Humboldt versus Neoliberalism : University Academics’ Perception of Higher Education Changes in Germany and England

University essay from Stockholms universitet/Institutionen för pedagogik och didaktik


The name ‘Humboldt’ is associated with various ideals such as the unity of teaching and research, the freedom to teach and to learn and the community of teachers and students and used to stand for a unified idea of the university. Recent developments and changes like widening participation in and the marketisation of higher education related to the emergence of neoliberalism have challenged those old ideals. Through creating a Humboldt University model based on Humboldtian ideals and a Neoliberal University model reflecting neoliberal ideas the study seeks to illustrate the main changes that have happened. It then evaluates the developments by putting them against the German (the origin of Humboldt’s ideas) and English university (the first to marketise higher education). The ones to sense the developments and changes the most are the university academics. Therefore, it was chosen to review the former through the eyes of the latter.

Thus, the study offers a glimpse of how university academics at the German and English institution/institute perceive the changes deriving from comparing the above-mentioned model. How do they relate to the Humboldtian ideals? How do they evaluate recent developments and related discourses in higher education? Are there connections between the countries’ university traditions and their perception?

The main findings suggest that academics at the English institute believe more in the old ideals than the German academics who blame mainly massification for its infeasibility. It also shows that recent discourses and their termination are understood differently by the academics. For a new unifying idea of the university, opposing perceptions like the ones examined would need to be brought in line. Can there be one identity of the university?

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