Universities have many roles, and they play them simultaneously in a complex and interwoven existence with students, academics, communities and each other. Today we publish an essay collection with Shakespeare Martineau which untangles strands from this web of connections to help understand better how these roles manifest.
This has been an enjoyable project, and one which has challenged our authors – all from the world of UK higher education – to think in different ways about the changing roles that universities play today. The results are impressive, showing both breadth and depth in expertise as well as insight into the questions at hand.
Given the number and range of activity that universities undertake, we have been necessarily selective in our choices about what to explore. We could have included the university as peacemaker or as employer. Our selection is, therefore, representative and not comprehensive. Our aim is to further explore the knotty question of ‘what is a university for?’. And this is a relevant and timely question: the massification of education, the transition – as has happened in other areas of the public, or quasi-public sector – to a market-driven system, and the challenges of global competition have all challenged individual institutions to reflect on their own positions.
In the midst of major policy change for the UK’s universities, through regulation, funding and the impact of external forces, it is important to take the opportunity to stand back and see higher education in a different way. The anxiety around current changes, not least the fundamental shift in the relationship between universities in England and the role of the government and its regulators, makes it even harder to ask the bigger questions. But we cannot allow the turbulent external environment to completely dominate our thinking: universities will outlast the current round of reforms by hundreds if not thousands of years and so we must always be thinking one step ahead of policy today.
Wonkhe is the home of people, politics and policy in higher education. This collection reflects these themes and the intersections between them. We attempt to identify and share themes which cut across individual institutions through our blogs, email briefings, social media, events, training and consultancy. We believe that in an increasingly divided HE system, there is more need than ever for champions to celebrate the creativity, diversity and sophistication of universities.
As non-partisan enthusiasts for the success of UK universities, we have been delighted to work with Shakespeare Martineau who share our ambition to shape the HE debate. Shakespeare Martineau has been advising education clients for well over a century, and with a longstanding involvement and commitment to the sector is committed to creating a positive difference in higher education.
We are grateful to our contributors, and to the teams at Wonkhe and Shakespeare Martineau who have brought this essay collection to the point of publication.
Mark Leach, Wonkhe
Smita Jamdar, Shakespeare Martineau