95 theses for reforming Higher Education. Are HEIs catalysts for a sustainable society?


The Times Higher Education Supplement refer to the book by Kogan & Hanney (2000) as ‘…the most successful attempt so far to conceptualise the post-war development of higher education'. The book recognises (a) the state vis-à-vis universities; and (b) influences on higher education policy. 90 interviews were conducted of the ‘high and mighty’, a few commentators, journalists and trade unionists. Students were not included. The findings draw attention to the vagaries of ‘elitism’ but benefits of ‘independence’.
More recently, Musselin & Teixeira (2014) analyse the reforms that led to a differentiated landscape of higher education systems after university practices and governance were considered poorly adapted to contemporary settings and to their new missions. Case studies are provided from policy construction to practice; with concerns raised about ‘power games’ and ‘power relations’.

Today these ‘power plays’ are evident in debates about: research vs. teaching; professional development vs. employability; learning outcomes vs. learning gain, etc. This paper does not ignore the above contributions to theory and practice but builds upon the concerns raised by exploring the historical development of universities and their contemporary impact; the attitudes of students (and staff) towards society, economy and the environment today; and new policies which regard universities as catalysts for a sustainable society e.g. The UN Higher Education Sustainability Initiative (HESI, 2016).

As it is 500 years since the ‘reformation’ was allegedly ‘kick-started’ by Luther pinning his 95 theses to a church door, we begin by charting Luther’s motivation and culminate by writing 95 new theses which could be pinned to university doors today. The main research question is: are HEIs key to a sustainable society?

Martin Luther’s protest
Martin Luther 1483-1546, German professor of theology (see Fig.1.) is noted for apparently pinning 95 theses to the door of All Saints' Church in Wittenberg on 31 October 1517. There is some dispute as to whether this actually happened. Nevertheless, Luther's theses were engraved into the door of the Church in 1857 when the original door was destroyed by a fire and King Frederick William IV of Prussia ordered a replacement. This fact is engraved above the door in Latin (Fig. 2).

Fig. 1. Martin Luther (1529) by Lucas Cranach the Elder.

Fig.2. Luther's theses are engraved into the door of All Saints' Church, Wittenberg.

What had sparked Luther’s protest? In 1516, Johann Tetzel, a Dominican friar and papal commissioner for ‘indulgences’, was sent to Germany by the Roman Catholic Church to sell ‘indulgences’ to raise money to rebuild St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Roman Catholic theology was thus based on the dogma that benefits could be obtained by donating money to the church. On 31 October 1517, Luther wrote to his bishop to protest against the sale of such indulgences. He enclosed in his letter a copy of his "Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences", which came to be known as the Ninety-five Theses, (Luther, 1517). Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz and Magdeburg did not reply to Luther's letter containing the 95 theses but had the theses checked for heresy and in December 1517 forwarded them to Rome. The 95 theses were translated from Latin into German and spread across Europe in a matter of months. Over the next three years the Pope deployed a series of papal theologians and envoys against Luther. First, the Dominican theologian Sylvester Mazzolini drafted a heresy case against Luther. At Augsburg, over a three-day period in October 1518, Luther defended himself under questioning by papal legate Cardinal Cajetan. The Pope's right to issue indulgences was at the centre of the dispute between the two men. More than writing his theses, Luther's confrontation with the church cast him as an enemy of the Pope.

On 15 June 1520, the Pope warned Luther with the papal bull (edict) Exsurge Domine that he risked excommunication unless he recanted 41 sentences drawn from his writings, including the Ninety-five Theses, within 60 days. However, Luther, who had sent the Pope a copy of On the Freedom of a Christian, publicly set fire to the bull at Wittenberg on 10 December 1520, an act he defended in Why the Pope and his Recent Book are Burned and Assertions Concerning All Articles. As a consequence, Luther was excommunicated by Pope Leo X on 3 January 1521. On 25 May 1521, Luther was declared an outlaw, his literature banned and his arrest required. Despite this, Luther survived after going into hiding at Wartburg Castle, under the protection of Frederick the Wise. Whilst there Luther translated the New Testament from Greek into German making it more accessible to ordinary people; and this was printed in 1522. Luther then went on to work with others and translate the reminder of the Bible; and various other reforms as outlined below.

Practical Reform
From 1525 to 1529, Luther established a supervisory church body, laid down a new form of worship service, and wrote a clear summary of the new faith in the form of two catechisms. To avoid confusing or upsetting the people, Luther avoided extreme change. He also did not wish to replace one controlling system with another. He concentrated on the church in the Electorate of Saxony, acting only as an adviser to churches in new territories, many of which followed his new model. He worked closely with the new elector, John the Steadfast, to whom he turned for secular leadership and funds on behalf of a church largely shorn of its assets and income after the break with Rome. At times, Luther's practical reforms fell short of his earlier radical pronouncements.

Luther devised the catechism as a method of imparting the basics of Christianity to the congregations. In 1529, he wrote the Large Catechism, a manual for pastors and teachers, as well as a synopsis, the Small Catechism, to be memorised by the people themselves. The catechisms provided easy-to-understand instructional and devotional material on the Ten Commandments, the Apostles' Creed, the Lord's Prayer, baptism, and the Lord's Supper. Luther incorporated questions and answers in the catechism so that the basics of Christian faith would not just be learned by rote. The Small Catechism has earned a reputation as a model of clear religious teaching and remains in use today, along with Luther's hymns and his translation of the Bible. The Luther Bible influenced other vernacular translations, such as William Tyndale's English Bible (1525 forward), a precursor of the King James Bible.

