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United we stand: a framework for critically engaged universities

Universities at the beginning of the 21st century face an existential challenge. Do they fully embrace the competitive path spurred on by global rankings and driven by international student income? A path that shifts the costs and benefits of higher education to those individuals who derive private benefit from it? Or do they forge a different future, building a trust relationship with the public based on their role as custodians of a knowledge infrastructure accessible to all? Professor Glyn Davis argued in a recent speech to the UPP Foundation in London that universities globally are facing a “rising tide of hostility” akin to the hostility shown by Henry VIII when he dismantled the monasteries in the 16th century. Henry claimed monasteries were elite and wealthy institutions that lacked relevance to the lives of ordinary people – arguments that sound eerily familiar to anyone following the political debate around funding for higher education.

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