"What light do professional doctorates
throw on the question of what counts as knowledge in the academy
at the start of the twenty-first century?" (Bourner et
al. 2001: 81)
Knowledge and economic
The academy now recognises it has lost its ‘traditional
status as primary producer of ‘‘worthwhile’’
knowledge’. The shift from Mode 1 science to Mode 2 knowledge
production means that the academy is one of many players in the
knowledge market. Due to the ‘demands of the knowledge economy
and the sheer explosion of information enabled by IT’ universities
are ‘now largely unable to control the production, legitimation
and exchange of knowledge as they once did’ (Usher
The ‘struggles over the nature of appropriate links between
education, vocationalism and wealth creation are as old as universities’.
The ‘troubled history of opening up university education to
wider sections of the community can be traced back for centuries’
(Winter et al. 2000: 27).
Barnett (2000b: 24) poses
the question ‘Can the university be a site of disinterested
reason while also giving to society the new forms of knowing that
society calls for?’ However, the question could be posed whether
the academy was ever a site of disinterested reason or inquiry.
Whether in fact the awarding of the Ph.D. as the highest academic
accolade was not an attempt to reserve this award for members of
the academy. Is the academy’s engagement with the knowledge
society simply an act of self-interest (i.e. survival in a Mode
2 knowledge production society) or more optimistically is it now
recognising that society comprises of many knowledge producers who
are worthy of inclusion and recognition.
Barnett (2000b) contends
the university ‘wants it both ways’: its knowledge to
be ‘value-free’ and ‘yet not value-less’.
Perhaps Barnett (2000b) is
correct that attempting to ascribe ‘value freedom’ to
knowledge is only leading to a ‘cul de sac’ in trying
to formulate a role for the academy in the twenty-first century
(Barnett 2000b: 25). In my
view, the production of value-free knowledge is not possible. The
recognition that vested interests lie both within and outside the
academy is more realistic. It is not the presence of vested interests
that is of concern. It is not the expectation that knowledge production
might result in some sort of return either to the economy or the
academy. The concern is: Will it become unacceptable within the
academy to contest knowledge production when it is presented as
contributing to the enhancement of the economy?
Now ‘concerns are being expressed within the polity that
HE needs to contribute in measurable terms to the creation of the
knowledge society’ (Robertson
1999: 19). In Ireland the Higher Education Authority (2002)
argues that investment in basic research yields ‘returns to
The primary justification for investment in basic research
is health and social gain, and economic development and advancement.
Furthermore there are two primary economic justifications for
investment in basic research: The first relates to the return
on investment and the second to the enhancement of human capital.
(Higher Education Authority
While return on investment might be interpreted as bringing wealth
to private industrialists, it must not be overlooked that individual
academics have benefited financially in engaging in commercial activities.
The statistics as outlined in The Times newspaper (16 April 2001)
record that ‘more than a third of Oxford’s dons are
now multimillionaires’ and Oxford ‘has a share in over
32 companies which were founded to profit from ideas by academics’
(Evans 2002: 5). It may be a
case of the ‘pot calling the kettle black’ if the academy
expresses distaste that private industry or the state seek a return
on investment in education. There is now a rise of academic capitalism,
which is a result of a shortage of research funds and has ‘forced
academics to sell their capital on the market’. The appeal
for industry in purchasing academic capital is that higher education
institutions contain ‘publicly subsidized academic researchers,
so private costs are absorbed at the public expense’. Universities
are better placed to bear the cost of failed research (Robertson