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Would ‘Good’ Values Yield Good ‘Value’? Positioning Higher Education in an Emerging Knowledge Economy

Abstract

The values and the value of higher education are equally contested issues in contemporary South Africa. The affirmation of the ‘utility’ or ‘market value’ of higher education (Etzkowitz 2002), especially in the context of an emerging network knowledge economy (Castells 1996), is sometimes seen as threatening to traditional higher education values of ‘reason and culture’ (Barnett 2000). These values are considered to be a bulwark against trends of instrumentalism, populism, managerialism and performativity, currently influencing calls for the re-positioning of higher education. This paper poses the question: Would good values advance the value of higher education in facilitating social and economic progress, beyond instrumentalism, in the context of an emerging knowledge economy? Good values or ‘intellectual virtues’ (Aristotle) are seen on a continuum from civic-mindedness to institutional self-interest in the spheres of university leadership and governance. The value of higher education is considered in relation to ‘the object of life’ (Aristotle), which is presented in South African terms. The theoretical framework is informed by selected perspectives on universities in the knowledge economy context, including issues pertaining to national systems of innovation, the triple helix of university–government–industry and theory on the role of universities in development. The subject of the study is a research-active university in an emerging economy. It is argued that the value of higher education in a knowledge economy is not by definition antithetical to traditional values, but may be developed and derived from them in either an evolutionary or revolutionary way.

An earlier draft of this paper was presented at the Society for Research on Higher Education (SRHE) conference, Liverpool, UK, December 2008.