Introduction to the theme

"The Uses of the University”

The socio-economic role of higher education

University of Maribor, Slovenia

30 June – 4 July 2003

Tertiary education is more than the capstone of the traditional education pyramide; it is a critical pillar of human development worldwide. In today’s lifelong learning framework, tertiary education provides not only the high-level education skills necessary for every labour market, but also the training essential for teachers, doctors, nurses, civil servants, engineers, humanists, entrepreneurs, scientists, social scientists and myriad personnel.

Mamphela Ramphele, The World Bank

The citation quoted above refers to the social and economic functions of higher education. As set out by Manuel Castells during last year’s summer school, these functions can be described as: the value creating university, elite selection, labour production (training), knowledge production, and the enterpreneurial role of the university. He also argued that these functions are changing as a result of trends such as knowledge society, globalisation, etc. This year we will focus more specifically on these social and economic functions of the university.

The analysis of the functions of higher education in society will be based on sound disciplinary frameworks taken from sociology and economics. The main theoretic orientation and paradigms will be explored. Methodological approaches will be developed, and particular case studies will provide illustrations of empirical outcomes.

Obviously, the socio-economic role of higher education is not only an academic interest. It is also a widely debated policy issue. At the dawn of the 21-st century the role of higher education is being challenged by new, growing and diversifying social demands and increasing economic pressures. These policy issues will be addressed with a view to the impact of the emerging knowledge society in both developed and developing countries. Special emphasis will be placed on the issues of access and equity. Furthermore, the growing influence of market forces and competition, trade liberalisation, private providers and funding will be discussed.