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Can Universities Change?

Special issue call for papers from On The Horizon

Guest Editor: David W. Atkinson

MacEwan University, Edmonton, Alta. Canada

Universities today seem divided about their future, and there is much conversation about what next steps are needed for them to meet the needs of a rapidly changing society while remaining true to their fundamental purpose.  “Innovation” has become a way of doing business, as universities every day announce new initiatives and opportunities.  The question remains, however, whether these developments are at best incremental and what universities need is a fundamental shift in their culture, structure, and governance. There is a shrillness in much of the contemporary conversation, suggesting that universities have reached a water-shed moment. Typical is the observation of Canadian academics Ken Coates and Bill Morrison in their book Dream Factories (2016) where they state that “universities are in turmoil” and that ”the global university system needs a reset.”

This is especially so for undergraduate education, which is often represented as being out of touch with our students.  The issues are many and they are significant.  There are those who wonder whether the entrenched culture and traditional structure of a university is in the best interests of students.  Some worry that universities are becoming instruments of social engineering rather than institutions committed to teaching and research. The teaching-research-service workload is seen as not supporting the university’s key mission of teaching and learning.  There is much about the four-year degree that is arbitrary and does not recognize the possibility of new models and new forms of delivery. Students seem disengaged, and in a world of social media university education has become disconnected from the experience of students.  We question whether they actually learn anything during their time at university.

The issue is where does the truth lie?  For all the criticism heaped upon universities, there is evidence to suggest that they are doing a good job.  Often cited are increased enrolments, healthy employment rates, good job prospects, and high levels of satisfaction among students.  While there may be room for change, the basic structure that has worked so well for a long time is fundamentally sound. Many will claim that there have always been pressures on universities to which they have effectively and persuasively responded. If there is a problem, universities are becoming too much vehicles of public policy, and governments too much intrude into what should be truly independent institutions.

What, then, lies in the future for universities?  Is there need for dramatic change or are they fundamentally sound? Have they lost their way, or do they continue to educate the students we need in the future?  We wish to hear from those who have different and even ground-breaking ideas for how higher education can counter the often-heard criticism of universities.  We recognize that perhaps a radical cultural change needs to take place that may well challenge the current power structures of universities.  As well, we want to hear from those who have contributed to dramatically changing their institutions, especially to how we provide what students want--a good education preparing them for a successful career and a good life.

Submission process and deadlines

Submission deadline: 31st January 2019

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