Rip: Changes in research & knowledge production and in research performing institutions (especially higher education institutions)

Arie Rip

Changes in the organisation of research, in the interactions with old and new stakeholders, and in the modes of knowledge production (note that ‘knowledge’ is broader than ‘science’!) occur, and appear to be more striking in the last decade or so than before.

There are various attempts at diagnosis of ongoing changes (or transformations).


Gibbons et al (1994) contrast an earlier academic-disciplinary mode of knowledge production (Mode 1) with a distributed, fluid, transdisciplinary mode of knowledge production (Mode 2). Cf. also Nowotny et al. 2001, and alternative analyses of changes in knowledge production (Bonaccorsi, Pickstone, Rip).


Rip (e.g. in Jacob & Hellström 2000) argues that a regime of Strategic Science, where relevance for wealth creation and policy support is internalized, is replacing the earlier regime of “Science, The Endless Frontier”.


Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff (e.g. 2000) on the increased interactions in the “Triple Helix” of universities, industries and governments.


Ravetz and Funtowitz on “postnormal science”, Callon et al 2001 on input from lay people (e.g. patient associations) in science.

The empirical support for the various diagnoses has been suggestive rather than conclusive. What appears to be clear, however, is an opening up of an earlier, stabilized and often inward looking regime of knowledge production. Phrasing it in this way also implies that one could look for signs of “closure”, that is, stabilisation of elements of a new regime, and inquire whether this is the right direction. My own view is that we should avoid too rapid closure at the moment and continue entertaining heterogeneity and experimenting.

Universities, and institutions of higher education more generally, have been involved in knowledge production (in addition to their primary role of educating future knowledge producers and users), and have to respond to these broad changes.

One issue for universities is the “reorganisation of the relationship between teaching and research” (Enders, cf. also Kwiek’s opening paragraph). This is often discussed in terms of the mission and organisation of higher education institutions, in particular universities, and can lead to a conservative position (related to the interest in maintaining the autonomy of the university professor). For the world outside the university, however, these two functions of the university need not be combined. Thus, universities can evolve, and in a variety of ways. One route is in the direction of a ‘research campus’, where training occurs “on the job”. Another route is to separate research and training functions within the university, with the further possibility of an evolution towards universities specializing in training without much research, or in a balanced mix of research and training, or focus on (excellent) research. There have been proposals (in the UK) to push for such specialisation of the universities. De-facto specialisation occurs everywhere, and is increasingly recognized and pursued intentionally.

The University of Twente is an interesting case which shows pro-active response to the changing contexts, but also how it is running into trouble when the new Centres of Excellence and Relevance have to be accommodated in the existing governance structure of the university (see Rip & Eijkel 2004).

The case study also allows reflection on the tension between potential innovation (the introduction of novelty) and governance as a reflection of existing order. Cf. the observation (by Frans van Vught, rector of the University of Twente, and others) that the most successful institution in the Western world, in terms of survival through the centuries, after the Roman-Catholic Church, is the university.

So what about the knowledge economy, the network society and other fashionable labels for overall changes? These are also labels implying a diagnosis, and are invoked to press for certain changes. For our theme, it is important to look at the changing roles of professionals (of various kinds) because the life (and the business model) of universities and other higher education institutions is about training professionals. This is a strong claim, and appears to do away with academic scholarship as the defining characteristic of the life of the university. Even if one disagrees, one has to take into account that the role of universities in knowledge production is historically contingent upon the rise of research universities in the 19th century, and the division of labour in national (and now also international) research systems. The research function can be accommodated outside universities as we know them.