Public research universities have always been evolving institutions. Dependent on governments for funding, public research universities are often sites in which more general social and political changes come to a head. Additionally, the connections to government coupled with relative openness make public universities significant not only in advancing science and providing expertise to government, but also in the public sphere. Witness the student movements in China, France, Mexico, and the United States. Public research universities both influence and are influenced by society as a whole.
Yet, today public universities are facing unprecedented changes. New trends challenge the very “public-ness” of public universities worldwide. Decreased state funding and a move toward privatization stand in stark contrast to the original mission of public higher education. Consequently, intense debate has arisen over the future of public research universities in a global world of liberalizing markets, deregulating states, and privatizing societies.
Despite the visibility of this issue in the media worldwide, research is needed to not only measure and analyze the transformation in public research universities, but to examine the different character these changes assume in different national contexts. To do so, the SSRC has commissioned a Working Group to advance a research agenda to explore the un-making and re-molding of the public university. We hope this forum will serve as a tool for scholars, educators, policy makers and students, and promote informed debate. Given the centrality of public research universities in the public sphere, it is essential that the shift toward privatizations and its ramifications be understood.