Editor’s note: As part of the inaugural Annual Conference of the Royal Society of Arts in Peru, Felipe Portocarrero, former chancellor of Universidad del Pacífico, in Peru, gave a speech on the future of universities in Peru and across the world.
His speech is very relevant to think tanks and policy research institutes and reflects many of the concerns that we have addressed over the years.
He presented and discussed 11 dilemas that universities face. You can read it in its entirety below.
- The terms of the current debate
- Rethinking their institutional identity in historical perspective
- Disciplinary specialisation and comprehensive training
- Between the professor who researches or the researcher who teaches
- Universities in knowledge societies
- The information technology and communication (ICTs ) in the digital age
- The job market for students
- Massification, democratisation and quality of higher education
- The dangers of bureaucratisation
- Publish or die?
- The raison d’être of the university
Read the whole speech (Google Translate translation) below:
Read it in Spanish here: Felipe Portocarrero: Royal Society of Arts
Royal Society of Arts – Peru: The great dilemmas that universities face in the 21st century
Ladies and gentlemen, friends:
My first words are addressed to express my thanks to Enrique Mendizabal, who has been kind enough to invite me. In this inaugural act of the activities of the Royal Society of Arts in Peru, I share with you my thoughts on the long term perspectives of the university in Peru and the world. This is a magnificent initiative that I am very honoured to be part of and that is worth being enthusiastically supported. My thanks also to the authorities of the Cultural Centre of the UNMSM for welcoming us in this emblematic Casona, a persistent witness of the living history of our country since its creation as a Jesuit noviciate in 1605 and then, in the middle of the 18th century, converted into the Royal Convictorio of San Carlos, one of the higher schools that was part of the university system of the time. At present, the Casona de San Marcos, as we all know it , is an essential part of the cultural and historical heritage of all Peruvians.
A brief personal reference to start. I speak from the perspective of who has developed an academic career that already spans nearly four decades, during which time I have had an intense work as a teacher, researcher and manager or universitari. This last function has allowed me to observe , through direct experience and my own reading, that higher education institutions, in all societies around the world, are undergoing profound changes that are not given due attention in Peru. And this happens despite the existence of the many ongoing debates and an abundant literature specialised in documenting the major trends and global challenges that, with unprecedented speed, intensity and magnitude in the history of higher education, are impacting on the policies of academic government and administrative management of all the universities of the planet . For some, it is an academic revolution on a global scale that occurred during the last fifty years, whose scope and diversity few could have anticipated (Altbach 2016). The shockwaves of these major transformations, have given rise to complex dilemmas and questions of public and private higher education, and nonprofit, have to deal not only in Peru or Latin America, but also throughout the world.
How to close the gap that has opened up between the human sciences, the social sciences and the so-called hard sciences? How have the relations of cooperation and conflict between the university institution and the societies in which its activities take place evolved? To what extent have the independence and autonomy of the university been affected by regulatory frameworks and the regulatory forces of the State? Where do moral authority come from , the intellectual prestige and social legitimacy enjoyed by the university despite its recurrent problems and heterogeneous quality? Is it not advisable to think critically about the idea of a university, that is, it’s deep and permanent reason for being, without incurring nostalgic idealisms or naive romanticisms? Aren’t there perhaps similar conflicts and tensions facing all universities in the world when you are pressed for performing tasks that often are contradictory increasing or collide with their own original goals? Is it an anachronism to think that the university can still be the “abode” of rigorous thought, the space for the disinterested search for truth and the place to develop research that leads to new discoveries? Can the university, without risking losing its purpose , cease to be the institution where the education of young people seeking a different educational experience takes place, that is, one that provides both a transcendental and practical meaning to their lives? What and how has what teachers taught changed? What and how has what students learn changed? Is it possible to disable the understandable resistance and conservatism of disciplines to innovate the way they are transmitted their contents? What should be the most important characteristics of a pedagogy aimed at stimulating a reasoned understanding of the uncertainties generated by the continuous production of knowledge? Is the tension that is generated between a specialised education and a more general one, that is to say, between the vocational education oriented to the practical and the liberal or humanist more interested in argumentation, the cultivation of the imagination and the development of critical thinking, unsolvable? How to stimulate in young people the interest and passion to understand the mental processes that organise our thinking and the immensely liberating effect produced by knowledge, that is, that “adventure of ideas” referred to by the renowned mathematician and philosopher English Alfred N. Whitehead?
I have always thought that formulating the right questions is the best antidote for not passively submitting to forces that often overwhelm us. This reflective exercise represents the difference between the submissive and fatalistic acceptance of destiny and becoming proactive agents of our future; or, to put it in metaphorical terms, to question oneself is the difference between drifting along drifting currents that we do not control and navigating with a defined course, the fruit of our own deliberations and institutional purposes .
