This month we read of students and alumni of the University of Oxford protesting the opening of a new Earth Sciences laboratory funded by the oil company Shell. And this is by no means the only instance in which private corporations are supporting academic research.
At the University of Manchester BP is funding a new multi-million pound energy research centre, and in 2003 the research group Corporate Watch published a report on the oil industry and university funding that identified partnerships between oil companies and Cambridge, Aberdeen, Imperial College London, Herriot-Watt and Dundee universities. In 2000 Nottingham University faced a storm of protest over its decision to accept £3.8 million from British American Tobacco, while at Oxford Rupert Murdoch funds a Chair in Language and Communication.
These universities all maintain that accepting this money brings with it no external conditions, and that scholars funded by such endowments retain full academic freedom and independence (see for example Nottingham University’s memorandum of understanding with British American Tobacco).
But it is not coincidental that this growth in the corporate backing of university research comes at a time when the government is making historic cuts to its funding of higher education. To survive the stormy seas of shifting government regulation and global competition, universities are being forced to look for new patrons. Read the rest of this entry »
I recently attended a fascinating workshop on trust and authenticity in interwar Britain. In a period that witnessed the crumbling of old certainties and the appearance of new forms of mass culture, communication and politics, the question of what was real and who could be trusted became a pressing concern. In a world in which everything seemed in flux, what measures did people use to assess authenticity and whose truth-claims did they trust?
Such questions have a long history in the context of higher education. For much of the 19th century, a university degree stood as a decisive marker of class and cultural distinction. Teaching a classical and liberal (and often religious) curriculum, universities sought less to impart specialised knowledge than to cultivate the character and fashion the morals of the elite young men who would be leaders in politics and society.
But by the 1870s, revolutions in transport and communication, industrial development and intensified global trade had begun to refashion the established relationship between culture and power. Rapidly growing in importance were types of knowledge – scientific, technological and professional – that had traditionally sat outside the universities’ domain. Although still a marker of cultural attainment, the old generalist university degree had little attraction for those seeking a career in these expanding sectors. Not only did the universities face charges of irrelevance, they also found themselves in danger of losing their role as institutions of wide cultural, social and political influence…
… read the rest of this post in the THE magazine 6 Dec 2012 issue.
In the face of limited financial resources, universities across the world are increasingly seeking new ways of cultivating the loyalties – and the donations – of their alumni. By employing social media, offering ongoing careers services, organising social events, and even selling coffins, universities hope to build a relationship with their students that will last a lifetime.
But how far are universities really prepared to go? The relationship between Dalhousie University and its alumni in the nineteenth century points to an intimate embrace that many of today’s vice-chancellors might be less than willing to countenance … read the rest of this post at guardian.co.uk