School of Business and Law

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“Scholarly work at its best” – ten years of research into the fully-functioning role of the university honoured with BBS award

One of the rewarding roles of the academic life is that there is time to reflect on deeper patterns and meanings. For the last ten years, three researchers from Brighton Business School have been reflecting on and researching the role of the university.

Over a series of four articles, all published in the highly ranked Higher Education Review they have considered in depth how universities serve society, foster student learning and contribute to knowledge.

This series of publications about the Fully-Functioning University and the tripartite mission have been recognised and honoured by the Business School in an award.

“It is my great pleasure to announce my personal Researchers of the Year Award for  2017 said Head of research, Professor Mark Cowling of the work by Professor Tom Bourner, Dr Linda Heath and Pericles ‘asher’ Rospigliosi. Professor Cowling explained “the depth of knowledge and insight that the researchers have brought to bear on issues relating to the role of Higher Education Institutes in society and the value added that their multifaceted contributions create is very impressive at a time when many outsiders are engaging in ill-informed debates questioning their very existence. Scholarly work at its best.”

What is common in the development of the western university?

The research comprises a series of four papers on the Fully-Functioning University.  The concept originated in an attempt to answer the question: ‘what common endeavours can be found in all the stages of the development of the western university?’

We looked at the history of the western university with this question in mind and found evidence of:

  • the advancement of knowledge,
  • the higher education of students, and
  • service to those beyond the walls of the university.

This meant that the common perception of this ‘tripartite mission’ as being an invention of the land-grant universities in the USA in the 19th century was misconceived and, in reality, it extended back to the medieval universities.  However, we also found that in different ages one part of the tripartite mission had come to dominate the other two, which were then interpreted in ways that served the dominant part.

What would a fully-functioning university be like?

These conclusions led to another question: ‘what would a university be like if it valued each part of the tripartite mission for its own sake and saw the three parts as complementary rather than competing goals?’

We termed such a university a Fully-Functioning University to contrast it with a university that pursued one part of the tripartite mission at the expense of the other two.  This led to a third question: ‘how can each part of the tripartite mission be pursued in ways that support the other two parts?’  The papers on the Fully-Functioning University are attempts to answer this question.

The core findings of this research is that the western university has always had three missions. These are the advancement of knowledge, the higher education of its students and the service of the wider community. Over the centuries the dominant goal has changed, but for the fully-functioning university values each part of the tripartite mission in its own right.

New Vocationalism

Along the way, our research has thrown up some unexpected findings in a range of areas including thoughts on the origins of employability skills, and which is currently the key theme.

While it may be a surprise to find that in the early university, Latin was THE most important transferable skill for employability we also found that most employers now see the value of a higher education as being a willingness and readiness to learn – which we call the New Vocationalism.

For more on each on New Vocationalism and the value of Higher Education for employability skills see:

New Vocationalism

The fully-functioning university and its contribution to society (2017)

The fully-functioning university and its contribution to the advancement of knowledge (2016)

The fully-functioning university and its higher education (2013)

The Fully Functioning University (2008)


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Clare Prust • April 23, 2018

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