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Implausible Dream:
The World-Class University and Repurposing Higher Education
James H. Mittelman

Hardcover | November 2017 | $39.50 | £32.95 | ISBN: 9780691165189
288 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 4 line illus. 2 tables.
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Why the paradigm of the world-class university is an implausible dream for most institutions of higher education

Universities have become major actors on the global stage. Yet, as they strive to be “world-class,” institutions of higher education are shifting away from their core missions of cultivating democratic citizenship, fostering critical thinking, and safeguarding academic freedom. In the contest to raise their national and global profiles, universities are embracing a new form of utilitarianism, one that favors market power over academic values. In this book, James Mittelman explains why the world-class university is an implausible dream for most institutions and proposes viable alternatives that can help universities thrive in today’s competitive global environment.

Mittelman traces how the scale, reach, and impact of higher-education institutions expanded exponentially in the post–World War II era, and how the market-led educational model became widespread. Drawing on his own groundbreaking fieldwork, he offers three case studies—the United States, which exemplifies market-oriented educational globalization; Finland, representative of the strong public sphere; and Uganda, a postcolonial country with a historically public but now increasingly private university system. Mittelman shows that the “world-class” paradigm is untenable for all but a small group of wealthy, research-intensive universities, primarily in the global North. Nevertheless, institutions without substantial material resources and in far different contexts continue to aspire to world-class stature.

An urgent wake-up call, Implausible Dream argues that universities are repurposing at the peril of their high principles and recommends structural reforms that are more practical than the unrealistic worldwide measures of excellence prevalent today.

James H. Mittelman is Distinguished Scholar in Residence and University Professor Emeritus at the School of International Service, American University. His books include Contesting Global Order: Development, Global Governance, and Globalization; Hyperconflict: Globalization and Insecurity; and The Globalization Syndrome: Transformation and Resistance (Princeton).


"Original and insightful, this is the most comprehensive, multifaceted, and critical work on the globalization of higher education available today."--Manfred B. Steger, author of Globalization: A Very Short Introduction

"This is a superb book. With elegant and accessible prose, Mittelman shows how the virulent forces of globalization are threatening the essence of the university to such an extent that its original and fundamental purpose is being derailed at a heavy cost to the long-term well-being of society."--Ahmed I. Samatar, coeditor of The African State: Reconsiderations

Table of Contents:

List of Illustrations and Tables ix
Preface and Acknowledgments xi
Abbreviations xv
A Note on Terminology xvii
Introduction Questions and Arguments 1
1 A Crisis of Purpose 15
2 Contending Purposes of Modern Universities 39
3 Drivers of Reform 60
4 The Neoliberal Model: The United States 93
5 A Social Democratic Path: Finland 137
6 Postcolonial Experience: Uganda 167
7 Polymorphism 205
8 Plausible Alternatives 221
Index 245

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