Luther courted controversy with many of his writings not least of those about the Jewish people. His writings against the Jews were cited centuries after his death to fuel anti-semitism in Germany and beyond. Today though Martin Luther is honoured in various ways by Christian traditions coming out directly from the Protestant Reformation, i.e. Lutheranism, the Reformed tradition, and Anglicanism. According to Religion Facts (2017) there are 72million adherents to Lutheranism today. Reformation Day commemorates the publication of the Ninety Five Theses in 1517 by Martin Luther and is a civic holiday in several German states. Slovenia celebrates it due to the profound contribution of the Reformation to its culture. Austria allows Protestant children not to go to school that day, and Protestant workers have a right to leave work in order to participate in a church service. Switzerland celebrates the holiday on the first Sunday after 31 October. It is also celebrated elsewhere around the world. 

This paper is not arrogantly trying to ‘kick start’ another reformation but to recognise that higher education, just as any other institution, needs reform; and to see what lessons can be applied today from the reaction to Luther’s theses 500 years ago. There is no doubt that Luther had a remarkable influence on the church and religious practices. And parallels can be drawn with the history and development of universities which we refer to today as Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). Not least of all the tension between education and institution; and between public policy ethos and corporate autonomy. The author subsumes these issues into 95 theses for higher education today.

95 theses on Higher Education
The main premise of this paper is that universities were founded in the Middle Ages and need to be reformed to tackle 21st century issues and problems such as poverty alleviation and the effects of climate change. These theses begin by addressing the historical origins of universities, their development over the centuries, and how they operate today. The theses are for discussion and debate and not presented as historical fact. The author does not claim that any of the theses are accurate in content.

1. The word ‘university’ is derived from the Latin universitas magistrorum et scholarium, which roughly means ‘community of teachers and scholars’. However, teachers and scholars employed on various individual contracts today can mitigate against a community of shared and accepted principles and values.

2. The oldest university in the world is University of Bologna in Italy, founded in 1088. The word university (Latin: universitas), having been coined at its foundation, loses its original meaning when universities today are referred to as Higher Education Institutions.

3. At the time of the emergence of urban town life and medieval guilds, specialized ‘associations of students and teachers with collective legal rights usually guaranteed by charters issued by princes, prelates, or the towns in which they were located’ came to be denominated by the general term universitas. Today’s university charters need to be reformed to ensure they relate more directly to local community and wider societal needs.

4. Like other guilds, universities were self-regulating and determined the qualifications of their members. Today’s universities need to balance self-regulation with universal principles and international priorities.

5. An institution of higher education offers tuition in mainly non-vocational subjects and typically has the power to confer degrees. However, universities today need to provide the right balance between vocational and non-vocational subjects; especially as the power to confer degrees no longer resides solely with traditional universities.

6. The original Latin word referred to degree-granting institutions of learning in Western and Central Europe, where this form of legal organisation was prevalent, and from where the institution spread around the world. However, this Western or European approach might not be as relevant to other regions of the world today.

7. The University of Bologna adopted an academic charter, the Constitutio Habita around 1158, which guaranteed the right of a traveling scholar to unhindered passage in the interests of education. However, this original notion of academic freedom needs to be reformed; as academics’ today might be hindered in what they do, what they say, and where they can travel to.

8. On 18 September 1988, 430 university rectors signed the Magna Charta Universitatum, marking the 900th anniversary of Bologna's foundation. The number of universities signing the Magna Charta Universitatum continues to grow, drawing from all parts of the world. The author of these theses argues that the new Magna Charta should be based on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (2015) to make it directly relevant for today.

9. European higher education took place for hundreds of years in Christian cathedral schools or monastic schools (scholae monasticae), in which monks and nuns taught classes. Teachers today come from a variety of backgrounds and this diversity needs to be recognised by reforming recruitment, selection, progression and promotion. For example, more explicit recognition of teaching excellence not just research excellence. In fact, TEF (2016) specifically calls for graduates to be prepared for making a ‘strong’ contribution to society, economy and the environment i.e. sustainability.

10. The earliest universities were developed under the aegis of the Latin Church by papal bull as studia generalia and perhaps from cathedral schools. Today universities need to balance general and specialist subjects. See the review of ’skills needed in the green economy’ by Moon (2013).

11. Later they were also founded by Kings (University of Naples Federico II, Charles University in Prague, Jagiellonian University in Kraków) or municipal administrations (University of Cologne, University of Erfurt) which might have led to different identities. Today, universities need to be reformed to ensure that unique identities are not lost in the push for institutionalisation and standardisation (Moon, 2014).

12. In the early medieval period, most new universities were founded from pre-existing schools, usually when these schools were deemed to have become primarily sites of higher education. Higher education today needs an estate strategy that is based as much on people and their needs as buildings. See IARU (2016) report ‘Guide to Green Universities’.

