Public good

A public good is the contrast of a private good, two longstanding concepts from liberal political philosophy and political economy. Private good is described by Sen (2000/1999) as something that competes and is exclusive, while public good is something that all can benefit from. Increasing marketisation and competition in the realm of the knowledge-based economy has challenged the role of higher education serving the public good. While external demands often are legitimate, this mission can be understood as one of the core dilemmas in higher educational (Marginson 2004, Pusser 2002). A considerable body of political literature in economics have framed the debate through cost-benefit approaches to production in higher education (Marginson, 2004). The concept is at the center of contemporary debates over university organization and governance, resource allocation, access, autonomy, and legitimacy (Pusser 2006, Marginson 2007, Tierney 2006).

When discussing the public good, the starting point for our project is how universities may teach values, beliefs, and moral responsibilities to upheld the public good. As Universities are entrusted with responsibility to provide society with highly skilled professionals, citizens and leaders, who work for both individual and public interests, their priorities, will influence the formation and competence building of both staff and students. However, what does promoting teaching and learning practices that encourage education for the public good mean? 

The role of higher education as a facilitator for the public good is often viewed through the prism of responsiveness to the ‘market’. In our project, we highlight the social, moral, political, intellectual and cultural responsibility of academic developers. We start off defining the public good in line with the Magna Charta Universitatum, a document that was signed by 388 rectors and heads of universities from all over Europe and beyond on 18 September 1988, the 900th anniversary of the University of Bologna. The universities now refer to this text as the standard of their belonging to an international community sharing the same academic values and purposes, for example, when stressing the role of the university as a force to counter values like intolerance and promote freedom of speech. It contains principles of academic freedom and institutional autonomy as basis for good governance and self-understanding of universities now and in the future. These values form an important foundation for the study of professional responsibility of the academic developers, and how this can be further developed.


Marginson, S. (2004). Competition and markets in higher education: a ‘glonacal’ analysis, Policy Futures in Education 2(2), 175–245.

Marginson, S. (2007) The public/private divide in higher education: A global revision, Higher Education, 53: 307–333

Pusser, B. (2002). Higher education, the emerging market and the public good, in Graham, P. and Stacey, N. (eds.), The Knowledge Economy and Postsecondary Education, Washington D.C: National Academy Press.

Pusser, B. (2006) Reconsidering Higher education and the Public Good: The Role of Public Spaces, in Governance and the Public Good State University of New York Press, Albany

Sen, A. (2000). Development as freedom. New York: Basic Books.

Sen, A. (1999). Global justice: beyond international equity, in Kaul, I., Grunberg, I. and Stern, M. (eds.), Global Public Goods: International cooperation in the 21st century. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 116–125.

Tierney, T. G. (2006) Trust and Academic Governance : A conseptual Framework in Governance and the Public Good State University of New York Press, Albany

Published May 31, 2016 11:07 AM - Last modified May 31, 2016 2:56 PM