University and ontology. Seminar series

Scholarly Communication Research Group in collaboration with Philosophy and Theory of Higher Education Society opens a new series of seminars on the ontological reflection on the contemporary University. 


University is no longer a safe place to wait up the storm, brewing beyond its walls. The intensifying and experienced on the planetary scale multicrisis wraps tightly around contemporary University from all sides. Being subjected to ever greater pressure and facing the decline of its authority, University must posit itself at the same time in relation to the grand challenges of ours’s societies. And face the ugly truth, that its history is often intertwined with processes directly responsible for our current predicament. It follows that simply being part of the site of knowledge production and reproduction is not enough to soothe our conscience in the face of impending ecological crisis and bridging the point of no return.

To grasp this moment and ponder on the possible way(s) out, these seminar series propose a return to more fundamental ontological reflection on the University. Not necessary to tackle again the same sets of questions about the University’s essence and its function in contemporary society. In the face of a crisis, we need ontology not to restore stability to the University and our categories of thinking about it. On the contrary. If engaging with ontological reflection plays such an important role, it is above all to denaturalize our assumptions about the University and what it is for. By doing so ontological reflection itself becomes the laboratory of thought. One that is able to account for the University’s embeddedness and its shifting relations vis-à-vis other beings. To better understand the University as a being in motion, as a historical being in a process of its becoming. To ask about transcendental conditions of challenging present trajectories of the University transformations and at the same time put forward possibilities of the future University.

The seminars take place online every month and are open to everyone. Only registration is necessary to receive a link to the meeting. The seminar formula includes meetings with invited speakers who present their points of view on ontological reflection and the role of ontology in the context of the University. After the presentation there is time and space for open debate between members of the audience. All seminars are recorded and posted on YouTube afterwards. 

All seminars are: 1:00 pm Central European Time (London: 12:00 pm; New York 7:00 am; Santiago de Chile 9:00 am; Tokio 9:00 pm; Hong Kong 8:00 pm; Sydney 11:00 pm)

  • 19 January 2023 – Ron Barnett (University College London)
  • 24 February 2023 – Andrew Gibson (Trinity College Dublin)
  • 23 March 2023 – Jakub Krzeski (Nicolaus Copernicus University), Krystian Szadkowski (Adam Mickiewicz University) 
  • 27 April 2023 – Lili Yang (University of Hong Kong)
  • 15 May 2023 – Carolina Guzmán-Valenzuela (Universidad de Tarapacá)
  • 21 June 2023 – Søren S. E. Bengtsen (Aarhus University)

19 January 2023 – Ron Barnett (University College London), Being real about the university

TIME: 1:00 pm Central European Time (London: 12:00 pm; New York 7:00 am; Santiago de Chile 9:00 am; Tokio 9:00 pm; Hong Kong 8:00 pm; Sydney 11:00 pm)

Link to registration: https://us06web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZUvdOisqDgrHNOaEIKi0YQb2vsmecn62SZL

Abstract: To speak of ontology in the context of the university is to posit a real that is beyond the university. But more, it is to suggest that this real affects the university: it has force and powers. However, this real is not easily apprehended for it operates at hidden levels. And there may be malevolent forces working in those layers that may be steering the university in problematic ways. Three issues arise: First, what is the character of this real? Where is it located? Is it mainly material – present say in the economy and the technological realms – or does it have a more metaphysical or even theological character? Second, might we conjure the idea of multiple ontologies of the university? Third, to what extent can the university find an autonomous space amid its ontological setting? Does it even have responsibilities in that regard? This is what I shall contend.

Ronald Barnett is Emeritus Professor of Higher Education at University College London Institute of Education, where he was a Dean and a Pro-Director. He was Chair of the Society for Research into Higher Education, was awarded the inaugural prize by the European Association for Educational Research for his ‘outstanding contribution to Higher Education Research, Policy and Practice’ and is President of the Philosophy and Theory of Higher Education Society. He has played a major part in developing the philosophy of higher education, with 35+ books and hundreds of papers, and 150 keynote talks in 40+ countries. He has been cited over 25,000 times.


24 February 2023 – Andrew Gibson (Trinity College Dublin), Ontology from the middle: knowing higher education from somewhere

TIME: 1:00 pm Central European Time (London: 12:00 pm; New York 7:00 am; Santiago de Chile 9:00 am; Tokio 9:00 pm; Hong Kong 8:00 pm; Sydney 11:00 pm)

Abstract: TBA

Andrew Gibson is Assistant Professor in Philosophy of Education, at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland. He joined Trinity College Dublin in September 2022, after working as a postdoctoral fellow in Aarhus University, Denmark where his involvement started in the “Research for impact: Integrating research and societal impact in the humanities PhD” project. His research interests are in the philosophy of higher education and critical higher education studies, with a focus on normative arguments for the humanities. He is PI on a Quality and Qualifications Ireland-funded project interrogating attitudes towards academic integrity in Irish higher education. 


