Idea of industrial University

  • Connection with industry
  • Natural science as the basis for intellectual authority
  • Research focus
  • Teaching downgraded
  • Enclave of the expert
  • Research outside universities
  • Lack of public accountability
  • Bureaucratisation
  • Risk Society

The liberal ideal of the university was increasingly overwhelmed by industrial society from which it had attempted to keep its distance. And yet, as Scott tells us, the university had been slow to catch on with industrialisation, with most of the major revolutionary scientific discoveries taking place outside of the universities, with the most influential scientific institution being the Royal Society, established in 1660 ( Scott 1984). Nor did the universities of the period play a major role in the development of technologies that underpinned the advances of the industrial revolution. Yet it was science and its connection with industry that rapidly became the basis by which the university established itself as a independent intellectual authority (Scott 1984 28 -29).

Despite being slow to catch on the University became a key player in the development of the new industrial society. Indeed ‘most of the universities that were established in the 19th century owed their existence to the expansion of the industrial revolution’ (Scott 1984 51). In the world of industrial production the production of knowledge came to be seen as the most important aspect of higher education. This was accompanied by a move away from teaching towards research, linked increasingly to the needs of economic and technical society. If the medieval university was defined by its separation from power, the industrial university was defined by its usefulness to the newly emerging industrial society (Scott 1984 51 – 55).

The developing industrial society was not driven by a search for truth, but by the imperatives of what social scientists referred to as the political military-economic elite that came to dominate the new world order that emerged during and after World War 2 (Wright Mills 1953). Universities had a key role to play in this new technocratic order:

‘While science and technology have always been important to and driven by warfare, the increase in military funding of science following the second World War was on a scale wholly unprecedented. World War II has often been called “the physicists’ war” for the role that those scientists played in the development of new weapons and tools, notably radar, and the atomic bomb. The bulk of these last two activities took place in a new form of research facility: the government-sponsored laboratory, employing thousands of technicians and scientists, managed by universities (in this case, the University of California and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology). (Wikipedia. Big Science)

The period following World War 2 period sees a massive expansion in technological society. Now science ‘came to be seen not simply in terms of spectacular intellectual achievement but in terms of the large – scale organisation of the production of new knowledge’ (Scott 1984 56), in a process that came to be known as Big Science (Delanty 2001; Price 1963).

Big Science meant that universities focused on employing professional and specialised scientists in a system of knowledge production within which teaching and learning had secondary status. The industrial university consolidated the move in higher education to emphasize the activity of research over teaching, with the university becoming the enclave of the expert (Delanty 2001 42).

Big Science comes to be ‘enormously Expensive Science’, which means that scientists cannot make their careers in the realm of discovering Truth’ without finding external funding. In practice this means patronage by big organisations: the government, the military and large scale capitalist industry’ (Brante, Fuller, Lynch 1993). The high cost of research made Big Science affordable only to government agencies or international consortia, drawing influence away from the universities (Delanty 2001; Fuller 2000).

In terms of what this means for university architecture, the period of Big Science can be defined as a time when the monuments to the advance of knowledge were not encapsulated by university architecture, but by the products of Big Science itself:

When history looks at the 20th century, she will see science and technology as its theme; she will find in the monuments of Big Science—the huge rockets, the high-energy accelerators, the high-flux research reactors—symbols of our time just as surely as she finds in Notre Dame a symbol of the Middle Ages (Weinberg 1961).

For Fuller (2000) there is something more fundamental to the workings of the university than the scale of its scientific projects: the issue is the democratisation of the scientific process. For Fuller the key issue for Big Science is how judgements are made as to what constitutes fundable research. Fuller is keen to reinvent the university as a ‘republic of science’, where decisions about funding are taken by democratic processes based not on issues of corporate profitablity, but rather public accountability based on an enhanced sense of the greater public good (Fuller 2000 146).

The issue of public accountablity is seen as being increasingly important when Big Science becomes associated with what is referred to as the ‘risk society’: a world made ever more dangerous by scientific and technological advances that create a range of social, political and economic emergencies that appear to be beyond human control e.g., global warming, mass poverty and unemployment and environmental destruction (Beck 1992).

Further Reading

Beck, U. ( 1992 ) Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity, Sage, New Dehli

Brante, T., Fuller, S., and Lynch, W. ( eds) ( 1993) Controversial Science: From Content to Contention, State University of New York Press

Cooley, M. (1980) Architect of Bee: The Human Price of Technology, The Hogarth Press, London

Delanty, G. ( 2001) Delanty, G. ( 2001 ) Challenging Knowledge: The University in the Knowledge Society, The Society for Research into Higher Education and Open University Press, Buckingham and Philadelphia

Fuller. S. (2000) The Governance of Science: Ideology and the Future of the Open Society, Open University Press, Buckingham

Fuller S ( 2007) New Frontiers in Science and Technology, Polity Press, Cambridge and Massachussetts

Price (1963) Little Science, Big Science, Columbia University Press, New York

Scott, P. ( 1984) The Crisis of the University, Croom Helm, London and Sydney

Weinberg. A. ( 1961) Impact of Large-Scale Science on the United States, Science 134, no. 3473 (21 July 1961), p. 161-164.

Wright – Mills, C. ( 1956) The Power Elite, Oxford University Press, Oxford