The Future of Higher Education, December 8-9 2011

The conference addressed the changing roles of the research university in the United States, especially the development of global collaborations and export of the U.S. university model abroad. This public conference engaged experts and the public in discussions that will deepen our understandings of the ways in which higher education is changing and help university leadership work to ensure that U.S. universities adapt and thrive as their role in the world evolves.


There has been much discussion recently in the media (the New York Review of Books, for example) lamenting the current state of higher education in the United States. Issues under include the demise of liberal arts education, the enormous increase in the numbers of students, the explosion of off-site campuses around the globe, and the exorbitant cost of undergraduate education. The mission of this conference was to do more than reiterate these issues. It brought together experts from inside and outside the academy, from United States and abroad, not only to assess what is going on now and what might be intelligently be done to improve higher education today, but what we should be aiming for 20 years from now.

For decades, the growth of knowledge and development of culture and industry was heavily dependent upon what went on inside major research U.S. universities. Today, it is no longer clear that universities will continue to be the dominant site (or model) for the generation of new knowledge.

American higher education experts are being hired as consultants to build new universities in other countries. A desire to infuse American universities with global perspectives has led many U.S. universities to enter into international exchanges and build satellite schools in other countries. What are the benefits and challenges of exporting the U.S. research university to other societies?

These moments provide a unique lens through which to examine why and how the U.S. university is being copied around the world and what other countries are aiming to achieve. They may also offer unique opportunities for university leaders and policymakers to support higher education as a tool of international development, strengthening democratic ideals such as gender equality through civic engagement abroad.

The conference brought together scholars and university presidents from the U.S. with experts from Europe, South Africa, China, India, and the Middle East to explore the changes and challenges facing higher education, discuss the goals and uses of higher education globally, assess and respond to the risks, and develop methods to maximize the opportunities.

Th Conference on the Future of Higher Education was the 26th in the Social Research conference series, founded by Arien Mack in 1988. Arien Mack is the Alfred and Monette Marrow Professor of Psychology at The New School for Social Research. She has been the editor of Social Research: An International Quarterly since 1970. Social Research is the flagship journal of The New School for Social Research. For the history of this conference series, visit the Social Researchconference series site.

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This conference was made possible by generous support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Ford Foundation.

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