It is then about those great dilemmas and questions that I would like to concentrate my speech tonight+Many of the matters that I will address have been developed further in The idea of reexamined university and other essays (2017) and in the book that Felipe Portocarrero O’Phelan, my son, Paola Huaco Jara, and I published in October 2018 under the title of Dilemmas of university education of the 21st century (2018). It is the second text of a trilogy of which its third volume, currently in process , will be dedicated to reconstructing the idea of a republican Peruvian university. From both books I would like to draw some of their main conclusions. Conclusions that have a remarkable impact on the dynamics of the Peruvian university system today. As discussed below, to achieving academic excellence in the quality of education, encourage the relevance of research and promote efficiency of institutional management, are dimensions that are not outside the margins of these great dilemmas that institutions of public and private higher education, with and without profit, with different degrees and peculiarities, and all over the world, have had to address
In this line of reasoning, I pay special attention to some of the mega trends that are changing, without exception, the local, national and international scenarios in which university systems operate. We are facing issues of enormous importance in public agendas, and that have given rise to controversies and debates that continue to be staged in all regions of the planet, with a few exceptions such as the Peruvian case. I hope that the controversial tone of some of my observations will stimulate your interventions in order to initiate a debate of ideas and proposals as urgent as necessary. Debate that should have as main actors not only the members of the university institution itself, but also those who make public policy decisions in the governments , but also other broad sectors of civil society interested in educational matters. In Peru, a discussion of this kind would require from the actors involved a greater openness to the lessons that come from history, as well as a deeper conceptual elaboration about the type of university education that should be promoted and defended against the simplifying currents that try to impose themselves at all costs on their institutional dynamics.
1.- The terms of the current debate
The university is going through difficult times. For at least three or four decades, pressures from governments and market forces have made the institutional independence and academic autonomy of those usually enjoyed by university organisations during long stages of their long historical trajectory more precarious. New and growing demands have questioned their deep raison d’être, despite the fact that a consensus that has been increasing recognises in them an essential institution for the development of a society and an economy where knowledge must play a central role in the promotion of the general welfare. As a result of this tumultuous new reality, there has been confusion and insecurity about how and where to raise the terms of the discussion. In fact, higher education has become a battlefield between opposing positions, radical militancies and conflicting narratives (Portocarrero, 2017). One in which the discussion about the values and purposes of the university has been a recurrent theme that has given rise to endless debates whose arguments have seldom found points of convergence on certain common objectives. This polarisation has made the road uphill to obtain minimum consensus that approximates the extreme positions (Collini, 2012).
The essential of that controversy can be summarised as follows. For some, this time is witnessing the slow death of the university (Eagleton, 2015): the commercialisation of their intellectual life, the increasingly hierarchical bureaucratisation of their management style, the progressive privatisation of higher education at the expense of the public, the loss of the ability to govern itself democratically, the decline of the collegiate ethos to make institutional decisions, the explosive growth of administrative collaborators, the excessive academic productivity of researchers and the parallel decline in the prestige of teaching activity, among other evidences, constitute the most eloquent testimony of this generalised sensation that has transformed the university into an unpleasant and stimulating place to develop a concentrated academic work. In fact, the most severe critics consider that it has lost that ‘honourable lineage’ that made it a privileged space of modern societies to subject all ideology to a rigorous intellectual scrutiny (Collini, 2017, 2012; Readings, 1999; Belfiore & Upchurch, 2013).
On the other shore are those who argue that Profit and competition among universities for ‘academic excellence’ will lead to an optimal social use of public resources available -which are always scarce in the face of growing needs-, since supply will tend to adjust to an increasingly diverse demand. , demanding and sophisticated from students who act as if they were consumers operating against one more commodity, exactly as they would behave in any other market of goods and services . From this perspective – which not without a certain arrogance claims to speak in the name of reality and the urgencies of the labour market – , the central function of the university is transformed into that of training students -which are now considered consumers- , in highly demanded careers that meet the needs of an economy that diversifies , specialises and needs to maintain sustained growth . As a counterpart to the effort deployed, the academic credentials obtained by these professionals will allow them to obtain high rates of private return and, through This individual benefit will also achieve social goals (Salmi 2009, Mazzarotto 2007). This way of understanding the university forgets that higher education is a carrier of civic and republican values that represent a kind of national consciousness that is hardly reducible to instrumental values and practical purposes (Collini, 2017).
The truth is that liberal or humanistic education -understood in its broadest sense as an exploration open to introspection, to the contrast of perspectives, to the exercise and learning of critical thinking and to the stimulation of human intellectual curiosity- is under siege. . To the extent that North American higher education is an emblematic global reference of this type of education, what happens with it has a great international impact. The great books of the university intellectual tradition of the West in philosophy, history and literature, which allowed an education organised according to principles that ordered the mind and reasoning of the students, are now considered by some to be old museum pieces or old remnants of an elitist education (Casement, 1996). The generalisation of this new common sense has caused that, in the United States, in the last four decades, careers such as literature or philosophy have seen the number of its undergraduate students decrease by half, while those linked to business have doubled their demand in the same period (Zakaria, 2015).