13. The University of Bologna began as a law school teaching the ius gentium or Roman law of peoples which was in demand across Europe for those defending the right of incipient nations against empire and church. Bologna's special claim to Alma Mater Studiorum status is based on its autonomy, awarding of degrees, and other structural arrangements, making it the oldest continuously operating institution independent of kings, emperors or any kind of direct religious authority. Autonomy and independence today means that universities can charge fees to students and this power needs to be balanced with the need for accountability and quality service. HEIs today can be driven by fee income causing tensions over numbers e.g. large vs. small teaching groups and concomitant impact on quality.

14. Lay students arrived in the city from many lands entering into a contract to gain this knowledge, organising themselves into 'Nationes', divided between that of the Cismontanes and that of the Ultramontanes. The students ‘had all the power … and dominated the masters’. Today, students have relatively little power. Why are they not Governors?

15. In Europe, young men proceeded to university when they had completed their study of the trivium–the preparatory arts of grammar, rhetoric and dialectic or logic–and the quadrivium: arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. Today, students are admitted with a diversity of qualifications and levels of language. This can cause tension over resources needed to support students with additional learning needs e.g. catering for diversity vs. coping with different language skills.

16. All over Europe rulers and city governments began to create universities to satisfy a European thirst for knowledge, and the belief that society would benefit from the scholarly expertise generated from these institutions. Today, there is a greater emphasis on science, technology and business. However, this can be at the expense of the arts, social sciences and humanities including sustainability.

17. Princes and leaders of city governments perceived the potential benefits of having a scholarly expertise develop with the ability to address difficult problems and achieve desired ends. Today the most difficult problems such as climate change are not prioritised by most universities.

18. The emergence of humanism was essential to the understanding of the possible utility of universities as well as the revival of interest in knowledge gained from ancient Greek texts. Today humanities can be placed under pressure for resources vs. other disciplines.

19. The rediscovery of Aristotle's works–more than 3000 pages of it would eventually be translated –fuelled a spirit of inquiry into natural processes that had already begun to emerge in the 12th century. Some scholars believe that these works represented one of the most important document discoveries in Western intellectual history. Today, e-books and MOOCs are providing the potential for wider access to more resources; but are students accessing them and fully learning from the vast range of electronic resources?

20. The process and practice of inquiry was an attempt to reconcile the thoughts of Greek antiquity, and especially ideas related to understanding the natural world, with those of the church. Today, the natural world is under severe threat and an alarming proportion of students can be cynical about studying the environment. See Moon (2016) ‘greening the curriculum’ study.

21. The efforts of this ‘scholasticism’ were focused on applying Aristotelian logic and thoughts about natural processes to biblical passages and attempting to prove the viability of those passages through reason. This became the primary mission of lecturers, and the expectation of students. Today, biblical passages tend only to be studied in theology or other similar classes. And highlighting biblical passages can be regarded as not academic enough for publication e.g. in most business and management journals.

22. The university culture developed differently in northern Europe than it did in the south, although the northern (primarily Germany, France and Great Britain) and southern universities (primarily Italy) did have many elements in common. Today there is a much wider divide between the top universities e.g. in the USA and Europe and the rest of the world. This can lead to problems of collaboration.

23. Latin was the language of the university, used for all texts, lectures, disputations and examinations. Professors lectured on the books of Aristotle for logic, natural philosophy, and metaphysics; while Hippocrates, Galen, and Avicenna were used for medicine. Outside of these commonalities, great differences separated north and south, primarily in subject matter. The subject matter today is ever more urgent i.e. the impact of climate change.

24. Italian universities focused on law and medicine, while the northern universities focused on the arts and theology. Today students can be reluctant to apply to universities if they cannot afford the fees. This can lead to elitism.

25. There were distinct differences in the quality of instruction in these areas which were congruent with their focus, so scholars would travel north or south based on their interests and means. Today, students and staff can be limited in their travel due to resource constraints.

26. There was also a difference in the types of degrees awarded at these universities. English, French and German universities usually awarded bachelor's degrees, with the exception of degrees in theology, for which the doctorate was more common. Italian universities awarded primarily doctorates. The distinction can be attributed to the intent of the degree holder after graduation – in the north the focus tended to be on acquiring teaching positions, while in the south students often went on to professional positions. Today, there is less attention to what the student intends to do after graduation e.g. teaching or research or practice. Learning general employability skills can thus compete with specialist technical or professional ones.

27. The structure of northern universities tended to be modelled after the system of faculty governance developed at the University of Paris. Southern universities tended to be patterned after the student-controlled model begun at the University of Bologna. Today governance can be more to do with ‘managerialism’ than student-centred curriculum development.

28. Among the southern universities, a further distinction has been noted between those of northern Italy, which followed the pattern of Bologna as a ‘self-regulating, independent corporation of scholars’ and those of southern Italy and Iberia, which were ‘founded by royal and imperial charter to serve the needs of government.’ Today the north-south divide in the UK could be said to over ‘Russell Group’ (or equivalent) vs. other universities.

29. Their endowment by a prince or monarch and their role in training government officials made these Mediterranean universities similar to Islamic madrasas, although madrasas were generally smaller; and individual teachers, rather than the madrasa itself, granted the license or degree. Today, individual lecturers can inspire but have little direct influence on overall degree classifications. This favours the good generalist student rather than the subject specific ones.

30. Scholars have recently drawn on the well-documented influences of scholarship from the Islamic world on the universities of Western Europe to call for a reconsideration of the development of higher education, turning away from a concern with local institutional structures to a broader consideration within a global context. Today the local and global contexts are both important.

