Chapter 1: The university: a critical comparison of three ideal types
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What is a university? More contentiously, what is a real university? It is reasonable to regard these questions as either rhetorical or empty. Even a brief glance at institutions of higher education in the modern world will show them to be astonishingly varied in size, history and function. For example, the Indira Ghandi Open University has approximately 3 million students; the University Center in Svalbard, the world’s most northerly university, has about 300. Harvard, established in the seventeenth century, is universally acknowledged as an international leader in the advancement of the arts and sciences; the much larger Technical University of Uttar Pradesh, established in Lucknow at the start of the twenty-first century, serves largely local educational needs and does not figure at all in international research tables. Ave Maria University in Florida (founded 2003) is one of America’s newest universities and its sole PhD programme is in Theology; Princeton (founded 1726) is one of America’s oldest universities and theology is not studied there at all. All these institutions, despite the radical differences between them, have been accorded the title ‘university’ and are recognized as such. Who then is to say which of them is a ‘real’ university? Besides, what is the point of such a question? What’s in a name, after all?

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