Scope and Concerns

The World Universities Forum(WUF) and The Journal of the World Universities Forum seek to explore the meaning and purpose of the academy in times of striking social transformation. The Conference and the Journal bring together University administrators, teachers and researchers to discuss the prospects of the academy and to exemplify or imagine ways in which the University can take a leading and constructive role in the transformations of our times.

Today, universities face significant challenges to their traditional position in society—contemporary knowledge systems are becoming more distributed and learning ubiquitous. Where does this leave the University - as an historically specialised and privileged place for certain kinds of knowledge and learning, as an institutionally bounded space? What do these changes mean for the mission and structures of the renewed University? What are emerging as principal areas of the academic interest?

Distributed Knowledge Systems

Universities today face significant challenges to their historical role as producers of socially privileged knowledge. More knowledge is being produced by corporations than was the case in the past. More knowledge is being produced in the traditional broadcast media. More knowledge is being produced in the networked interstices of the social web. In these places, the logics and logistics of knowledge production are disruptive of the traditional values of the University — the for-profit, protected knowledge of the corporation; the mutimodal knowledge of the broadcast media; and the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ which shapes the regime of privilege in the new, web-based media.

How can the University connect with the shifting sites and modes of knowledge production? How can it stay relevant? Are its traditional knowledge-making systems in need of renovation? How can they remain distinctive?

To address these questions, the Conference and the Journal will examine the knowledge systems of the University. What makes academic knowledge valid and reliable, and how can its epistemic virtues be strengthened to meet the challenges of our times? How can the University meet the challenges of the new media in order to renovate the disclosure and dissemination systems of scholarly publishing? How can the University connect with the emerging and dynamic sources of new knowledge formation outside its traditional boundaries?

For all the challenges they face today, universities also find themselves in a strategically and rhetorically powerful position. Modern and modernising communities are increasingly styling themselves as ‘knowledge societies’ and ‘knowledge economies’. As universities transform themselves, they need to put forth the public case that, as manufacturers and purveyors of knowledge, the health and growth of the University is, more than ever, a key factor in the production of social progress.

Ubiquitous Learning

More of our learning happens on the job - at the software interface, close to the specifics of everyday life. The balance of formal and informal learning is shifting in the direction of informal learning. More of the specifics of what we need to know to be fully functioning workers, citizens and persons we learn in the pedagogic spaces of training programs, help menus and by immersion in communities of practice which provide support scaffolds for new entrants.

How do universities, sites of formal education par excellence, respond? What does it mean for the level of generality of their curricula—should they be geared up or down? What does it mean for their institutional formality? To what extent should universities join the markets for learning anywhere and anytime, just in time and just enough? How can universities work with the disruptive potentials of e-learning, or should they resist in order to maintain their brand credibility?

What should universities do as the demands of the knowledge society push the frontiers of equity? How could twice the percentage (or more) of the population go to University? What would happen to the knowledge and learning of elite institutions, if they stooped to the logic of mass marketing? What if they had to develop a new economics provision in order to open opportunities for entry to historically excluded groups located around the corner and around the world?

The Academy

In order to address these key questions of knowledge formation and learning, the Conference and the Journal will examine the historical and emerging forms of the University. What can we say about the heritage, changing and imminent lifeworld of the University, the distinctive experiences of academic life and the dispositions of its participants?

If it is the role of the University to produce deeper, broader and more reliable knowledge than is possible in everyday, casual experience, what do we need to do to defend its methodologies and develop new ones? Which is the more generative and under what conditions—specialisation or interdisciplinarity? What needs to be done about the knowledge validation and dissemination systems of peer review and academic publishing as they face the challenges of open access and creative commons? How do we teach in a world in world in which people are more inclined and able to build their own knowledge and understandings than to receive the pre-packaged wisdoms of authorities?

Matters of Academic Interest

What are academics going to do? What are the pivotal questions of our time, and how can universities address these questions, and be seen to be addressing them? How can they create ideas, practice innovation, and make their presence pervasively felt in the public imagination? How can universities define problems, set intellectual agendas, propose credible ways forward and figure solutions which address the major challenges and opportunities for people and planet? What should they be teaching and how should they be teaching it?

The World Universities Forum and the Journal of the World Universities Forum aim to address the fundamentals of the University, its heritage and its potential destinies. Its analyses will range from the finely-grained and exemplary to the theoretical and speculative.