31. During the Early Modern period (approximately late 15th century to 1800), the universities of Europe would see a tremendous amount of growth, productivity and innovative research.
Today, top funded academic research tends to be limited to certain universities.

32. During the Early Modern period, the term university is applied to a burgeoning number of institutions. In fact, the term ‘university’ was not always used to designate a higher education institution. In Mediterranean countries, the term studium generale was still often used, while ‘Academy’ was common in Northern European countries. Today, academies are in the mainstream for secondary education; and links between universities and schools are more diverse. The Higher Education ‘Academy’ accredits the quasi ‘professional development’ of teachers in higher education. However, practices are diverse (Moon, 2017b).

33. Many wars, and especially the Thirty Years' War, disrupted the university landscape throughout Europe at different times. War, plague, famine, and changes in religious power and politics often adversely affected the societies that provided support for universities. Today support comes from the Higher Education Funding Councils. However, some of the so-called ‘top’ universities have enormous private benefactors.

34. Internal strife within the universities themselves, such as student brawling and absentee professors, acted to destabilize these institutions as well. Today, student campaigns tend to be at the national level e.g. where the HEI supports the Student Union financially; though many professors could still be said to be absent, when they engage in little teaching nor research!

35. Universities were also reluctant to give up older curricula, and the continued reliance on the works of Aristotle defied contemporary advancements in science and the arts. Today, curricula can often not be reviewed for five years or more; meaning that curricula often do not keep up-to-date unless lecturers are given time and resources to update them.

36. This era was also affected by the rise of the nation-state. As universities increasingly came under state control, or formed under the auspices of the state, the faculty governance model (begun by the University of Paris) became more and more prominent. Although the older student-controlled universities still existed, they slowly started to move toward this structural organization. Control of universities still tended to be independent, although university leadership was increasingly appointed by the state. Today, faculties are often dictated to by centrist control over their budgets.

37. Although the structural model provided by the University of Paris, where student members are controlled by faculty ‘masters,’ provided a standard for universities, the application of this model took at least three different forms. There were universities that had a system of faculties whose teaching addressed a very specific curriculum; this model tended to train specialists. There was a collegiate or tutorial model based on the system at University of Oxford where teaching and organization was decentralized and knowledge was more of a generalist nature. There were also universities that combined these models, using the collegiate model but having a centralized organization. Today, the relative merits of these different approaches are little understood in terms of impact on student outcomes. What is the role of a tutor or academic adviser?

38. Early Modern universities initially continued the curriculum and research of the Middle Ages: natural philosophy, logic, medicine, theology, mathematics, astronomy (and astrology), law, grammar and rhetoric. Today certain disciplines could be mistaken as preeminent e.g. the so-called ‘mature’ disciplines of Economics, Marketing, HRM, Information Management, Finance & Accounting; especially as they have more journal titles associated with them and therefore provide more opportunities for publication. Whereas, less ‘mature’ disciples such as Sustainability have very few journal titles (cf. ABS, 2015). This ‘game’ is acknowledged by the ABS panel but there isn’t any representation on the panel of the less mature disciples such as sustainability.

39. Aristotle was prevalent throughout the curriculum, while medicine also depended on Galen and Arabic scholarship. Today, theoretical scholars are largely unheard of in the private sector unless they publish articles in more readily accessible and readable business and management publications. Very few executives or entrepreneurs read academic journals. And students only tend to cite academic journals when required to do so in assignment briefings.

40. Once humanist professors joined the university faculty, they began to transform the study of grammar and rhetoric through the studia humanitatis. Humanist professors focused on the ability of students to write and speak with distinction, to translate and interpret classical texts, and to live honourable lives. Today, there is little concern with how students live their lives. For example, concern over their carbon footprint tends to be limited to certain campus operations.

41. The critical mindset imparted by humanism was imperative for changes in universities and scholarship. For instance, Andreas Vesalius was educated in a humanist fashion before producing a translation of Galen, whose ideas he verified through his own dissections. Today, students are asked to be critical in their assignments but this tends to be an academic rather than a practical exercise. And the mindset of the ecopreneur or social entrepreneur has not been the subject of much research (see Moon, 2013).

42. In law, Andreas Alciatus infused the Corpus Juris with a humanist perspective, while Jacques Cujas humanist writings were paramount to his reputation as a jurist. Philipp Melanchthon cited the works of Erasmus as a highly influential guide for connecting theology back to original texts, which was important for the reform at Protestant universities. Today’s ‘breakthrough’ research tends to be in a limited number of fields related e.g. pure science disciplines.

43. Galileo Galilei, who taught at the Universities of Pisa and Padua, and Martin Luther, who taught at the University of Wittenberg (as did Melanchthon), also had humanist training. Today’s lecturers are now obliged to prove their teaching ability through the more generalist qualification, the PGCHE (Postgraduate Certificate of Higher Education). Yet, teaching excellence tends not to be formally recognised in universities in terms of progression and promotion. The bias is towards publication of research in the more ‘mature’ disciplines i.e. economics, finance and accounting dominate the ABS rankings (ABS, 2015).

