Academisation and its Discontents: Causes and Consequences of Universities' Knowledge Monopoly
Universities have become central to 'knowledge society' despite, until recently, restricting their education to a small minority and doing as much to constrain as to promote the growth of knowledge. Their attainment of virtual monopoly on knowledge creation, validation and dissemination is due partly to unique advantages in teaching and research. But universities have also worked tactically to acquire and extend their monopoly - constructing the social demand for knowledge, and inducing governments to purchase it, or compel private agents to do so. Once-ascendant rival knowledge producers have been co-opted or eliminated, and knowledge redefined to locate it in academics' models and internal conversation. The retreat from positivist definitions of knowledge, especially in humanities and social sciences, strengthened academics' role in knowledge validation even as it weakened objectivity claims for the knowledge itself. This paper briefly charts the emergence of universities' knowledge monopoly, and argues that the present (global) trend to regulate and externally assess academic performance is an inevitable public response to monopolisation of a vital social resource. An institution that reinvented itself as a radical innovator against the medieval knowledge establishment, and grew by absorbing other knowledge-creating activities, inevitably struggles to retain legitimacy as monopoly delivers a structure more adapted to rapid capture of externally produced knowledge than to its internal generation, and an incentive to raise knowledge value by controlling its supply.
Keywords: Universities, Knowledge, Monopoly, Regulation, Academisation
Mr Alan Shipman
Bye-fellow, Selwyn College, University of Cambridge