Inayatullah, S. & Gidley, J. Eds. The University in Transformation: Global Perspectives on the Futures of the University

The University in Transformation: Global Perspectives on the Futures of the University S. Inayatullah & J. Gidley (eds.) Bergin & Garvey, Westport, Conn., 2000, US$65.00


It is a sign of the times that a vast part of the debate about the futures of universities is about one central issue – that of funding. So it is as well to be reminded occasionally that there are other more socially vital areas of concern that also require our attention. Inayatullah and Gidley have edited a book that breaks the frame of more conventional approaches and poses a number of wider civilisational questions that should concern everyone. They have assembled a group of scholars who collectively span a very broad array of cultures and circumstances. In so doing, they breathe fresh air into an all-too-often stultified arena.

The book is divided into four parts. Part 1 provides a number of Western perspectives. Philip Spies provides a valuable historical context by placing the deep roots of the university in classical Greece. His focus is the liberal/classic tradition that seeks to develop whole persons through the pursuit of welfare and freedom, as well as goodness beauty and truth. Peter Manicas and Deane Neubauer track the forces of change today via globalisation, finance, economic rationalism and virtualisation. Michael Skolnik and Jim Dator further explore the promise and peril of the shift to the on-line world. Jobs will go and academic freedom will be imperilled. Both Dator and Tom Ables argue that the university must face up to its demise (in its current form) and rebirth in a network marketplace. David Roony and Greg Hearn then contribute an outstanding chapter on how a pervasive ideology of commodification has diverted universities from their path. They argue, rightly in my view, that ‘an ideology of commodification is simply inappropriate in an environment where knowledge, and in particular tacit knowledge, are the hard currencies’ (p. 93). They add that ‘if we strip away the neoliberal assumptions of neoclassical economics we expose a machinery of power that is hostile to a knowledge economy and to the sensible operation of the higher education system’ (p. 94). They go on to argue for the power of human and organisational agency to oppose ‘macro forces … that are not unstoppable’. Indeed, they argue that ‘technological change … can be a window of opportunity for social change’. Overall, this is an inspiring chapter which serves to counter the pervasive economic and technological determinism of our time.

Part 2 assembles several papers mainly written from non-Western contexts. Here the futures of the university are even more problematic and contested. Ashis Nandy contributes a typically forceful paper which argues that Western ‘dominance is now exercised mainly through categories, embedded in systems of knowledge’. He looks at how traditional knowledge systems have been overwhelmed, at how local knowledge can be protected and how processes of recovery and affirmation can be undertaken. His view is that ‘the main responsibility of a university is to pluralise the future by pluralising knowledge in the present’. Tariq Rahman then reviews the history of universities in Pakistan and the struggle to modernise them. The two key trends of privatisation and Islamisation cannot, he concludes, create liberal universities. He then advances a number of proposals for the modernisation of universities in Pakistan, noting that the central issue is that of governance. Shahrzad Kojab next considers an even more diverse and unstable region: that of the Middle East. Here a major dynamic is between despotism and democracy, with the latter under constant threat. A tragic example is that of the Kurdistan University which was eliminated, along with the Kurdish autonomist movement, by Khomeini’s forces in 1979. In this context, ‘the future of the university in the region will be shaped by the conflicts resulting from the struggle over the unequal distribution and exercise of power’ (p. 145). By contrast, Anne Hickling-Hudson looks to the ‘soul of the university’ in the Caribbean as a source of vital scholar activism. She argues that this can be used as a lever of change in the coming decades.

Part 3 concerns alternative visions of the university. It opens with a piece by Ivana Milojevic that critiques current institutions from a feminist viewpoint, then lays out a utopian vision of what a women’s university might look like. Patricia Nicholson then develops two possible future scenarios. One is a ‘mega-corporatised’ view based on ‘advanced learning networks’. The other would be more community-based and offer a range of more informal ‘experience camps’. The other two pieces in this section both begin from a critique of the way that current institutions appear to be servants of a status quo that is itself, in many ways, of problematic legitimacy. Both are informed by the view that Western Industrial Civilisation has overlooked many essential aspects of the inner and outer worlds. Marcus Bussey explores a Tantric view of the university in which matters of spirituality and consciousness become central. Equally, James Grant’s chapter, which is written from within the context of the Marharishi University of Management, begins from a starting point that would be foreign to most members of universities in the world. For Grant: ‘within the consciousness-based paradigm, the goal of education, on an individual level, becomes the creation of enlightened individuals. Once the possibility of achieving enlightenment is recognised, all other goals become gross suboptimisations of the educational process’ (p. 211). Both of these chapters are outstanding in the way that they explore possible futures for the university based on different starting assumptions.

The final section of the book contains two overview pieces by each of the editors. This is a good way to bring together the themes of the book. Inaytullah contributes a wide-ranging piece. He considers it likely that the content providers of on-line courses will eventually create their own universities. On the other hand he believes that ‘while the Net is important, it is transformed consciousness … that is far more significant’ (p. 223). He refers back to the macrohistorian Ibn Khaldun and asks ‘who are the Bedouins?’, i.e., the outsiders. It is a question that should be pondered in depth by all who have interests in the futures of universities. For Inaytullah one of the main challenges for the university is to come to grips with multiculturalism, not in tokenistic forms but in the sense that: ‘knowledge should be taken out of its strict scientific objective stance and located in how different civilisations language the world’ (p. 225). This is, perhaps, the central ‘idea’ of the book. Inayatullah reprises the theme of ‘dissent’ raised earlier by Nandy and then summarises some key ‘drivers’ of change and possible scenarios for the futures of universities.

Finally, Jennifer Gidley contributes a cogent chapter which begins from the view that ‘the main trends and driving forces which have been explored in this book … are forces of dehumanisation of higher education’ (p. 235). She then puts forward a case for universities being seen as highly progressive ‘agents of transformation’ which take ‘higher order knowing’ as their primary focus. ‘Future universities’, she writes, ‘need more wisdom, not more information, and so do our students’ (p 237). She then explores what she calls ‘the human face of university futures’ for 2030 and distinguishes three renewed roles for university staff: brokers, mentors and meaning-makers. From here she develops the notion of ‘humanversities’, re-humanised contexts for seeking wholeness, deep insight and pathways to a civilisation beyond the industrial period.

Overall, this is a book that productively departs from the established academic discourse. It certainly addresses the standard themes of globalisation, finance, the Net and so on. But it also brings to bear a number of non-standard views based on non-Western and other progressive themes. The danger is that it will be marginalised by the fact that it is a high-priced hardback. But it is certainly a book that should be read and pondered upon by all those seeking more vibrant alternatives for currently hard-pressed universities. Not everyone will be comfortable with all the viewpoints of the authors represented here. But everyone will be enriched by the experience of viewing the debate from different viewpoints. I only hope that the publisher has the foresight to re-print the volume in a cheaper soft cover format so that the ideas in this original and thought-provoking book can get the wider hearing they so richly deserve.

Australian Foresight Institute, Swinburne University, Melbourne, Australia, May 2000.