44. The task of the humanists was to slowly permeate the university; to increase the humanist presence in professorships and chairs, syllabi and textbooks so that published works would demonstrate the humanistic ideal of science and scholarship. Today, the mantra is ‘publish or peril’ but professors are given time to publish and teach very little; the actual teachers tend not to be given sufficient time to research and publish.

45. Although the initial focus of the humanist scholars in the university was the discovery, exposition and insertion of ancient texts and languages into the university, and the ideas of those texts into society generally, their influence was ultimately quite progressive. The emergence of classical texts brought new ideas and led to a more creative university climate (as the notable list of scholars above attests to). Today, ‘creativity’ is encouraged but often rhetorically rather than in actual practice.

46. A focus on knowledge coming from self, from the human, has a direct implication for new forms of scholarship and instruction, and was the foundation for what is commonly known as the humanities. This disposition toward knowledge manifested in not simply the translation and propagation of ancient texts, but also their adaptation and expansion. Today, students can be ‘instrumentalist’ in orientation and focus more so on assessments to the exclusion of self-awareness and reflection (see Moon, 2016).

47. For instance, Vesalius was imperative for advocating the use of Galen, but he also invigorated this text with experimentation, disagreements and further research. The propagation of these texts, especially within the universities, was greatly aided by the emergence of the printing press and the beginning of the use of the vernacular, which allowed for the printing of relatively large texts at reasonable prices. Today, students often copy from the Internet without reading original material or hard copies in libraries. There is little ‘original’ nor ‘disruptive’ thinking.

48. Historians such as Richard S. Westfall have argued that the overt traditionalism of universities inhibited attempts to re-conceptualize nature and knowledge and caused an indelible tension between universities and scientists. Today, the main tradition is the graduation ceremony when caps and gowns are the ritual to participate in and be filmed for social media. The remnants of assessment traditions are also seen with timed exams, theoretical essays and dissertations lacking practical application.

49. In fact, more than 80% of the European scientists between 1450–1650 included in the Dictionary of Scientific Biography were university trained, of which approximately 45% held university posts. Today’s top scientists are as likely to be working in the private sector as the public. And often academics have little or no experience in Industry or Enterprise.

50. It was the case that the academic foundations remaining from the Middle Ages were stable, and they did provide for an environment that fostered considerable growth and development. There was considerable reluctance on the part of universities to relinquish the symmetry and comprehensiveness provided by the Aristotelian system, which was effective as a coherent system for understanding and interpreting the world. Today ‘the scientific method’ is predominant’ but this can lead to academic navel gazing.

51. However, university professors still utilized some autonomy, at least in the sciences, to choose epistemological foundations and methods. For instance, Melanchthon and his disciples at University of Wittenberg were instrumental for integrating Copernican mathematical constructs into astronomical debate and instruction. Today, epistemology is discussed on PGCHE courses but can be neglected in practice; e.g. when teachers have to use outdated module narratives.

52. Another example was the short-lived but fairly rapid adoption of Cartesian epistemology and methodology in European universities, and the debates surrounding that adoption, which led to more mechanistic approaches to scientific problems as well as demonstrated an openness to change. Today, assessment regimes still tend to be mechanistic.

53. Although universities may have been slow to accept new sciences and methodologies as they emerged, when they did accept new ideas it helped to convey legitimacy and respectability, and supported the scientific changes through providing a stable environment for instruction and material resources. Today, new approaches can be dismissed as not having sufficient academic rigor e.g. sustainability.

54. Aristotelian epistemology provided a coherent framework not simply for knowledge and knowledge construction, but also for the training of scholars within the higher education setting. The PGCHE can encourage the use of new pedagogy but then lecturers can be given courses to teach that they have not designed and so be forced to rely on more traditional techniques and forms of assessment.

55. Instead of entering higher education to become a ‘general scholar’ immersed in becoming proficient in the entire curriculum, there emerged a type of scholar that put science first and viewed it as a vocation in itself. The divergence between those focused on science and those still entrenched in the idea of a general scholar exacerbated the epistemological tensions that were already beginning to emerge. Such tensions can lead to silo thinking today.

56. The epistemological tensions between scientists and universities were also heightened by the economic realities of research during this time, as individual scientists, associations and universities were vying for limited resources. Today, research grants are ever more competitive and harder to obtain; leading to elitism and lack of diversity.

57. There was also competition from the formation of new colleges funded by private benefactors and designed to provide free education to the public, or established by local governments to provide a knowledge hungry populace with an alternative to traditional universities. Even when universities supported new scientific endeavours, and the university provided foundational training and authority for the research and conclusions, they could not compete with the resources available through private benefactors. Today, older and newer universities compete for limited funds and this can be to the detriment of students.

58. Universities in northern Europe were more willing to accept the ideas of Enlightenment and were often greatly influenced by them. For instance, the historical ensemble of the University of Tartu in Estonia, that was erected around that time, is now included into European Heritage Label list as an example of a university in the Age of Enlightenment. Today, students are international and more willing to study abroad; perhaps considering location as important as the heritage or ethos of the precise choice of university.

59. By the end of the early modern period, the structure and orientation of higher education had changed in ways that are eminently recognizable for the modern context. Aristotle was no longer a force providing the epistemological and methodological focus for universities and a more mechanistic orientation was emerging. The hierarchical place of theological knowledge had for the most part been displaced and the humanities had become a fixture, and a new openness was beginning to take hold in the construction and dissemination of knowledge that were to become imperative for the formation of the modern state. Today, the upper echelon of policy makers can tend to come from public schools and so-called ‘top universities’ meaning they can be too far removed from the needs of citizens in general. And VCs can earn in excess of £300K.

