Webinar 26 Nov 2021: Who should universities serve?  

A critique of the meaning of social impact and value for money

Date: Friday 26th of November 2021, on zoom

Time:  11am-12pm GMT / 12-13h CET
Please register here : https://cam-ac-uk.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJYkfuyoqzkjG9

Issues at stake

Who should universities serve?
Chris Newfield, Director of Research of the Independent Social Research Foundation

For about fifty years, Anglo-American universities have had one dominant answer to this question: they serve society by serving the economy, which they serve by increasing the individual human capital of students and developing new technology. Universities formally defined their service in pecuniary terms, although informally they traded on popular non-pecuniary effects (learning, personal growth, identity-formation, interesting social experiences, and the creation of new knowledge with no immediate financial benefit). They also shifted to private funding sources in a manner that makes sense only if non-pecunarity and social benefits are ignored. Governments are losing confidence in human capital theory’s claim that university degrees directly increase national wealth, and I’ll argue that we should see this loss of faith as an opportunity to theorize the non-pecuniary benefits of university teaching and research.  I will identify core examples of these and suggest how these might change the university’s relations to its immediate community.

Promising ways forward 

Universities and community wealth building
Martin O’Neill, University of York

Too often, universities pay only lip service to contribution to their local economy, or conceive of that contribution in crude economistic terms. I will be exploring the ways in which universities can take a broader view of their social and economic role within their home localities, seeing themselves as ‘anchor institutions’ that make a contribution to the creation of more democratic and egalitarian local economies.


Christopher Newfield is Director of Research at the Independent Social Research Foundation and was Distinguished Professor of Literature and American Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author of The Great Mistake: How We Wrecked Public Universities and How We Can Fix Them (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016), Unmaking the Public University: The Forty Year Assault on the Middle Class (Harvard University Press, 2008) and the co-author of What Metrics Matter? Academic Life in the Quantified University (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2021). 

Martin O’Neill is Professor of Political Philosophy at the University of York. He is the author (with Joe Guinan of The Democracy Collaborative) of The Case for Community Wealth Building (Polity Press, 2019) and the co-editor of Taxation: Philosophical Perspectives (Oxford University Press, 2018), and Property-Owning Democracy: Rawls and Beyond (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012).


The webinar is part of a webinar series on Alternative conditions for knowledge creation: Invitation to an explorative journey, organised by Dr Eva Hartmann and the Critical Higher Education research group at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge and Professor Sue Wright of the Centre for Higher Education Futures (Aarhus University). The webinar series explores key issues at stake and possible solutions to address them in number of fields. The overall idea is to identify the necessary conditions for the creation of alternative knowledge. 

Please register here : https://cam-ac-uk.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJYkfuyoqzkjG9blw4knTWgTu2WDXLgIzFNv