Some authors have addressed in depth the kind of relevant knowledge to train young people whose lives will be spent in a world of increasing complexity and in which technology will play a central role in their education. For that they have had to go against the current and make their way into a jungle of concepts and instrumental categories that have encouraged false beliefs , built idols of clay and , without measuring the consequences of their forced implantation, have colonised the current debate on higher education with a utilitarian language that comes from the field of business . In this framework, liberal or humanistic education can become an antidote to the existential defencelessness to which a runaway modernity pushes us , since this type of education provides youth with the power to manage their own lives, contributes to a greater capacity for be productive workers and, not least, stimulate their interest in being good companions, friends, parents and citizens. Moreover, it helps to build more elaborate, introspective and comprehensive lives, less subject only to material passions and hyper-consumption, more sensitive to the moral consequences of their actions and more interested in the cultivation of virtues such as kindness, honesty and beauty (Gardner, 2011a).
The most representative authors of this thinking orientation are Martha Nussbaum (1995, 2005, 2008, 2010), Edgard Morin (1999, 2002) and Howard Gardner (2008, 2011, 2011a, 2011b). Recognised worldwide for their vast intellectual production, the three have written works specifically dedicated to thinking about the type of education that will need to be developed in modern higher education systems if we want to strengthen our democratic systems. Their common denominator is associated with the idea that it is necessary to promote critical thinking among students, one that does not submit to the overwhelming power of authority and blind follow-up of tradition. According to these authors, only through the cultivation of our own humanity, the development of critical mental habits, of taking charge of our feelings of vulnerability and finitude, will be able to unfold the civic virtues that will become the foundation of democratic institutions whose defence will be in charge of morally balanced peoples.
2 .- Rethink the institutional identity in historical perspective
The medieval university was originally conceived as a teaching institution and as a guardian of knowledge stored in its libraries, museums, archives and repositories of all kinds. Then, at the beginning of the 19th century, the great contribution of Wilhelm von Humboldt, founder of the modern university, consisted in including research as an essential component in the training – Bildung , to use the German concept – of the students. As Philip Altbach (2016) reminds us, all universities in the world are based on this European model of university that began in Italy and France towards the end of the 12th century, then extended to England, Spain, and Central Europe. Then, later, the European empires exported that model to their colonies in Latin America, India, Africa and Southeast Asia. Consequently, it is not an exaggeration to argue that, despite their differences, they all share a common history and past.
Identifying the peculiarities of each university within the framework of this shared history will help to understand in greater depth the opportunities that the future will offer to these unique institutions. Additionally, it will be easier to notice the cultural, economic, social and political functions that societies – local, regional and national – will demand from universities in that unwritten social contract that underlies both. A social contract that has been changing its scope over time, but has always been there, implicitly, without having been the subject of sufficient objectification.
Understanding institutional development in a long-term perspective will put us on the path of recovering the historical roots of the academic spirit that the current university seems to have lost. In this effort to broaden horizons, a growing number of intellectuals, academics, scientists and writers have embarked, who, without falling into good old days nostalgia or sterile idealisations, defend and promote the possibility of a future different from the one that mercantile logic wants to impose of any other kind of consideration. The next decades will see the increase of those who join the ranks of this movement that seeks to rethink the historical identity of the university in light of the new challenges that currently challenge it. It will then be necessary to learn to navigate among those who want to turn it into a corporate organisation that responds to the urgencies of a present that has a very limited concern for the future and those who dream of a sterile return to a tower of medieval ivory that seeks to protect privileges of an academic oligarchy that, at this point in history, is archaic and unviable (Portocarrero, 2017).
3 .- Disciplinary specialisation and comprehensive training
Training for a changing labour market and the cultivation of one’s humanity will remain the two great formative ideals of the university in a tension that has never been completely resolved. Is it possible to reconcile the vocational instruction directed towards the useful, practical and productive that the specialist seeks, with an integral formation in which the formation of the character, the critical reasoning, the disciplinary knowledge, the aesthetic appreciation and the civic responsibility that proposes converge liberal education? It is a recurring conflict and, for some like the sociologist José Joaquín Brunner (1990), difficult to solve. Perhaps the very existence of this tension is the necessary impulse to reach agreements that will surely be provisional and in constant renewal.