60. By the 18th century, universities published their own research journals and by the 19th century, the German and the French university models had arisen. The German, or Humboldtian model, was conceived by Wilhelm von Humboldt and based on Friedrich Schleiermacher's liberal ideas pertaining to the importance of freedom, seminars, and laboratories in universities. The French university model involved strict discipline and control over every aspect of the university. Today, university printing presses tend to be privately owned and limit publishing to traditional disciplines or well-known scholars.

61. Until the 19th century, religion played a significant role in university curriculum; however, the role of religion in research universities decreased in the 19th century, and by the end of the 19th century, the German university model had spread around the world. Universities concentrated on science in the 19th and 20th centuries and became increasingly accessible to the masses. Today, accessibility depends more on affordability; and high student debt is the order of the day.

62. In the United States, the Johns Hopkins University was the first to adopt the (German) research university model; this pioneered the adoption by most other American universities. Today the research university model is still very influential and this can place undue pressure on lecturers in more teaching oriented universities e.g. to ‘publish or peril’.

63. In Britain, the move from Industrial Revolution to modernity saw the arrival of new civic universities with an emphasis on science and engineering, a movement initiated in 1960 by Sir Keith Murray (chairman of the University Grants Committee) and Sir Samuel Curran, with the formation of the University of Strathclyde. Today, the University of Strathclyde is the first in Europe to offer environmental entrepreneurship as a core discipline; whereas other universities are lagging behind.

64. The British also established universities worldwide, and higher education became available to the masses not only in Europe. Nevertheless, there is still a high proportion of international students that desire to study in the West. With ‘BREXIT’ there is concern that some international students will decide not to study in the UK.

65. In 1963, the Robbins Report on universities in the United Kingdom concluded that such institutions should have four main objectives essential to any properly balanced system: instruction in skills; the promotion of the general powers of the mind so as to produce not mere specialists but rather cultivated men and women; to maintain research in balance with teaching, since teaching should not be separated from the advancement of learning and the search for truth; and to transmit a common culture and common standards of citizenship. Today, ‘cultural standards’ and ‘common standards of citizenship’ are rather arbitrary terms; and we need to re-invigorate concern for global problems such as poverty alleviation and the effects of climate change (cf. Moon, 2017a). And do more to prevent nepotism and favouritism.

66. In the early 21st century, concerns have been raised over increasing ‘managerialism’ and ‘standardisation’ of universities worldwide. Today, universities are still known as Higher Education Institutions and this ‘institutionalisation’ can cause excessive bureaucracy and unjust rules at the expense of flexibility and fairness.

67. Neo-liberal management models have in this sense been critiqued for creating ‘corporate universities’ (where) power is transferred from faculty to managers, economic justifications dominate, and the familiar 'bottom line' eclipses pedagogical or intellectual concerns. Today, academics' increasingly do not have the time, pedagogical pleasure, nor sense of vocation and collegiality, to mitigate against such problems. Indeed, concerns are increasingly raised about bullying and victimisation, etc.

68. A national university is generally a university created or run by a national state but at the same time represents a state autonomic institution which functions as a completely independent body inside of the same state. Some national universities are closely associated with national cultural, religious or political aspirations, for instance the National University of Ireland, which formed partly from the Catholic University of Ireland. Today, nationalistic tendencies are less prominent. However, this can be at the expense of the need to focus on national issues and problems.

69. Universities created by bilateral or multilateral treaties between states are intergovernmental. An example is the Academy of European Law, which offers training in European law to lawyers, judges, barristers, solicitors, in-house counsel and academics. EUCLID (Pôle Universitaire Euclide, Euclid University) is chartered as a university and umbrella organisation dedicated to sustainable development in signatory countries, and the United Nations University engages in efforts to resolve the pressing global problems that are of concern to the United Nations, its peoples and member states. The European University Institute, a post-graduate university specialising in the social sciences, is officially an intergovernmental organisation, set up by the member states of the European Union. Today, any umbrella to guard against mediocrity in curriculum development is to be congratulated.

70. The funding and organization of universities varies widely between different countries around the world. In some countries universities are predominantly funded by the state, while in others funding may come from donors or from fees which students attending the university must pay. In some countries, the majority of students attend university in their local town, while in other countries universities attract students from all over the world, and may provide university accommodation for their students. Today, the cost of attending a university and being accommodated in certain cities can prevent poorer students from applying.

71. The definition of a university varies widely, even within some countries. Where there is clarification, it is usually set by a government agency. For example: In the United Kingdom, the Privy Council is responsible for approving the use of the word university in the name of an institution, under the terms of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. Today, though new providers are able to confer degrees and the effects of this are as yet unknown.

72. In the USA there isn’t any nationally standardised definition for the term university, although the term has traditionally been used to designate research institutions and was once reserved for doctorate-granting research institutions. Some states, such as Massachusetts, will only grant a school "university status" if it grants at least two doctoral degrees. In the UK, the form of the doctorate has also changed e.g. with professional doctorates given to practitioners.

