Aarhus University Seal / Aarhus Universitets segl

The purpose of the future university

Philosophy of higher education conference

The conference will play an important role in the joint international endeavour of developing and strengthening the discussions about the purpose and role of the university as an institution. The conference will, therefore, be central to the formation of an initiative to establish a lasting joint international academic venture into the philosophy of higher education. We encourage a multigenerational host of participants including PhD students, and newer and experienced researchers and scholars.



  • Ronald Barnett, University College London, UK: Constructing the University: Towards a Social Philosophy of Higher Education
  • Paul Gibbs, University of Middlesex, UK: Who is to speak to the truth in the contemporary university
  • Susan Wright, Danish School of Education, Aarhus University, DK: The idea and purpose of the future university

Conference themes

Drawing on recent notions such as critical thinking, creativity, ethics and social conscience, the conference brings together academics whose concern is with the role of the university in and for society.

Neoliberalism and the audit culture have threatened to reduce the purpose of the university as an institution in the 21st century, putting the university into a legitimation crisis. Given that the future is unpredictable and that the world is connected in ways that were unimaginable just two decades ago, we ask: how can the university as an institution and the academics who work in it help to ensure that students are nurtured and adequately prepared for an active role as citizens in a world in which  societal, environmental and cultural challenges are shared? (Some students entering higher education now will be alive in the twenty-second century).

How is knowledge to be understood in the context of the contemporary university? And how might the university’s responsibilities towards society be construed, not least for a world that is yet to come? These reflections concern questioning the university itself. What does it mean to be a university today and in the future? Does the university’s own being call for particular actions and different modes of thinking? These questions suggest that the time maybe right to re-think what ‘being’ the university means.


We invite proposals for working papers within the following domains: 

  • Knowledge, critical thinking, and higher education epistemologies
  • Globalisation and socio-political agendas and their connection to national and local institutional and professional contexts
  • Entrepreneurship, agency, and the formation of students
  • Higher education curriculum and teaching and learning practices
  • Universities and responsibility; academic citizenship and societal engagement
  • The ontology of the university; being and becoming of the university
  • The idea and purpose of the future university


We primarily welcome contributions within philosophical, anthropological, and sociological approaches to the future of higher education practice, but all disciplinary approaches are very welcome.

Organising committee and network

The conference is a joint international project initiated by the steering group:
Associate Professor Søren S.E. Bengtsen (Aarhus University), 
Associate Professor Sarah Robinson (Aarhus University),
Professor Wesley Shumar (Drexel University, USA), and
Associate Principal Lecturer Amanda Fulford (Leeds Trinity University).

Date and venue

November 6th-8th, 2017 

At Aarhus University, City of Aarhus, Denmark


Book of abstracts

Conference call

About the different formats

Abstracts for individual papers and workshops should not exceed 1000 words in length, including up to 5 indicative references. The presentation of an individual paper is assigned 30 minutes. We suggest presentations of 15-20 minutes, followed by a 10-15 minutes discussion with the audience in plenum. 

A symposium consists of 3-4 contributors, including the convener of the symposium. Each contributor writes a short outline not exceeding 600 words and including 3-4 indicative references, and the convener, has responsibility for writing a general introduction to the symposium of 100 words. The convenor should submit the introduction  together with the contributors’ outlines. These will not be accepted individually. The presentation of a symposium is assigned 90 minutes. We suggest presentations of 15-20 minutes (depending on the number of contributors, 3 or 4), lasting one hour in total, and followed by 30 minutes discussion with the audience in plenum. However, if an ongoing discussion or debate is wanted by the symposium-contributors, this is accepted too, if the audience is then given notice at the start of the session.

Registration fee

The registration fee for the conference is €250 and includes:

  • Participation in the evening reception on Monday 6th November
  • Participation in the conference Tuesday 7th and Wednesday 8th November
  • Refreshments in the breaks and lunches on Tuesday and Wednesday

There is a conference dinner on Tuesday 7th November, which participants may register for and pay separately from the registration. The conference dinner will cost €50 Euro and can be booked online.

Accommodation and transport

It is possible to find accommodation in Aarhus city centre, which is quite close to the venue (1-2 km). We suggest that you book one of the recommend hotels listed here. As always it is a good idea to book your hotel in good time:  

Aarhus airport (Tirstrup) is linked with a number of European cities, but some of you will need to fly to Aarhus via Copenhagen Airport (Kastrup), or arrive in Billund Airport (a local airport) and go to Aarhus by Bus or by Train (DSB) from there. 

Aarhus’s official tourism website (Visit Aarhus)




If you have any questions or queries about the conference please do not hesitate to contact us at:

Søren S.E. Bengtsen: ssbe@tdm.au.dk

Sarah Robinson: srobin@tdm.au.dk

Wesley Shumar: shumarw@drexel.edu

Amanda Fulford: a.fulford@leedstrinity.ac.uk

Administrations questions or queries about the conference please contact:

Bente Jønshøj: bjonshoj@tdm.au.dk