial enterprise and
other sources. This privatization has meant that the broad
traditional purposes of the university – most of which do
not readily produce income – have to some extent been
de-emphasized while potentially income-generating
activities have become more central.
The marketization of higher education is closely rel-
ated to privatization. The functions of the university are
increasingly subjected to market forces. Knowledge that
can earn income is valued and supported. Fields that pro-
duce little income are de-emphasized or even discarded.
Tuition fees are an example of market forces at work.
More academic institutions charge tuition fees, which in
many instances are increasing. Students are sometimes
charged differential fees. In countries ranging from
Uganda to China, some students pay low government-
subsidized fees, while others are charged much higher
amounts. Entrance standards are sometimes adjusted for
high-fee-paying students as well. Research facilities and
faculty time are ‘sold’ to companies and other organizat-
ions as a way of earning income – at the expense of basic
research that does not earn quick profits. Competition has
increased among academic institutions in an effort to lure
students, attract profitable research projects and generate
prestige. The current emphasis on league tables and rank-
ings is very much part of the marketization of higher educ-
ation (Sadlak and Liu, 2007).
All of these challenges are related to the demands
made on universities to be more financially self-sufficient
and market driven. This trend creates an immense con-
tradiction between these new emphases and the role that
universities have played over the past century in provid-
ing access to ever larger numbers of students. Marketiza-
tion trends are often in conflict with higher education’s
goal of providing equity and the chance to obtain skills
and better employment to underserved populations.
Access and equity require that, through scholarships or
other programmes, higher education be made affordable
for segments of the population that have traditionally
been unable to afford expensive higher education.
Increasingly complex goals require larger and more
sophisticated academic institutions. Clark Kerr (2001)
pointed out in 1963 that universities require larger and
more complex administrative and governance structures
to fulfil all their new roles. Added to this need is the
requirement of increased accountability – not only for the
expenditure of funds but also for the performance of many
aspects of the academic enterprise, including student
achievement and faculty productivity. Traditional acad-
emic governance, which typically left major decisions in
the hands of senior professors and included few adminis-
trative resources, does not work well in the large, complex
institutions of the 21st century. Universities need admin-
istrative structures that can coordinate the various ele-
ments of the institution and carefully allocate and measure
resources. Professionals are required in the areas of finan-
cial management, student services and many others. To
handle their more diverse functions, universities have
added offices to deal with legal matters, intellectual prop-
erty, relations with business and industry, psychological
counselling for students and other areas. Faculty members
can no longer administer and manage these universities.
Traditional academic decision-making patterns no
longer function well. New governance arrangements such
as senates to managing committees have been estab-
lished. These bodies include both managers and academ-
ics, and in some cases students and stakeholders from
outside the university. Academic institutions and systems
are experimenting with management patterns that take
into account the new realities of higher education.
Accountability is an additional reality, created by the
THE COMPLEX ROLES OF UNIVERSITIES IN THE PERIOD OF GLOBALIZATION 11
size and complexity of academic institutions and systems.
Funders of higher education – usually government auth-
orities – demand information about the management and
performance of academe. This requires an additional
layer of management as well as the unprecedented col-
lection of data on all aspects of university affairs. Internal
data are needed to ensure efficient management. Perfor-
mance indicators and other reports must be generated for
funders and other groups. Universities have become com-
plex organizations that require sophisticated management
systems and new ways of governing the academic enter-
prise. They are, at the same time, bureaucracies and com-
munities of scholars. The challenge of management and
governance is to reconcile these different and sometimes
contradictory realities.
THE SPECIAL CHALLENGES OF DEVELOPING
COUNTRIES
The issues discussed in this paper are relevant to all coun-
tries and circumstances. Developing countries, however,
face additional challenges that make building an effec-
tive university system more difficult. The heritage of
colonialism in many parts of the developing world and
the fact that contemporary universities are Western instit-
utions with few links to indigenous intellectual traditions
make it more difficult to build successful universities
(Altbach, 1998; Shils and Roberts, 2004). Colonial auth-
orities were reluctant to permit much expansion of higher
education and generally kept higher education institut-
ions small and limited in size and scope. The institutions
were mainly intended to train members of the colonial
administration, so at the time of independence most
higher education systems were small, weak and limited
in scope.
