The dialectic of the university in times of revolution echoes of the Industrial Revolution?


Men* make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given, and transmitted from the past (Marx cited in Feuer, 1969, Marx and Engels: Basic Writings on Politics and Philosophy, p.360).

This paper provides a background against which to begin to understand the future of the university in these times. It examines the university during the Industrial Revolution in the United Kingdom. The methodology and approach are essentially Marxist, focussing on the interface of conflict between technological change, society and industry, and where the university fitted into this class conflict. Marx’s own observations, along with others, of the time are drawn on to frame the social change wrought by the Industrial Revolution. English universities are then examined to see how they responded and legitimated their position within society. “The object of education within the colleges was to produce intellectuals and gentlemen who could be relied upon in a world constantly threatened, it was thought, by revolution" (Kearney, 1970, Scholars and Gentlemen: Universities and Society in Pre-Industrial Britain, p.22). Based on past records, and a comparative social examination, discussion of the possible future directions of the university can be better framed.

* Important note: This paper draws heavily on citations of original documents produced during the last two centuries. As was the nature of the times the language employed in places in this article is not what could necessarily be termed “gender neutral". The use of “male-centric" language does not reflect the author’s own belief about gender roles or importance. In this present debate on the future of the university it is vital that views from all sections of the community are equally considered and acknowledged.



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