Markets, Expertise and the Public University: A crisis in knowledge for democracy?

Regular readers will know that we often stress that one of the roots of the OU lies in the social democracy post-war welfare settlement as exemplified by the input of Wilson, Lee, Young, Perry and others. In addition it has been suggested that the OU also led the way towards some of the changes associated with the development of the quasi-market within the higher education sector. Now the relationship between democracy, the market and the universities is to be considered in a keynote address to be made at the OU.

John Holmwood is Professor of Sociology at the University of Nottingham. Holmwood is the Chair of the Council of UK Heads and Professors of Sociology, a fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences, and has recently been elected President of the British Sociological Association. He is also the founder of the Campaign for the Public University, a group promoting an ‘alternative white paper’ for British higher education, particularly in response to funding cuts. He is editor of A Manifesto for the Public University (Bloomsbury 2011) and blogs regularly on higher education issues for the Campaign for the Public University, Research Blogs, Open Democracy, Sociology and the Cuts, and Universities in Crisis. John Holmwood’s current research addresses issues of pragmatism and public sociology. This research has included a set of recent articles in which he has been working through issues of globalisation and social inquiry and on the promise of pragmatism in social inquiry

On Thursday, 28 June 2012, 14:00 – 16:00 he’ll be in Library Seminar Rooms 1 & 2at the OU, Walton Hall, to give an address on the subject: Markets, Expertise and the Public University: A crisis in knowledge for democracy?


Mass higher education is a product of democracy and, largely, a product of the public university. Yet the expansion of higher education has also extended beyond the boundaries of national political communities to create opportunities for profit and prestige. Multinational knowledge corporations vie for market share with fee-greedy elite universities selling education as a positional good, with public higher education increasingly starved of funding. Prior to the emergence of mass higher education, there was widely regarded to be a crisis of democracy deriving from the complexity of public issues and the necessity of experts to advise governments. This was the context for John Dewey’s articulation of the idea of the ‘public’ and the role of the university in education for democracy. With the return of an aggressive neo-liberal agenda that seeks to replace politics with markets, and universities also subject to neo-liberal reforms that place consumer sovereignty at the heart of education and measure knowledge in terms of its ‘impact’, this lecture poses the question of whether we face a new crisis of democracy.


14:00 Welcome and introduction: Jef Huysmans and Nick Mahony (CCIG)

14:10 Keynote lecture: Prof John Holmwood (University of Nottingham)

15:00 Responses by John Clarke and Vron Ware (CCIG)

15:30 Q & A and collective discussion

The event will be followed by a drinks reception.

In the spirit of public experimentation that this project promotes, the event will be webcast live via the Stadium website. Those viewing online will be able to post questions and comments, which will be relayed live to the event.

 Registration RSVP:

Here an OU AL, Tony Murphy, reviews John Holmwood (ed.) Manifesto for the Public University, 2011 and finds it a must for all those with vested interests in HE: students, researchers, VCs, as well as those policy makers actively engaged in shaping the future’

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