As might be expected from an institution as complex as the university, the foundations for this ideal – and with it what constitutes the real character of higher education – have proved to be controversial. To assist this discussion, the history of the modern university has been organised into a series of ideal types. Ideal types do not claim to deal with all of specificities of the issue under review but are, as Max Weber ( 1864 – 1920), the inventor of the concept said, a synthesis of a set of complex characteristics so as to create ‘unified analytical construct…’ (Shils and Finch 1997)

The ideal types refer to the history of the idea of British universities in a European context. The ideal types used to describe the development of the history of the idea of the university are:

  • 1200 – Medieval: scholasticism and detachment
  • 1810 – Liberal Humanist: research and teaching
  • 1870 – Industrial: big science and big research
  • 1960 – Postmodern: the radicalization and democratization of knowledge
  • 1990 – Entrepreneurial: intellectual property