Two positions are faced against each other: those who defend the education of educated people concerned about the harmonious development of their various faculties and talents, and those who argue that late capitalism requires specialised professionals in a discipline to be able to work efficiently in public spheres and private. While the former seek self-knowledge and the cultivation of their humanity, the latter make performance, productivity and efficiency the main axes of their activity. The first involves developing among students an intelligence that expands their learning potential, that uses technology at their disposal as a means and not as an end in itself, that is able to examine the complexity of reality in a systemic way and that does not succumb to the sterilising risks of hyper-specialisation. This will prevent the ‘technocratic or commercial despotism’, as Berlin (2017) called it, reduce the students to lead the life of the anthill, that is, an impoverished life in terms of obtaining more extensive and not only specialised knowledge , mechanised in their learnings and dehumanised in their spiritual pursuits. History is full of examples of how the accumulation of power in the hands of “experts” has led them to become relatively immune to democratic control.
We find ourselves, therefore, faced with an unstable and precarious equilibrium, an inconclusive and recurrent dispute that refuses to accept a compromise between more permanent human values and more contingent market interests. As if we were moving in a pendulum fashion between the two extremes without finding a balance that satisfies the conflicting positions. Therefore, to constantly promote the approximation of both shores is an essential task during the coming decades: building bridges and not dynamiting them should be the slogan. It will depend on this approach to understand adequately the complex links that exist between the aims of university education, the consolidation of democracy, the stimulus for cultural and scientific creation, and economic development.
Faced with the colossal magnitude of these issues, universities can contribute to the great debates of the contemporary world by expanding the cultural horizons of their time, better training new generations of professionals and promoting original research that broadens the frontiers of knowledge. In any case, the university will survive the turbulence and instability that await it in the future. Its long and extensive trajectory of almost nine centuries has given innumerable historical samples of a special capacity to resist and adapt to different and changing environments and demands. Its deepest and most permanent raison d’etre is to train young people who cultivate their humanity, develop a critical thinking, are looking for a better personal and professional future, are open to the exploration of new scientific horizons, are trained in rigorous methodologies and they do not stop being attentive to the events of their respective societies. This should be the guiding north of the institutional policies of the universities, since in that distinctive feature sits the most vital source of its social legitimacy (Portocarrero, 2017).
4 .- Between the professor who researches or the researcher who teaches
It is known that the world of higher education is divided between those universities that dedicate their efforts to research and teaching universities and exclusively training universities ( teaching universities or colleges ). While in the former its main mission is the production of new knowledge of high academic quality in the various fields of knowledge, in the latter the emphasis of its institutional activity is focused on the training of competent professionals who can meet the demands of societies that they grow and diversify, and in channelling the aspirations of young people who seek to improve their levels of well-being through a labour insertion in line with their expectations of social mobility.
In this general framework, some consider that the balance between teaching and research has tilted dangerously in favour of the second and to the detriment of the first, and others maintain that this emphasis is the engine needed to enhance creativity and creativity. academic imagination. As a result of the above, the academic career (teachers and researchers) has undergone enormous changes that have affected the reputation and prestige of those who enjoyed until a few decades ago. The power that university professors possessed during the second half of the twentieth century has declined in a way that few had anticipated after the golden thirty years of stability that followed the Second World War. The autonomy that universities can still exhibit in terms of curricula, requirements for obtaining academic degrees and teaching and learning processes, seems to be threatened by the growing demand for accountability that usually adopts different ways of measuring the productivity of its performance. Fatigue and discontent are growing among the various academic communities around the world under constant intellectual productivism and the setting of metrics that encourage competition, but discourage peer collaboration.
The accelerated decrease of the ‘appointments’ or the traditional ‘ tenure track ‘ in the United States and other European countries, highlights the change that has occurred in the teacher recruitment system and that, as a consequence of the above, has ended for affecting also the researchers. The predominance of a huge majority of part-time teachers and full-time teachers with ‘ non tenure track ‘ , dedicated exclusively to the teaching of classes, is the most eloquent evidence of this phenomenon on a world scale. Of course, this has meant that the teaching ethos has declined, that their commitment to intellectual activity has been weakened and that few speak proudly of their teaching vocation. The consequence of the above is the loss of spirit and motivation to accompany the processes of personal and intellectual maturation of the students. The excessive rationalisation and measurement of the learning process through the establishment of objectives, competences and rubrics, has contributed to this teacher fatigue as a consequence of the appearance of a ‘pedagogism’ that some critics with severity. And it should not be forgotten that it is precisely that teaching ethos that creates the link with the students and, for that reason, the one that defines the educational quality of the universities. Paradoxically, this occurs in a context of reduction of private and public funds for research and, as a consequence, of a relative loss of their social legitimacy . At the same time , there is more pressure for teachers to meet the expanded demand for higher education among a sector of the young population that has not yet stopped its population growth. Recovering the formative role of teaching in tune with the curiosity that the researcher develops in his intellectual explorations, will be one of the most complex tasks of the coming decades.
5 .- Universities in knowledge societies
According to some authors, one of the most significant impacts of the global economy on the field of higher education has been to position universities at the forefront of knowledge creation, research and innovation. Higher education institutions have come to be considered as engines of economic growth and, as a result, are now subject to greater public scrutiny and an expansion of society’s demands that also pose a greater role in their performance. This role, some scholars believe, should be aimed at promoting the economic development of societies at local, regional, national and international levels.