73. In India, a new designation has been created for institutions of higher education that are not universities, but work at a very high standard in a specific area of study (an institution 'deemed-to-be-university’). Institutions that are 'deemed-to-be-university' enjoy the academic status and the privileges of a university. Through this provision many schools that are commercial in nature and have been established just to exploit the demand for higher education have sprung up. Perhaps the designation ‘deemed-to-be-lecturer’ or ‘deemed-to-be-graduate’ will be next!

74. In Canada, college generally refers to a two-year, non-degree-granting institution, while university connotes a four-year, degree-granting institution. Universities may be sub-classified into large research universities with many PhD-granting programs and medical schools (for example, McGill University); "comprehensive" universities that have some PhDs but are not geared toward research (such as Waterloo); and smaller, primarily undergraduate universities (such as St. Francis Xavier). Today, this can present a confusing mix of types of colleges or universities to students.

75. Colloquially, the term university may be used to describe a phase in one's life: ‘When I was at university…or uni…or college’. However, due to the pressure of fees and assessments many students are working part-time and too busy with assignments to participate in extra curricula activity or participate in local cultural activities.

76. Today some students in the UK can end up in debt to the amount of over £30K. This debt places a high burden on graduates to pay off student loans and perhaps deny them the opportunity to undertake PG qualifications or follow more unusual but equally important career paths or indeed set up their own businesses.

77. In many US states, costs are anticipated to rise for students as a result of decreased state funding given to public universities. Similarly, the effects of BREXIT in the UK could have a marked effect on the amount of funding provided by e.g. the European Union.

78. Citizens of certain EU and EEA member states and citizens from Switzerland can be exempted from tuition fees. This could cause a brain drain from UK universities.

79. Degree ceremonies are the main ritual offered by universities to recognise graduation. The pomp and circumstance is still respected by staff, students and parents. However, poorer students might not be able to afford to rent outfits and pay for professional photographs. There is little provision to assist such students; or provide alternative types of graduation ceremony that suit different pockets. And although there might be more students attending university from disadvantaged backgrounds this also means that their relative debt burden is higher.

80. 300 universities have signed up to The UN Higher Education Sustainability Initiative. This is free to universities but each university is asked to make SMART commitments to one or more of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However, many universities just choose SDG #4 concerning Education and miss the opportunity to consider how the SDG framework can be used more broadly to innovate. Ashridge in the UK report against all the SDGs.

81. Universities that offer a modular degree structure proclaim the greater choice and flexibility available to students i.e. they can switch between modules as they are self-contained units of study probably of the same length and points/credit value. However, this modular structure can mitigate against formative learning.

82. Universities tend to offer fairly traditional subjects such as Accounting, Finance, Marketing and HR. Yet fewer and fewer graduates will go to work in large corporates with such departments. Increasingly graduates go to work in a much greater variety of organisations and much smaller organisations, in start-up companies, or be self-employed.

83. In recent years more new jobs have been created in the ‘green economy’ than in aerospace, automobile manufacturing and telecoms together (Moon, 2013). However, universities today do little to prepare students to work in the green economy. For example, green or sustainability courses tend to be bolt-on courses within traditional programmes rather than transdisciplinary.

84. Today’s societal, economic and environmental problems are complex and require a much greater range of skills and more collaborative sharing of ideas and solutions. Today’s universities do little to actively recognise co-creation, collaboration and creativity.

85. Universities offer physical spaces for students to meet but can be reluctant to offer certain virtual spaces for fear of losing track of students and their contributions. Universities that experiment with MOOCs might be doing this for PR purposes rather than fully engaging with the technology in the best interest of students.

86. Universities can be reluctant to integrate subjects across and within programmes due to the time and resource needed to achieve this satisfactorily. However, subjects such as ethics and sustainability ideally need to be integrated throughout programmes due to their foundational and significant nature. They are building blocks for other subjects.

87. Universities today still favour staff from academic backgrounds at the expense of those with industry experience. Having a PhD is not a guarantee that doctors can teach. Even with an additional teaching qualification such as the PGCHE this does not guarantee that the graduate can teach effectively. For example, universities can award their own staff the PGCHE and this might create a conflict of interest.

88. Universities can be charities or private companies but often have their own rules for staff and students. This means that they can set and change the rules at liberty with very little external accountability. This can leave students unaware of certain rules and liable to penalties unjustly. And staff can be subject to procedures they know little about.

89. Universities that operate autonomously can decide or not to appoint staff without advertising posts externally; progress or promote staff internally without interview or seeing any other candidates; suspend appraisals or other systems at will; introduce new ways of working without consultation; move staff to another office without their agreement; give more teaching hours to some staff than others without reason; reduce remission for research without taking into account the views of other members of staff, etc.

90. Universities thus can have personnel or HR departments far removed from the day to day operations or needs of staff and only get involved in decisions when they go awry or complaints are made. Thus, personnel or HR practices can be reactive rather than proactive; and regarded as an extension of management rather than independent.

91. Universities can have the remnants of public sector organisational frameworks with collective agreements debated by trade unions and management, with little or no consultation with some employees. Trade Unions need to update their agendas to also include the UN Sustainable Development Goals; and provide support for the UN Higher Education Sustainability Initiative in a way that supports working together to tackle global problems.

