Is the position of universities as an admired – and protected – public institution more precarious than ever? Is there a mismatch between government expectations in setting higher education policy and the core role of universities? More than ever, governments articulate the need for higher education – echoing the demands of knowledge-based economies – but cannot control delivery. This chapter examines a tension imbedded in making higher education policy, arising from disharmony over who controls institutions of higher education and who should pay for them. National systems take dramatically different approaches to reconciling incommensurate views of how the benefits flowing from higher education are distributed. Increasingly, the status of universities as privileged spaces for critical enquiry and knowledge production and dissemination is challenged by governments keen use their funding to shape research and teaching. The chapter concludes with a discussion of difficult questions many universities face about their missions and activity, and their efforts to build a greater constituency beyond government.