Reimagining The University
Second, the urban middle class life, to which modern universities were inextricably linked, has changed too. The current popularity of the university studies can clearly be linked to the rise of middle classes in the developing countries and urbanisation: So far, the trend may have sustained in the hope that this wave of urbanisation and middle class expansion will follow the industrial revolution template: In short, East will become the new West. But this may not happen. Simply because we are 200 years late, the current social changes in India, China and elsewhere will have a completely different trajectory, leading into post-industrial life of contract jobs, lifelong learning and uncertainties. This undermines the promise of an university degree. This may mean the universities may need to look closer to middle class career paths, and tweak their curricula and delivery in sync with the rapidly changing requirements. None of the regulatory requirements and academic culture prepare them for this. Rather, it often bestows them with a self-fulfilling logic, perhaps inherited from an age when universities were to serve monastic communities, that their job is to prepare the students for a life in the universities. Anything else is seen as a 'neo-liberal' incursion, a perversion of the lofty aims of the universities.
We are yet to agree how the universities can adapt, and failure to adapt prompts the discussion about its decline. New universities, however, start with a clean slate, and have an opportunity to re-script what the universities are for. This may not be about succumbing to ready-made For-Profit templates, which has so far been about using the old university template to generate profits on the back of state subsidies. True innovation, in curriculum as well as how an university goes about its business, has been rare. But, one would think that the space for new thinking has now opened up: The pressures on the traditional university model is now coming to a breaking point as the state support recedes, alternative providers leverage technology and promise of middle class careers disappear. The logic of not fixing something that isn't broken has served the sector only so long: The job of New Universities must start with being new.