1st Edition

The Idea of the Public University Discovering and Teaching Knowledge in a Confused World

By Allan Patience Copyright 2023
    146 Pages
    by Routledge

    146 Pages
    by Routledge

    This book sheds light on the risk of losing the authoritative knowledge discovered and taught by public universities. It argues that public universities are as indispensable now, as never before, for providing governments and citizens with reliable knowledge crucial for confronting the looming environmental, cultural, economic, and political challenges now threatening humanity’s very existence.     

    Acknowledging the history of universities around the world, the book highlights the role they have played in creating and curating knowledge. It examines John Henry Newman’s liberal idea of the university and Wilhelm von Humboldt’s conception of the institution and argues this is all under threat at the hands of fake prophets and biased media preaching "alternative facts" and populist falsehoods. Shedding light on neoliberalism and the tensions between research, education, and training, the author demonstrates that the best pedagogical and economic outcomes are achieved when these interests are dynamically informing each other.

    This book will be of interest to academics, university managers, and higher education policymakers questioning the role, value, and purpose of the contemporary public university.

    1. Introduction: Is the End Nigh for the Public University? 2. Universities as Knowledge Sanctuaries: A Brief Historical Overview 3. John Henry Newman's The Idea of a University 4. Newman’s Idea: Contra and Pro 5. Wilhelm von Humboldt: Education Reformer 6. Humboldt’s Ideal University 7. The Public University in a Conflicted Twentieth Century 8. The Ideological University 9. Conclusion: Reimagining the Public University


    Allan Patience was educated at Monash University and the London School of Economics (LSE). He holds as PhD from the University of Melbourne. He has held chairs in universities in Australia and overseas and visiting academic appointments in the United Kingdom, Japan, and China. He is an honorary fellow in the School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne.

    "This erudite and provocative book calls for not only governments, but everyone who cares about the future, to appreciate universities afresh. As Allan Patience carefully contends, public universities are too important to be starved and crushed. They are not corporations, or an industry. Students are not clients or a commodity. Today’s universities have their roots in ancient traditions and institutions stretched across Asia and the Middle East as well as Europe; communities of bold and creative minds, thinking deeply about big questions, pushing known boundaries. Universities house the academics who solve critical problems and civilize the world. The future health of both democracy and the planet relies on researchers and thinkers, not just being supported, but respected, valued and enabled"

    -Angela Woollacott, Manning Clark Professor of History, The Australian National University

    "Are universities headed for extinction? No, this book argues; but after the damage done by massification, commercialization and heavy-handed state control, their role urgently needs re-thinking. Treating the self-managing university as a vital public good, Allan Patience gives an eloquent defence of a humanist vision for higher education."

    -Raewyn Connell, Professor Emerita, University of Sydney; author of The Good University.

    "As this lucid and accessible book shows, the great liberal principles of Newman and Humboldt that once animated higher education - often more honoured in the breach than the observance - are now at risk of being lost entirely. Drawing on his experiences of a lifetime supporting and teaching in universities, Allan Patience urges us to return to these ideas, before it is too late."

    - Lee Jones, Professor of International Relations and Politics, Queen Mary University of London; co-author of Saving Britain's Universities: Academic Freedom, Democracy and Renewal (2020).