It should not be forgotten that it is increasingly common to find communities and networks of researchers working on shared projects in the domains of science (biotechnology, specific industries) and technology (digital developments in information technology). These are initiatives whose nature has acquired a global character and whose knowledge is used by leading multinational companies and also by the more traditional ones, such as those belonging to the automobile industry.
As a consequence of the above, talent has become more mobile, moves more frequently between different regions of the world and feels less tied to defined geographic spaces. There are many researchers – in fact, the precise number of academics in general is unknown – who circulate internationally to work on specific projects on a global scale, projects whose nature requires them to move away, temporarily or permanently, from their countries of origin. Something similar happens with prominent professors of different nationalities who are hired by the most prestigious research universities in the world to be part of its teaching staff.
Undoubtedly, research universities represent a minority fraction that, according to some estimates, does not reach 5 percent of the total number of universities in the world (Altbach, 2016). Despite their limited number, however, these universities have a powerful effect of attracting the growing volume of international students who wish to study outside their countries of origin. The segment has grown faster in recent decades has been to undergraduate students, a process that has given rise to a market produces several thousand million dollars a year. The motivations of these young people are multiple, but achieving greater employability and obtaining a better quality education can be considered among the most powerful stimuli for studying abroad.
Many of these young people find new professional opportunities that make them decide stay in the societies that have welcomed them as students, generating what for many years is known as the ‘talent drain’. Factors of attraction (prestige, employability, disciplinary diversity) and expulsion (repression and / or political instability, ethnic and / or religious conflicts, low educational quality) have produced an intense dynamic of mobility of academic talent, whose scenario, it is important to mention It is not only international. In fact, this student mobility also occurs within each country, reproducing a logic of migration of talent stimulated by the expectations of personal and professional improvement, but on a national scale, that is, from cities with low relative development towards others that offer a better quality in education offered, as well as greater alternatives for personal fulfilment, income generation and employment possibilities.
6 .- The information technology and communication (ICTs) in the digital age
There is a generalised consensus that recognises the enormous transformative power of virtual networks, digitalisation and information and communication technologies in all areas of university work (organisational / administrative management, teaching and research). An unprecedented academic environment has emerged with overwhelming force in the 21st century. The gains in efficiency and effectiveness of management, the simplification of processes in contexts of a mass of student income, the expansion in the offer of methodologies for teaching and learning, and the greater accessibility of information, are reasons justifiably used by those who consider that technologies of various kinds -including those used in the world After a judicious adaptation of the corporate structure, they are essential to project towards a modernity that manages to emancipate itself from the forces adverse to the change that usually prevail in university environments.
ICT’s will continue to influence higher education in the fields of research, teaching, learning and student recruitment. It is a round trip, because the universities will produce new technological discoveries that, in turn, will create new demands on themselves. It seems that, in the actual educational field, the changes are incremental, gradual absorption and not as disruptive as some thought they would be . This is demonstrated by the unequal results obtained by mass online open courses in terms of the type of learning obtained. In any case, if there is something about what nobody doubts is that thanks to the Internet, knowledge will become a ubiquitous presence and available to anyone who wants it from anywhere on the planet. A broad democratisation of information and knowledge will equip students with a ‘cyberinfrastructure’ unprecedented in the history of humanity.
That same availability of information and knowledge, however, will become so massive and unmanageable that only disciplined minds – as Howard Gardner (2008) claims – will be able to take charge of their proper discernment and use , especially at a time when the ‘post-truth’ seems to have taken root in cyberspace. Massive online courses – MOOCs – will continue to generate interest among a population of different social strata and ages, thanks to the variety of their offer and the limited cost compared to other alternatives. However, doubts about the quality of the education they promote and the learning they achieve , accentuated by the high number of abandonment among those who enrol, will subsist until new evidence proves otherwise. While the digital university has gained momentum in the United States and Asia, universities with a high classroom component will continue to exercise a broad hegemony for a few more decades. Of course, in the long term they can also progressively lose ground to new alternatives that challenge and threaten public universities, a sector less prepared to face this ubiquitous and attractive competitor. The appearance of personalised short online courses (SPOCs) and other hybrid modalities, which do not necessarily lead to an academic degree, will increase their presence in the university education of the future.
However, it should not be forgotten that the Internet, often dominated by commercial interests , shows serious inequalities despite the enormous democratising effect of the knowledge it has brought with it. Nobody escapes the significant differences in resources that exist between the most dynamic centres for the generation of knowledge -usually associated with European countries and the Anglo-Saxon world that have sophisticated storage and transmission systems for their scientific production-, and the countries in of development, whose volume of academic production, lack of use of English as the dominant academic language at the present time and resources for scientific research, is not enough to convert them into key international players (Esterman and Kupriyanova, 2018).