92. The IARU (2016) ‘Guide to Green Universities’ is equally applicable to all universities not just members of IARU. The guide refers to employee and student engagement, communication, campus-wide operations, transport, green purchasing, buildings, laboratories, and sustainable campus organisation. How many universities today are adequately addressing all of these aspects of sustainability?

93. Professors, Deans, Vice-Chancellors and other members of the university senior management must not sit in ivory towers and use their status per se to run the university. They are in privileged positions through their office and therefore need to consider how the university can be a catalyst for sustainability in society; rather than entertain excuses for not endorsing initiatives such as the UN HESI and concomitant support for the SDGs.

94. Please add your own thesis statement here. Be radical and provocative! After all, the greatest changes in society come not from ‘business-as-usual’ but from disruption! The DNV (2017) study of global risks and opportunities provides a platform to discuss potential solutions.

95. Please consider what the last and perhaps most important thesis should be for the future. No holes barred! If you can’t think of anything yourself, encourage others to add their own contribution. Perhaps even go beyond 95 and add additional theses that nobody has thought of yet! Feel free to share your suggestions with me and others.

The author of this chapter contends that the transformation of higher education described above requires no less than a reformation of Higher Education Institutions. HEIs that set goals based on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (see Fig.3) are more likely to be able to transform the out-dated and institutionalised practices that have prevented them from fully preparing students to work in the green economy and for sustainable development in general; and to produce the innovative solutions needed to tackle the problems that the UN SDGs identify in particular.

Tackling pressing global problems of climate change requires creative thinking but also collaboration. The issues are simply too complex to leave to chance. The mindset of eco and social entrepreneurs differs from traditional entrepreneurs in two important aspects: empathy and compassion. This aspect places them at the heart of tackling the economic, social and environmental issues identified with the UN SDGs.

Fig. 3. The UN Sustainable Development Goals.

HEIs need to adapt and change to support teaching, research and practice that recognises and rewards eco and social entrepreneurship much more significantly than at present.
A survey of 300 UG business students (see Fig. 4) found the majority ‘cynical’ about the environment and studying a green business module. The second highest proportion were positive and labelled by the author as ‘advocates’; the roughly equal third and fourth groups have been labelled ‘instrumental’ as they will study green business if it helps them get their degree; and ‘complacent’ as they are interested in the environment but not doing anything active to be engaged. Educational strategies for responding to these different potential challenges are provided by Moon (2016).

Fig. 4. Attitudes of 300 UG business students to green issues
and studying green modules.

Thus, educators may need to adopt different strategies to help transform student attitudes and achieve engagement. ‘Cynical’ students can pose the greatest challenge but through a series of carefully designed pedagogical interventions (see Fig. 5) such as core sessions on business ethics and sustainability, these students have the most to gain. ‘Instrumental’ students can be self-oriented and though prepared to study green issues their motivation is not based on compassion nor empathy; circular economy tools such as Life Cycle Analyses can help these students recognise the value of such approaches. This ‘values’ based education can be used by educators to encourage attitude change in this regard. And ‘complacent’ students can be involved in practical activities to develop their commitment.

Fig. 5. Strategies for engaging students on green issues and sustainability.

The UN SDGs can be used as a framework to support all four approaches; and Fig. 6 provides a model to support this transformation in terms of HEI policy development.
Skilled educators will be able to design and construct new pedagogical experiences to enable this transformation to take place in ever more creative and innovative ways. They should certainly be recognised for doing so; especially as ‘recognition’ is a fundamental human right (cf. UN Declaration). By charting 95 new theses for higher education this paper has highlighted a number of ‘tensions’ that need to be resolved. These tensions (see Table 1) provide a basis to discuss policy development in this regard.

Fig. 6. System transformation for sustainable development at education, research, policy and practice interface, Mader & Rammel, 2014.


This paper has reviewed the history and development of universities in the form of 95 theses. Today the moral imperative of universities is to tackle societal and global issues and problems. For example, the UN Sustainable Development Goals provide a framework which universities can use to guide teaching, research and practice to address problems of poverty and the effects of climate change. The UN SDGs can also stimulate innovation and new ideas to tackling social and environmental problems. For example, Sustainia100 (2016) have mapped the top 100 sustainability solutions across the globe against the UN SDGs for the first time. And the Enactus World Cup for student entrepreneurs from over 30 countries now also maps projects against the UN SDGs (Enactus, 2017).

As more new jobs have been created recently in the green economy than many other sectors, this means that graduates can be better prepared for employment, or for self-employment or becoming entrepreneurs, and to make a strong contribution to society, economy and the environment, if they are more actively engaged in Education for Sustainable Development whilst at university; and learn skills of direct relevance to their future in a green economy.

Higher Education Institutions can suffer from outdated practices and outdated programmes. This paper calls for reform of HEIs by offering a critique of practices and making suggestions for change. Universities can lose sight of their original mission and values and face pressures to become more institutionalised or bureaucratic and managerialist. This can be at the expense of keeping programmes up-to-date and innovative. For example, subscribing to the UN Higher Education Sustainability Initiative and making SMART commitments to the UN SDGs. Perhaps it is time for universities to no longer be referred to as HEIs and drop the reference to Institution altogether.

Table 1. Tensions in higher education institutions, Author table.


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Dr Christopher J Moon FRSA FHEA Middlesex University c.moon@mdx.ac.uk

Publish date

Friday, 10 November, 2017

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