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The Philosophy of Higher Education: Concepts, Contours, Challenges

CHEF Talk (webinar). Speaker: Ronald Barnett, Emeritus Professor, University College London, IOE, UK. Free and open to all.

04.08.2020 | Søren Smedegaard Bengtsen

Dato tir 08 sep
Tid 15:00 16:00
Sted A Zoom-link will be shared with the participants closer to the event.


The philosophy of higher education was born in the early 1990s and has since taken off across the world.  However, there has been little reflection as to the nature of the field and some element of reflexivity is surely now timely. In this talk, I shall try to identify some key concepts, hazard some suggestions as to the contours and boundaries of the field, and point to some challenges. Here are a few such matters:

  • Does the field of the philosophy of higher education in fact enjoy a field to itself or is it a sub-plot in the larger field of the philosophy of education? I shall argue that it is distinctive in a number of respects.
  • The concepts of university and of higher education: are they synonyms or are they distinct?  I suggest that, while they overlap, their centre of gravity resides in different places - and that this distinction is crucial for an understanding of the field.
  • We may say that the philosophy of higher education has to be a social philosophy but how is the relationship between philosophy and sociology to be construed here?  What might ‘theory’ mean here?
  • Is the philosophy of higher education to be a critical field or ‘post-critical’?
  • Should the field be driven by practical and social problems and issues and be looking to draw in philosophical resources or should it start from the texts of luminaries and then seek to apply that work to higher education and the idea of the university?
  • Is the field to be essentially descriptive (identifying concepts by which to understand its present condition) or normative (proposing ways of going on) or imaginative (glimpsing feasible possibilities) or utopian (venturing entirely new designs for the university and for higher education)?
  • Should the field be significantly affected by the Coronavirus - and if so, in what direction might it now unfold from here on?
  • Should we concern ourselves with the way we write?

Please register for the webinar here   

The webinar is organised by the Centre for Higher Education Futures (CHEF) at Aarhus University.