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Are universities and university research under threat? Towards an evolutionary model of university speciation

journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-08, 11:56 authored by Ben MartinBen Martin
According to some, universities and academic research are under threat. As we move towards a more knowledge-intensive economy, academics face pressures to link their work more closely to economic needs, with potentially adverse long-term consequences. This has been characterised as a fundamental change in the ‘social contract’ between universities and the state, with the latter now having more specific expectations regarding the outputs sought from the former. Others have described this as a transition from ‘Mode 1’ to ‘Mode 2’ knowledge production, or in terms of the emergence of a ‘Triple Helix’ relationship between universities, government and industry. This article critically examines these claims, setting them in historical context. We analyse the history of the university and its evolving functions as it responded to changing external demands. Adopting an evolutionary model, we describe how different university ‘species’ emerged and co-evolved, each with different emphases on the functions of teaching, research and contributing to the economy and society. Turning to the current environment facing universities, we identify the main drivers for change and assess their likely impact, before arriving at conclusions about the future of the university and university research. What we are witnessing today appears to be not so much the appearance of a new (and hence worrying) phenomenon, but more a shift back towards a social contract for the university closer to the one in effect before the second half of the twentieth century—one which, as it did then, may bring about the emergence of new university species.


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Cambridge Journal of Economics




Oxford University Press





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  • SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit Publications

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