Massification occurred later and more intensively in
developing countries than in industrialized nations. The
existing academic systems, enrolling a tiny fraction of the
relevant age groups, often under 1%, have found it dif-
ficult to cope with expansion. In the coming decades,
most worldwide expansion of higher education will take
place in developing countries, which are less able to
afford rapid expansion. The institutions have felt
immense pressure to provide qualified academic staff and
campus facilities (for example libraries, classrooms and
laboratories). One key issue is how to finance expansion
so as to provide more access; governments have often
found this task impossible (Task Force on Higher Educ-
ation and Society, 2000).
The failure to meet the demand for access has led to a
series of problems that have plagued developing coun-
tries. It has proved impossible to severely limit enrol-
ments, so academic institutions have become increasingly
overcrowded. The facilities cannot accommodate all the
students admitted to study, and as a result students cannot
gain access to classrooms or libraries. In part as a means
of limiting enrolment without denying access, many uni-
versities have implemented draconian procedures to elim-
inate students who cannot keep up with the work. The
overall quality of higher education has declined in much
of the developing world as a result of overcrowding and
inadequate resources.
As discussed above, the financial crisis has contrib-
uted to the rise of private higher education. The fastest-
growing private higher education sectors are in
developing and middle-income countries. With some
notable exceptions, the new private sector is intended to
absorb demand for access at the bottom of the higher
education system. Many private institutions are for-profit,
with narrow aims and limited curricula (Altbach and
Levy, 2005).
In many countries, while access has been significantly
expanded, equity has not been achieved. Students who
gain access to less-well-established academic institutions
receive a questionable education, and many are unable to
complete their degrees. In some places, failure to coor-
dinate academic degrees with the job market has resulted
in educated unemployment. The causal factors include
the inadequate quality of the graduates of many universi-
ties and the economy’s inability to keep up with the pro-
duction of degree holders. The Indian prime minister, for
example, recently complained about the low quality of
many undergraduate colleges, which put graduates at a
disadvantage in the job market.
These problems weaken the ability of universities in
developing countries to fulfil all their missions, especially
those related to the public interest. Even flagship
research-oriented universities are often unable to fully
engage with the international scientific community, spon-
sor top-level scientific research, maintain good libraries
and information technology infrastructure, and so on.
Even at these universities, the pressure of numbers is
great and funds are inadequate. Indeed, in some cases,
such as at Makerere University in Uganda, high-fee-pay-
ing students are admitted for evening classes in order to
earn extra funds. The extra teaching and other money-
earning activities leave professors with little time for
research. Research universities in developing countries
need both funding and autonomy in order to take their
place in the international research-university network. As
part of this world network, these institutions must keep
up with their peer universities in industrialized nations.
12 HIGHER EDUCATION IN THE WORLD 3
Nevertheless, in many ways, universities in developing
countries are falling further behind.
The challenges are very great indeed: funding; balanc-
ing the consequences of massification with the mainte-
nance of quality; supporting world-class professors;
forming an academic culture dedicated to academic free-
dom, intellectual competition and meritocracy; and prov-
iding a quality education to undergraduate students.
Developing countries, like the rest of the world, require a
differentiated academic system, with mass access at the
bottom and a small research-focused sector at the top.
Mission differentiation is difficult to build where it has
not existed previously, but it is central to a successful
academic system.
CONCLUSION
Universities are multifaceted institutions in all societies.
They are especially important to the knowledge
economies of the 21st century, but their roles extend far
beyond this. Universities are quintessential public-good
institutions; they are an essential underpinning of intel-
lectual life in all societies, and especially in developing
countries. They are key international links for science,
scholarship, culture and ideas. Understanding the com-
plex roles of universities is a first step towards providing
the needed support – not only appropriate public funding
but also academic freedom and autonomy. Too often, the
government and the public see universities merely as eco-
nomic engines and training grounds for key personnel. As
argued herein, they are much more than this. Universities
play an important role in economic development, but this
is only part of their broader mission.
