The Idea of the University

Advanced Course for PhD Candidates Autumn 2022, Credits: 7,5 ECTS.

Instructor: Sharon Rider  (
Level: PhD-course
Grade scale: no credit (U), pass  (G).
Venue: Room 4-0020, English Park Campus.

To register, please contact Johan Boberg (


After completing the course, the students are expected to be able to:

  • account for the basic ideas covered in the course, and relate different arguments concerning the meaning and purpose(s) of the university to each other;
  • describe the key features of the different arguments about the relation between the university as an institution and the aims of science, culture, politics and the market;
  • analyze the notions of learning, thinking and knowing embedded in the different accounts;
  • formulate an independent assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of these conceptions for understanding contemporary problems in higher education, professional training and research


What is a university, and what is its relation to society, the State and the individual? The course concerns the role of higher education particularly as an institution in modern liberal democracies. It raises questions concerning how the form, function, organization, governance and content of teaching, research and professional training and accreditation instantiate both implicit and explicit epistemic, aesthetic and ethical assumptions. These seemingly abstract categories will be examined in terms of conceptual relations analyzed in historical context in order to cast light on the university today as both agent and object of social, political and cultural change.

We will concentrate on certain conceptual questions and problems associated with the idea of a university and its development, i.e. with the meaning of and relationship between such diverse notions as “research”, “scholarship”, “higher education”, “culture”, “critical thinking”, “scientific training”, “professional judgment”,  “citizenship”, Bildung, etc., especially with regard to the place of the university in a geopolitical and economic context. The primary “expected outcome” of the course is that the student will have improved his or her capacity to formulate, analyze and reason independently and systematically about a concrete problem regarding the nature of knowledge production and science in all its complexity while retaining and developing focus and clarity.


The course will be conducted in English.

Instruction will take the form of seminars in which the participants are expected to have read the texts to be discussed in advance.  If a student cannot attend two or more seminars, s/he will be required to submit a reaction paper (500 words) for each seminar missed, analyzing and interpreting the readings for that session. A few of the readings will be preceded by guest lectures, according to the schedule below.


The examination consists of a final paper of 5,000-6,000 words on a theme related to the course, the topic of which will be decided in consultation with the instructor. Attendance in the seminars is mandatory; active engagement displaying a high degree of preparedness and commitment will be contribute to and be reflected in the final grade. The final seminar will consist of students presenting and discussing their papers with each other. The final version of the papers shall be submitted no later than 31 October.

Course Literature

The course literature consists of selections from The Idea of a University: A Reader, Volume I. Eds. M.A. Peters & R. Barnett (New York: Peter Lang 2018) and selections from  Pierre Bourdieu, Homo Academicus, (Redwood City: Stanford University Press,1988 [1984]).


The schedule has been revised.

Sessions 1 and 2

Monday, 12 September, 10-12; 13-16
Welcome and Introduction.
Guest Lecture: Steve Fuller

The Bildung Tradition


  • Nietzsche(1872/2009): On the Future of Our Educational Institutions
  • Jaspers (1923/1960): From The Idea of the University
  • Heidegger (1933/1985)  The Self-Assertion of the German University: Address delivered on the Solemn Assumption of the Rectorate of the University Freiburg
  • Habermas (1987): The Idea of the University: Learning Processes

Sessions 3 and 4

Tuesday, 13 September, 10-13.30

The Liberal Tradition


  • Whewell  (1837): Teaching. From On the Principles of English University Education
  • Newman (1852): From The Idea of the University
  • Mill (1867):  Inaugural Address at the University of St. Andrews
  • Oakeshott (1967): The Definition of a University, 1967. From The Journal of Educational Thought

Sessions 5 and 6

Tuesday, 27 September, 10-12; 13-16

The Pragmatist Tradition

  • Veblen (1918): A Memorandum on the Conduct of Universities by Business Men. From The Higher Learning in America
  • Flexner (1930): The Idea of a Modern University. From Universities: American, English, German
  • Hutchins (1940): The Dilemmas of the Higher Learning. From The Higher Learning in America
  • Kerr (1963):  The Idea of a Multiversity. From The Uses of the University

Sessions 7 and 8

Wednesday, 28 September, 10-12; 13-16
Guest lecture: Mikael Börjesson

Homo Academicus


  • Bourdieu: From Homo Academicus (chapter 1 and 2)
  • Ortega y Gasset (1930): The Principle of Economy in Education. From Mission of the University
  • Lyotard (1984): From The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge
  • MacIntyre (2010)  The Very Idea of a University: Aristotle, Newman and Us
  • Derrida (1983): The Principle of Reason: The University in the Eyes of Its Pupils
  • Readings (1996). From The University in Ruins

Session 9

Wednesday, 19 October, 10-12; 13-16
Student presentations and general discussion

Final paper due 6 pm, 31 October.

Senast uppdaterad: 2022-09-05