7.- The job market for students
As we have already said, in the surveys and analyses on employability that are carried out with regular frequency, it is a recurrent fact the mention to the lack of correspondence between the educational offer promoted by higher education institutions and the demands of an economy and a society that they are undergoing great transformations in the different fields of knowledge (Portocarrero et al., 2018). In a similar sense, the explorations of the ‘futurologists’ (European Political Strategy Center, 2016, Gray 2016, Gershon, 2017, Machuca, 2017, McKinsey, 2017, Miscovich, 2017, Nature, 2017, Sagenmüller, 2017, Torres, 2017 World Economic Forum, 2016) on which will be the careers that will have greater attraction and validity in the next decades, they pay on the stereotype that the practical knowledge and the tools management will inexorably displace those others that come from the arts, human sciences and social sciences.
To this type of knowledge, its defenders attribute a greater “value” to it -when, in fact, they should speak of “price” or “remuneration” in the labour market- by virtue of its applicability and usefulness for the work and its relevance to attend diverse social needs (biomedical engineering, bioinformatics, robotics, mechatronics, big data , among others). The other disciplines are considered das as marginal is of limited relevance and even useless it is to face a material, economic and social emergencies postponed, especially in an era characterised by globalisation and amazing technological advances. The truth is that some companies believe that university systems should provide professionals with competencies that make them more productive, enterprising and innovative. An education, in short, more interested in the rapid insertion into a demanding and changing labour market, than in the exploration of the meaning and purposes of life among students. In this perspective we lose sight of the fact that the logic implicit in the first type of education predominates the search for personal success and the obtaining of immediate results over learning as a higher end , that is, as a source of spiritual enrichment and encouragement for the development of human curiosity and creativity (Deresiewicz, 2014).
In truth, this practical and applied dimension – which, incidentally, is also part of student expectations and would be naive and risky to ignore – should be complemented by another aimed at training people who will become future citizens. That is to say, in professionals capable of understanding the role that they will have to develop in the broader social scenario and, at the same time, to be clear about their function of generating wealth that promotes greater general prosperity and public welfare. In this way, they would be able to better understand their place in the world, but also their contribution to a higher good of a collective nature in the historical coordinates that they had to live. This form of education involves cultivating among students an intelligence that expands their learning potential, that uses technology at their disposal as a means and not as an end in itself, that is able to examine the complexity of reality in a way systemic and that does not succumb to the sterilising risks of hyper-specialisation.
8 .- Massification, democratisation and quality of higher education
Democratisation in access to university and the consequences on the quality of higher education will continue to be a source of controversy. It is an unprecedented expansion of the number of young people who aspire to pursue university studies in practically the whole world, a process that begins after the end of the Second World War and that accelerates since the 70s. that the university, as defined early by Martin Trow (1976), ceases to be an institution that exclusively trains elites to become a massive institution . An institution which is perceived as a space for the social mobility of a large contingent of young people who look for the symbolic distinction that grants to have higher studies in the construction of their personal projects. At the heart of this process is the complex dilemma about the type of income, selective or universal, for which universities will bet.
It is very likely that the rising costs to access them and the withdrawal of the state to finance the studies of young men and women – many of whom now have to borrow by mortgaging their future – , will be accentuated dangerously in the years to come. The massive student protest in Chile shows that this is a phenomenon that is not confined to developed countries. In fact, this process may give rise to a sort of de facto privatisation of higher education. A reality that has become especially visible in the United States, with the incessant growth of teaching pensions, the emergence of for-profit universities and the increase in the abandonment of studies among lower-income sectors with a lower educational tradition family. Higher education will then tend to concentrate among those who have greater economic resources and ability to pay, and not among those with a greater talent or intellectual curiosity.
One of the likely consequences of the above is that a growing flow of young people with better skills will be directed to study in Asia and Europe and no longer in the expensive and exclusive American universities, reversing the trend that has prevailed for several decades. An expansion of student protests seems to be on the horizon due to the discomfort generated by the greater social stratification that is taking place in access to university studies. Poor universities in the continents with less relative development such as Africa and Latin America will face greater pressures for the access of more young people to everything that university life represents in terms of social recognition and welfare improvement. The greater the awareness that education constitutes the most important cultural capital that young people will have to establish their role and location in society, the greater the degree of social conflict that will appear due to the gap that will be perceived between aspirations and reality.
9 .- The dangers of bureaucratisation
The growth of functional units and specialised administrative staff has acquired scales unimaginable until a few decades ago. The presence of professional managers with a corporate management style has provoked an open distrust in the members of the diverse communities of students and teachers. There are those who consider that this power has overflowed beyond its management tasks, establishing vague goals that seek to be evaluated by inappropriate or ill-defined metrics. This overflow of attributions, within the framework of a supervisory atmosphere that uses a new business-like language, has caused an increasing discomfort among teachers. The most immediate consequence has been the impoverishment of community life and the loss of motivation and commitment among its members.
