The idea for the Philosophy and Theory of Higher Education Society originated with meetings and discussions between a small group of scholars who all saw the need for a society that could help promote and sustain the efforts of scholars working in the field of philosophy and theory of higher education. This group has continued to develop this work by founding PaTHES as an international learned society; organising and running an inaugural major conference (held at Aarhus University, Denmark, in November 2017, and at Middlesex University, London, UK, 2018); planning for the Society’s conference to be held on an annual basis, and by establishing a link with Philosophy and Theory in Higher Education (edited by John Petrovic) as the Society’s associated journal.


The Society 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. It aims to be central to the formation of an initiative to establish a lasting joint international academic venture into the Philosophy and Theory of Higher Education. We encourage a multi-generational membership including PhD students, and newer and experienced researchers and scholars.

Drawing on recent notions such as critical thinking, creativity, ethics and social conscience, the society 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 pose central questions such as

  • 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?
  • 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?

With these questions and others, we suggest that the time maybe right to re-think what ‘being’ the university means.