Due to the tremendous pressure placed on higher educ-
ation institutions to cope with increased numbers of stu-
dents and societal demands in a context of inadequate
resources, universities have become mainly reactive
institutions that deal with new responsibilities as best they
can. They can be creative only in ways that permit them
to respond to external pressures. There seems to be nei-
ther the time nor the resources to consider new
approaches to educating students or serving society. In
much of the world, higher education institutions are part
of increasingly competitive societies. As a result, society
asks them to react to the pressures of competition.
Are these trends a good thing for higher education
and, in the long run, for society? Universities have been
forced to give up part of their essential role as centres for
intellectual and cultural life and as social analysts and
critics. They have less ‘space’ for creative and indepen-
dent work. There is less autonomy for decision-making
and for thought.
At the same time, universities are linked as never
before to the practical needs of society as dictated by gov-
ernments (for public institutions) and by the market (for
both public and private institutions). At the beginning of
the 21st century, the pendulum has swung way too far
towards the government and the market, at the expense
of the traditional autonomy of academe. Society would
be better served by a more balanced academic environ-
ment in which universities could be more attuned to the
broader public interest and to the traditional values of
academic autonomy and independence.
This paper has mainly discussed the top tier of the
academic system: the research universities that provide
the most advanced education, a home for public intellec-
tuals and the greatest number of international linkages.
These institutions need special understanding, care and
support. In most countries, the main exception being the
USA, they are public institutions. Research universities
do not represent the entire academic system. Most stu-
dents attend universities that focus mainly on teaching,
and most academic staff teach at such universities. These
institutions also deserve support because they provide
most education and training.
Universities serve many purposes in contemporary
society and they deserve support, not only for their direct
economic role. Societies that ignore the manifold pur-
poses and roles of universities will be much weaker. Uni-
versities are engines of the knowledge economy, but they
serve the humanistic and cultural goals of society and of
individuals.
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14 HIGHER EDUCATION IN THE WORLD 3
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GLOBALIZATION AND HIGHER
EDUCATION:THE ECONOMIZATION OF
THE UNIVERSITY
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almost every area of societal life. The
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tion and the weight of market relations
in every type of social interaction has
SPECIAL CONTRIBUTION I.1
Contemporary challenges for public research universities1 Imanol Ordorika
... La Universidad debe, por tanto, reconfigurar su papel al respecto, lo cual no es algo radicalmente nuevo en su comportamiento, ya que en su devenir histórico ha debido cambiarse a sí misma para responder a las nuevas exigencias sociales que planteaba su entorno (Altbach, 2008). Así, en época reciente se ha propuesto, junto a las tradicionales misiones de la Universidad -formación e investigación-, una "tercera misión", esto es, la contribución al desarrollo económico y social, en especial de su entorno más inmediato, incluyendo evidentemente la reducción de la desigualdad. ...
... Esta reconfiguración del papel de la Universidad no es algo nuevo, pues no se trata de una institución estática; antes al contrario, como sistema dinámico y adaptativo, a lo largo de la historia ha debido re-crearse para responder a los cambios en su entorno, manifestados a menudo como nuevas exigencias sociales (Altbach, 2008). De hecho, en las últimas décadas, junto a las misiones tradicionales ya indicadas -formación e investigación-, ha surgido una "tercera misión", para la que se han propuesto diversas formulaciones, pero que podríamos sintetizar en la necesidad de contribuir al desarrollo económico y social de su entorno (Beraza y Rodríguez-Castellanos, 2007;Laredo, 2007;. ...