Of course, the requirement for a more efficient and timely management should be part of the priorities of any university organisation. But this should not lead us to stop listening to the widespread demands of teachers by the simultaneous decline in its classical academic freedom and d the effective power they formerly exercised to direct-or, at least, participate organically-in the fate of their institutions. Tensions and constant conflicts are usually the common currency of academics who feel subjected to the arbitrary dictates of a bureaucracy that ignores the complexities and processes of teaching and research. Worse still, it imposes its own administrative priorities without making them the object of an internal, collective and transparent deliberation. Benjamín Ginsberg (2017), professor of Sciences Policies at the Johns Hopkins University, has called this process ‘the fall of the university teacher’ and has documented it extensively in a book that carries the same title. New and more creative forms of internal governance and decision-making that allow for regaining the leadership and freedom of the teachers will have to be opened up in a climate adverse to that change.
10 .- Publish or die?
The spiral that has become published in specialised magazines – the famous ‘ publish or perish’ – has transformed the university into a sort of factory in which the quality and relevance of its ‘products’ is not discussed mostly. For some like Bernard van der Zwaan (2017), the universities seem to have sold their souls to the devil, because they pay more attention to the rankings than to the issues that concern their intellectual leadership in society. Climbing positions in international rankings through indicators that contain questionable performance evaluations and the publication of the largest possible number of investigations in the more than 30,000 journals in specialised studies that are currently estimated in the world, has become a current against which few universities are able to propose other institutional priorities. Other priorities that allow to show their true intellectual and academic strengths.
An avalanche of digitised papers -which use English as the new lingua franca- , now floods the electronic platforms. The almost monopoly of this intellectual production is in the hands of publishing companies like Elsevier, whose main objective is to capture the scientific production of universities for commercial purposes. If before the reputation fell on the quality of the teaching of the teachers, now the number of publications produced individually and their impact in terms of readership is the key factor of the new model that qualifies as a successful university institution. From this perspective, Yudkevich, Altbach and Rumbley ( 2017 ) they rightly affirm that the positions in the university rankings constitute a kind of ‘zero sum’, since the elected institutions, once the first three positions are defined, are reduced to the best 100, as if the academic quality is constrained to that and not another number of university institutions. Those familiar with the world university systems are well aware of the existence of innumerable innovative and creative higher education institutions that do not appear in the world rankings, but whose academic quality is recognised locally or nationally. There is abundant evidence, on the other hand, about the dark side that may emerge when in the eagerness to improve their relative positions or due to the permanent pressure to be successful and to enjoy worldwide recognition, Institutions lose scruples and begin to manipulate numbers to improve their performance (performance enhancement) or to publish in specialised journals of dubious quality that, nevertheless, are indexed in Scopus or the Web of Science (Yud kevich, Altbach, Rumbley, 2017 ). While it must be recognised that the organisations that produce the rankings try to measure the quality of the universities in the best way they know how to do it, it would be naive to ignore how important or not the search for identifying academic excellence is a purpose not always explicit to generate commercial benefits among its promoters.
On what should not be more doubt is that the pursuit of academic excellence is a desirable goal in any institution of higher education. And if the rankings contribute to that end in some way, their indicators should be welcome. However, it would be nonsense to think that the evaluation of university quality should be based on the position of each institution in these rankings. The institutional construction of a university has such a vast and profound complexity that it refuses to be revealed in metrics that simplify, sometimes to an absurd extent, its singular internal dynamism and impact on the society in which it operates.
Even though it is still the best academic evaluation mechanism available, the peer review system is being questioned more frequently by the mediocre quality of its content, errors of appreciation and even by fraud and plagiarism that have been detected in time, and that have produced scandals that the media have disseminated with scrupulous precision. In any case, the legitimate individual impulse of many researchers – supposedly accredited by the number of citations obtained in their papers -, has produced a decline in the internal cohesion of academic communities, distorting institutional priorities, and discouraging collective production and greater intellectual reach. More open, brief and transparent review processes are being promoted in the domains of the natural and medical sciences, and it will not be long before other fields of knowledge adopt similar methodologies.
In addition, the increasingly expensive access to databases of these journals has revealed the paradoxical situation of what is called double dipping in English , that is, the fact that these companies publishers control the publication of research results that, in many cases, have been financed with funds from the public sector, from the university institutions themselves, from the private sector or from foundations. That is why it is not surprising the existence of claims and protests in Europe and the United States to achieve open access to these publications. The San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (2012) and the Amsterdam Call for Action on Open Science (2016), are called warning about the dangers that surround the dissemination of scientific production when it is to become simple merchandise. The recent decision of the university system of California not to renew the subscription of academic journals with Elsevier, due to the prohibitive rates charged, points in the same direction.
