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Introduction: The university revisited


Although universities are asked to play a role in the European knowledge society, the precise scope and meaning of this role is still under discussion. A major issue in this debate is the trend to adapt universities to economic needs and demands of society. In view of taking a critical stance against a one-sided economic interpretation of activities and functions of universities, their so-called “public” role is increasingly stressed in the debate as a crucial responsibility of universities that should not be marginalized and therefore deserves our attention. In this paper, which is the introduction to a special issue on the public role of the university, we want to stress the importance of addressing the question of “the role of universities in the Europe of knowledge” in an open way and thus, without prejudices against or in favour of possible answers. It is our contention that a critical view of what is happening in universities today cannot simply rely on authoritative ideas or principles that are vaguely reminiscent of our university traditions. Consequently, this introductory paper pleas for a firmer argumentative and a richer empirical basis that takes account of the fact that our background (horizon) has thoroughly changed in comparison to traditions that still implicitly inform our judgement of what universities can do, should do or should not do. Finally, we will discuss the way in which the articles collected in this issue are intended stimulating and supporting the debate on the public role of the university in Europe.

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  1. 1.

    The contributors to this special issue are all part of the European Research Network on the Civic Role of Universities (ERNoCRU).

  2. 2.

    In the Communication of the Commission the term ‘university’ is used in a broad sense, comprising all institutions of higher learning and thus including polytechnics.


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Correspondence to Maarten Simons.

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Simons, M., Haverhals, B. & Biesta, G. Introduction: The university revisited. Stud Philos Educ 26, 395–404 (2007).

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  • Knowledge society
  • Knowledge economy
  • Higher education
  • University
  • Europe