University in Late Modernity and the attempt to manipulate its ideological and institutional change

Issue 1

“University in Late Modernity and the attempt to manipulate its ideological and institutional change ”

Dimitris Mattheou

Page 43-67

Abstract

It is widely accepted that extensive and rapid changes in all sectors of contemporary life have been taking place over the last two decades. Academic research has been looking into this phenomenon in an attempt to understand and interpret it, while political discourse has been rife with policy proposals of how to manage it effectively. In this context education and the University in particular have been the focus of a controversy over the Universities new role and its institutional future. Although the paper considers this controversy to be quite legitimate, as the University has to respond to the challenges of late modernity and change itself, it makes out the case that many policy makers across Europe deliberately misuse the academic discourse in an attempt to steer the University towards a certain pre-specified direction. To that end they employ a number of techniques –a kind of “creative accounting”, to borrow a contemporary term from the market place. The paper investigates two of those techniques and examines their effectiveness in the context of the Greek academic community and its position vis-à-vis the Bologna Declaration.
The first of those techniques is based on the epistemological assumption that there is a single, unique and indisputable way to understand and describe reality –parenthetically, an assumption frequently made by the layman. In this sense contemporary changes are presented as being concrete, definite, unprecedented, rapid and radical and above all as irreversible and irrevocable and hence as determinative of the future of the University which has, therefore, to succumb to the call of events. The paper looks into the truthfulness of these assertions and challenges both the epistemological assumption of a single and unique understanding of reality and each one of the characteristics attributed to contemporary change. It thus reveals the shortcomings of the thesis that there is only one way in which the University could and should change and at the same time it discloses its real character as a purely legitimizing instrument of predetermined policies.
The second technique relies mainly on verbal ornamental codings –hushing up, de- contextualization, dilative interpretation, depreciation of policy repercussions etc– which aim to gloss over the weaknesses of other techniques. Thus, in the case of the Bologna Declaration direct reference to the economy or to the neo-liberal principles that pervade it is avoided; the common cultural heritage of the European countries is called upon and the social character of the proposed higher education space is underlined; the proposed institutional reforms are presented as being of a purely technical character and as leaving all fundamental intellectual traditions of the University intact.
Finally, the reaction to the Bologna Declaration on the part of the Greek University rectors is studied and conclusions are drawn as to the factors that have limited the political effectiveness of the above mentioned techniques in Greece.