Should not stop noted that a powerful current of opinion for the ‘open access’ publications has been making its way and that, despite not having made significant and visible results so far, it tends to create an atmosphere of criticism and rejection of the commercial logic currently in force (Altbach, 2017). On this particular topic, there is a stimulating text published by the League of European Research Universities (LERU) – Open Science and its Role in Universities: A roadmap for cultural change (2018) – about how to achieve a profound and not only cosmetic cultural change in the way in which diverse stakeholders in research, education and knowledge exchange between diverse communities create, store, share and disseminate the results of your activity. It is a remarkable set of principles, policies and practices that these 23 elite European universities in the field of research propose to achieve a profound change in the way we see and practice our scientific activity+A powerful tendency to make knowledge more accessible, public, transparent and less subject to commercial interests, will continue to be an issue of great relevance in the future.
11.- The raison d’être of the university
Great historical processes such as the emergence of new nationalisms that oppose globalisation, climate change and its impacts on the sustainability of the available natural resources and the transformations in the balance of power between the great world economic blocs now advocating more protectionist policies , will define the contours of the new global geopolitics. In a similar sense, the great discoveries in the field of biogenetics and physics, the development of new labour markets and the growth of some large cities in the world, among others, will also affect the performance of universities in ways complex and varied that it is impossible to address here in detail. These will have the need to adapt creatively to what seems to be possible, according to Bert van der Zwaan (2017) in the emergence of large centres of knowledge and innovation (‘ knowledge hubs’) in the world, especially in some regions of the United States, Europe and Asia.
Faced with the colossal magnitude of these issues, universities can contribute to the great debates of the contemporary world by expanding the cultural horizons of their time, better training new generations of professionals and promoting original research that broadens the frontiers of knowledge. In any case, the university will survive the turbulence and instability that await it in the future. Its long and extensive trajectory of almost nine centuries has given innumerable historical samples of a special capacity to resist and adapt to different and changing environments and demands. Train young people who cultivate their humanity, develop a critical thinking, are looking for a better personal and professional future, are open to the exploration of new scientific horizons, they are trained in rigorous methodologies and do not cease to be attentive to the events of their respective societies, they will continue to be the deepest and most permanent reason for being of the university. But it will not be an easy task, free of opposition, without obstacles or questions. But in this unequal battle, which will be confronted with powerful factual interests that seek to subdue its control, in this struggle to remain independent and autonomous academically, is its most distinctive feature and the most vital source of its social legitimacy. But in this unequal battle, which will be confronted with powerful factual interests that seek to subdue its control, in this struggle to remain independent and autonomous academically, is its most distinctive feature and the most vital source of its social legitimacy. But in this unequal battle, which will be confronted with powerful factual interests that seek to subdue its control, in this struggle to remain independent and autonomous academically, is its most distinctive feature and the most vital source of its social legitimacy.
In conclusion, as can be seen in light of the dilemmas and trends that I have summarised, we find a debate that remains open and that the available evidence points to it being maintained in this way for the next decades. On the one hand, we have those who could be characterised as defenders of a tradition and a past who are considered as bearers of ideals and values in which the driving forces that gave the university the strength and dynamism that has allowed it to disappear for centuries. On the other, there are those who consider that the ideas of the past must leave the way free to the demands of a reality that does not allow postponements or fearful institutional behaviours, because the risk of not changing would be to fall into intellectual obsolescence and academic backwardness. These classifications are, of course, simplifications that often raise divisions and exclusions that do not adequately translate the various institutional responses that current reality it shows us. In fact, those who denounce with nostalgia the loss of values in the current universities cannot be classified in any case as reactionaries, nor could they be attributed a necessarily progressive character to those who embrace the new modalities of academic management oriented to the market. The idealism of some and the realism of others is not equivalent to the defence of tradition against progress and modernity. Just as there are not enough arguments to justify entrenching themselves in opposing and irreconcilable positions, there are no reasons to ignore their potential and enriching interaction.
My experience leads me to affirm that extreme positions make educational institutions unviable and that, therefore, variable doses of each of these criteria are needed to manage the development of universities. To achieve this purpose, it is necessary to be accompanied by a flexible rationality that allows the construction of institutional policies that help face complex challenges with an adequate capacity for organisational adaptation. That adaptation, however, should not imply a renunciation of its essential function and core values. The ideals that do have clarity on the mechanisms necessary to achieve their objectives run the risk of being shipwrecked in ineffectiveness. They seem like, in more than one sense, that realism that only strives to obtain results which, with excessive utilitarian speed, are considered successful without noticing the negative and unanticipated consequences that come with their realisation. From my perspective, the future of the university in Peru and in the world will continue to be threatened by these two extreme forces that try to impose one on another, without realising that each one has contributions to offer to a common objective. We will have much greater opportunities to reach a safe harbour if in the current times we navigate recognising what are the currents that want us to fall into one of those two great chasms.