... Surge pues, para las universidades la necesidad de conectarse con otras entidades, tanto públicas como privadas o del tercer sector, para contribuir al desarrollo socioeconómico de los ámbitos territoriales en que se ubican (Trippl et al., 2015;Pugh et al., 2016;. Ya no son solo transmisoras del conocimiento científico y tecnológico, sino que generan innovación y contribuyen al desarrollo de los países (Altbach, 2008;Ramírez y García, 2010;Valero y Van Reenen, 2019). Ahora bien, la contribución al desarrollo económico debe también evitar la excesiva desigualdad, no solo porque sea rechazable en sí misma, sino porque existe abundante evidencia empírica de que sus efectos sobre el crecimiento económico son negativos (Cunha Neves et al., 2016), y, sensu contrario, de que los periodos de crecimiento económico sostenido están claramente asociados a una mayor igualdad socioeconómica, por lo que, a largo plazo, evitar la desigualdad y promover el crecimiento de países y regiones son dos caras de la misma moneda (Berg y Ostry, 2017). ...
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... Universities are recognised as the engines of knowledge generation and diffusion with an emphasis on the conservation of knowledge transfer right from the medieval period (Altbach 2008;Boulton and Lucas 2011;Etzkowitz 2013;Klein et al. 2021). A place where staff and students enjoyed the freedom to think, speculate and research as a benefit to society (Boulton and Lucas 2011;Audretsch et al. 2012). ...
... A place where staff and students enjoyed the freedom to think, speculate and research as a benefit to society (Boulton and Lucas 2011;Audretsch et al. 2012). However, Altbach (2008) views the central responsibility of a modern university as that of teaching and provision of technical skills required to meet the demands of professionals and the current employment. Unlike the other higher learning institutions, the original purpose of establishing universities in Africa were to help decolonised government build their capacities to develop, manage resources and close the poverty gap between them and developed world (Sawyerr 2004). ...
... Unlike the other higher learning institutions, the original purpose of establishing universities in Africa were to help decolonised government build their capacities to develop, manage resources and close the poverty gap between them and developed world (Sawyerr 2004). However, most of the institutions established continued with traditional roles inherited from the west (Sawyerr 2004;Altbach 2008;Cantoni and Yuchtman 2014) despite the resident opportunities for transformative research with potential to promote entrepreneurial activities for economic growth and development, ultimately achieving the original goal. While most African universities were and still are located in or near towns, majority of the population dwelt and still dwell in the remote rural areas (Sawyerr 2004) where research opportunities for development activities exist. ...
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... Las universidades, como entidades dinámicas, a lo largo de la historia presentan diversas transformaciones, inducidas por la necesidad de adaptarse a las exigencias del entorno, manifestadas frecuentemente como nuevas necesidades sociales (Altbach, 2008). Así, a las misiones ya aceptadas en una tradición de más de un siglo -formación e investigación-, se añadió una "tercera misión", consistente en la contribución al desarrollo económico y social de su entorno (Laredo, 2007;Rodríguez-Castellanos y Zamora-Sánchez, 2020). ...
... Así, a las misiones ya aceptadas en una tradición de más de un siglo -formación e investigación-, se añadió una "tercera misión", consistente en la contribución al desarrollo económico y social de su entorno (Laredo, 2007;Rodríguez-Castellanos y Zamora-Sánchez, 2020). Por tanto, ya no son sólo creadoras y transmisoras del conocimiento científico y tecnológico, sino además generadoras de innovación y contribuyen al desarrollo de regiones y países (Altbach, 2008;Valero y Van Reenen, 2019). Ahora bien, esta "tercera misión" no sólo incluye el apoyo a empresas y a organizaciones de tipo económico, sino también el compromiso de mejora de las condiciones sociales del entorno. ...
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... The third mission of universities, as the name suggests, is a latecomer among the roles of universities and can be traced to the United States in the 1860s following the rise of the land grant universities (Altbach, 2008). The 11th century (or the mediaeval) university had a single mission of conserving and transmitting knowledge through teaching. ...
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... The third mission of universities, as the name suggests, is a latecomer among the roles of universities and can be traced to the United States in the 1860s following the rise of the land grant universities (Altbach, 2008). The 11th century (or the mediaeval) university had a single mission of conserving and transmitting knowledge through teaching. ...
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