Professor Ron Barnett
is Emeritus Professor of Higher Education in the Department of Comparative and Lifelong
Learning at University College London.
Keynote title: “Believing in the University”
Can we believe in the university any longer? What would it mean to do so? Concepts such as truth, knowledge, critique and reason – the underpinnings of the Western university – now seem somewhat passé as a set of foundations of the university. But then, so it might be felt, this cluster of reason has simply been superseded by the cluster of utility, with its concepts of performance, impact, economic return, and the global economy. We believe in the university by understanding it, in short, as the entrepreneurial university. This idea is not to be repudiated as such but, in itself, it is an unduly limited and limiting way of believing in the university. Surely, in the twenty-first century, large sets of expectations and responsibilities are going to befall the university, concerned with – for instance – wellbeing, living with difference, global citizenship, social and civic engagement and public understanding. Is there here, in this cluster of otherness, the basis for a new way of believing in the university? Or is this in itself yet another short-sighted way of understanding the university? In my talk, I shall explore this terrain and offer general principles for believing afresh in the university, founded on the idea of feasible utopias; and I shall go on to offer a particular suggestion, which I call ‘the ecological university’.