Academic publishing arose to serve the needs of university faculty, think tanks and other researchers to share their knowledge as a community. That knowledge filtered down to the students and out to the larger public. Distributed through journals for more immediate access and through books and monographs for longer works.
As knowledge became more specialized and the communities grew, the publishing world expanded and became more complex and more costly to access. Often cost to acquire and increasing focus on more narrow and complex scholarship started to limit access by the public at large and undergraduate students, in particular.
Over the years there have been a variety of efforts to bridge the gaps between the various disciplines and to create different models of open access to make these materials accessible while maintaining a level of publishing acceptable to peers in the various disciplines. An idea to bridge these gaps was put forward by a number of librarians in small liberal arts colleges starting in 1979.
In 2016, over three decades later Lever Press was announced with a number of distinct goals:
1) All publications, primarily monographs, would be free and open access. There would be no charge for authors or users of the materials. The participating institutions would cover the costs for preparation, processing and publishing in electronic formats.
2) The publications would be interdisciplinary where this is defined largely as the humanities and social sciences
3) There would be a substantial focus on issues around “social engagement”
4) The publications would be “intermodal” meaning that they served both scholarly efforts but be in such a form as to be accessible to undergraduate students
There are substantive questions that have not been clarified in their public announcements and in several interviews. Briefly:
Unless there is a violent event such as a revolution or a giant meteor, the disruption of a system such as a business or, in this case, post secondary education, occurs over an extended period, often happening almost unaware by the affected parties. But we reach a tipping point or plateau where one can see out at the events, often, even then, in denial.
Globally, there are transforming events in post secondary education. There is increased demand, particularly in the under resourced countries to provide advanced practice skills for two major reasons. First, the primary/secondary systems in many countries are weak and students have been promoted forward needing further learning. Second, the complex needs of society both from an economic perspective and for civic participation requires advanced skills.
The burden to meet those needs has been met by expansions of institutional facilities and a further stretching of the availability of qualified faculty in the under resourced world while there exists, selectively, a surplus of faculty in the non-STEM (science/technology/engineering/mathematics) areas in, largely North America and Europe. To further complicate the picture, analysis, focused largely in North America, but potentially global in nature, shows that the real need in the “new” economy can be defined by the ratio 1:2:7 or for one Ph.D., there is needed two at a masters level and seven with applied skills level. This runs counter to the standard litany of advanced education with the goal of a Ph.D. being the ultimate destination.
The rising demand for post secondary education, particularly in the developing countries has lead to a rapid expansion of institutions or the consolidation and upgrading of others. The problem is that it has stretched thin a limited or non-existent qualified faculty and under-developed facilities. The current effort to emulate the largely western model of a post secondary institution cannot be maintained. China has determined that, even with its fiscal resources it must focus on certain areas and reduce its program of campus creation. The western institutions have met this challenge by allowing cross institution matriculation and similar expansion of its previously parochial idea of regionally identified or dominated models. Other efforts, such as competency-based certification is breaking the hegemony of a lock-step, largely age-defined path from matriculation to graduation and entrance into civic society.
From a contemporary perspective, there are a lot more voices in the discussion about contemporary education and its future at all levels. Part of this is due to the increased international visibility of all systems and the coupling of education more strongly to the economic world and international competitiveness of the work force.
The attention to the economics of the institutions themselves within an international context has resisted being placed squarely on the table. For example, the increasing costs of maintaining an academic campus/program is becoming more costly, driving many, even public institutions, to enter the global marketplace to recruit full tuition paying students, to actually open campuses abroad or to engage in practices similar to any business seeking a global market.
Academia from a student perspective
when universities were founded about 1000, there were two broad mandates, prepare students for participating in civic discourse and to provide skills to contribute to societal well being. These goals varied depending on who underwrote the institution. Academic faculty were interdisciplinary in their studies and clearly worked across areas of scholarship for their own needs and to meet the educational needs of the institutions.
The balance between the two goals along with scholarly works has undergone rebalancing over the ages. In fact the scholarly activities, particularly in what have been designated as major research institutions has, in many ways become almost cocooned, become increasingly narrowly defined by “disciplines and have had most promotion and tenure decisions based on what is now called the publish/perish paradigm. Only in few institutions has “teaching” taken precedent and few, if any content scholars been formally educated in the practice and art of “teaching”