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 »
Universities have long been viewed as institutions that produce knowledge for the common good.
They do this in a variety of ways: by undertaking research that leads to developments in health, culture, science and technology; by teaching skills that equip graduates to serve the community in their work as teachers, doctors, engineers and artists; by fostering citizenship and self-understanding; by sitting at the head of a universal education system; and by serving as apolitical places dedicated to disinterested scholarship and learning.
These are the reasons that, throughout the 20th century, societies have valued universities, funded them, and seen them as public institutions.
At the start of the 21st century, however, universities find themselves in turbulent times. In the UK, regulatory reforms are dramatically reshaping the ways our higher education institutions are funded and how they go about their core tasks.
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In her contribution to Scholars at War: Australasian Social Scientists, 1939–1945, Cassandra Pybus recounts the story of a late night drinking session in Melbourne in the middle of 1944. Alf Conlon, head of the ‘Directorate of Research’ reporting to the Commander of the Allied Land Forces in the South West Pacific, and Roy Douglas ‘Pansy’ Wright, the Professor of Physiology at the University of Melbourne, were speculating about what might happen if the northern hemisphere was to be really wrecked by the war. ‘Why shouldn’t Australia be ready to be the new Constantinople?’ they asked. There and then, they set about devising a plan to build a new university that would sit ‘in the front garden of the Commonwealth government’ in Canberra and be staffed by eminent Australian academic expatriates (pp. 66–7). Their proposal, drafted that night over beers and whisky, was communicated the next day to the Australian Prime Minister. In time it would come to influence the founding of the Australian National University.
The themes of masculine sociability, belief in academic expertise, optimism and opportunism, that characterise this story, echo throughout the chapters collected in Geoffrey Gray, Doug Munro and Christine Winter’s volume on the activities of a select group of Australian and New Zealand social scientists during the Second World War…
… read the rest of this review at Reviews in History