Empistemological and ontological discourses on the role of Universities in the 21st Century

20 Nov 2018

Worldwide, institutions of higher learning are challenged to transform themselves to play a decisive role in an ever-changing environment. Viewed from an open system theory, these institutions like any other organizations are to discover, contextualise and employ appropriate and deliberate strategic planning, management strategies and tools to address the needs and aspirations imposed by these environments. As such, universities are compelled to configure and revisit their roles and models for them to impact positively on their immediate environment and wider stakeholders. Thus, the existence of universities as social institutions implicates them to transcend their traditional role from teaching and learning and improve their research and community engagement to using knowledge as a social tool to transform society. This paper therefore provides an ontological and epistemological analysis of the traditional and emerging roles played by universities in the 21st century. The author made use of various models to assess and understand evolving roles of universities and their implications for a wider societal transformation. These models range from the metaphysical, scientific, entrepreneurial and bureaucratic to liquid, therapeutic, authentic and ecological models. Within a single university, the research university, the entrepreneurial university, the bureaucratic university, and even the corporate university have a presence and influence. However, the question is how does the modern university navigate all this branding and roles, and still maintain its status and identity of being a university. Due to pressure from both the immediate and wider environment, the paper argues that universities have no option but to adopt to the ecological university model if they are concerned about playing an active and impactful role in transforming society.