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The Evolution of Universities

Watch Gertraud Leimüller explain more about the evolution of universities.

Universities changed from very elitist institutions to what they are today. As you will see, the historical evolution of universities is quite fascinating.

The earliest concept of universities was the Metaphysical University:

  • Emerged in the Middle Ages, influenced by the church as storehouses of old knowledge
  • Goals: Teaching and learning without the education of the public
    • Access to the “divine” world of knowledge only for an elite minority
    • Knowledge enabled personal, universal salvation
  • Position: Clerical elite institutions above society

It was later replaced by the Research University which is still prevalent today:

  • Emerged in the 19th century, influenced by Humboldt
  • Goals: Knowledge and research via systematic scientific methods
    • Research is more important than teaching, focus on new knowledge production
    • Application of generated knowledge is secondary
    • Knowledge changes over time, university changed less
  • Position: oriented itself as separate from society

The Entrepreneurial University – the type of universities we see today – is still quite young as its concept was developed in early 2000s by Etzkowitz:

  • Goals: impact-based knowledge production, “knowledge factory”
    • Performance-oriented impact-based knowledge production
    • See themselves as basis of knowledge-based economy
    • Centred on the exchange of value of knowledge for societal actors (money, recognition, citations, etc.)
    • Focuses on knowledge generation and its practical application – knowledge transfer
    • University itself changes over time with knowledge
  • Position: for itself and active in competition

In a later chapter, we will discuss the possible next evolutionary step for universities. Stay tuned! Before we do so, you will learn about different modes of knowledge generation and the importance of networks and ecosystems for effective innovation in today’s rapidly changing world.

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