23 March 2023 – Jakub Krzeski (Nicolaus Copernicus University) & Krystian Szadkowski (Adam Mickiewicz University), Renewing the relation between ontology and critique for critical higher education research

TIME: 1.00 pm Central European Time (London: 12.00 pm; New York 7.00 am; Santiago de Chile 9.00 am; Tokio 9 pm; Hong Kong 8:00 pm; Sydney 11:00 pm)

Abstract: This paper draws attention to the relation that connects ontology and critique. The traces of this relation are already given in ontological conceptualisations within philosophy of higher education. Here, ontological reflection emerged, first, as a response to the crisis of educational process in which critical thinking was gradually subsumed under the imperative of instrumental reason and gradually expanded towards embeddness of the University in its social ontology. However, despite the renewal of the link between critique and ontology on the grounds of the philosophy of higher education, we argue that critical method cannot stop there. Ultimately, because such ontological perspective is unable to produce ontological rupture within the ontological horizon of the present. Rupture that is necessary as the crisis to which we try to respond surmounts to ontological crisis in the form of capital becoming the horizon of existence within the University. Hence, we introduce Marx’s practice of political ontology as means to produce such rupture. This occurrs on the two interconnected levels. First, through assessment of ontological assumptions underpinning the ontological deadlock between the private and the public. Second, by pointing towards positive ontological grounding in the form of transhistorical movement of ever-expanding wealth or the common.  

Krystian Szadkowski, PhD is a researcher at the Scholarly Communication Research Group of Adam Mickiewicz University. His interests cover Marxist political economy and transformations of higher education systems in Central Eastern Europe, as well as the issues of the public and the common in higher education.

Jakub Krzeski, PhD is an assistant professor at the Department of Philosophy and Social Sciences of Nicolaus Copernicus University and researcher at the Scholarly Communication Research Group. He received his degree in 2021 defending his dissertation “A philosophical account of metrological conflict in the field of science evaluation” at the Faculty of Philosophy, Adam Mickiewicz University. His research interests focus on the social theory of quantification, critical theory and political ontology. 


27 April 2023 – Lili Yang (University of Hong Kong), Higher education, state and society: Comparing Chinese and Anglo-American philosophies

TIME: 1:00 pm Central European Time (London: 12:00 pm; New York 7:00 am; Santiago de Chile 9:00 am; Tokio 9:00 pm; Hong Kong 8:00 pm; Sydney 11:00 pm)

Abstract: Higher education plays numerous social and public functions. A common trope is that higher education plays public roles and contributes to the public good. This is realised through the interactions between higher education and various spheres of social action including the individual, society, state and the world. For example, higher education produces research- based new knowledge and advances technologies, provides channels for upward social mobility and contributes to social equity, and transforms students and prepares them to become desirable members of societies. Higher education is also shaped by these spheres of social action. The state/society/higher education assemblage to a large extent determines higher education’s missions, organisations and activities. 

However, it remains ambiguous about what the public good means in higher education, which also differs across contexts depending on the varied approaches to the state/society/higher education assemblage. In this seminar, Lili Yang will talk about her new book that compares core ideas about the state, society, and higher education in two important world traditions – the Chinese and Anglo-American traditions. She will explore the broad cultural and philosophical ideas underlying the public good of higher education in the two traditions, discuss their different social imaginaries, and work through five areas where higher education intersects with the individual, society, the state, and the world, intersections understood in contrasting ways in each tradition. The five key areas are: individual student development in higher education, equity in higher education, academic freedom and university autonomy, the resources and outcomes of higher education, and cross-border higher education activities and higher educations global outcomes. In exploring the similarities, she will also highlight important meeting points between the two traditions, with the potential to contribute to the mutual understanding and cooperation across cultures.

Lili Yang is an assistant professor at the Faculty of Education, the University of Hong Kong. She has strong interests in cross-cultural (especially Eastern-Western) comparison in higher education. More broadly, her research interests include higher education, comparative and international education, global science, and educational and political philosophy. Previously, Lili was a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Education, University of Oxford, where she also received her DPhil in Education. Her new book is titled ‘Higher Education, State and Society: Comparing the Chinese and Anglo-American Approaches’ (Bloomsbury, 2022).


May 2023 – Carolina Guzmán-Valenzuela (Universidad de Tarapacá), TBA

TIME: 1.00 pm Central European Time (London: 12.00 pm; New York 7.00 am; Santiago de Chile 9.00 am; Tokio 9 pm; Hong Kong 8:00 pm; Sydney 11:00 pm)

Abstract: TBA

Professor Carolina Guzmán-Valenzuela is interested in the study of higher education. For the last 12 years, she has been conducting research on the role of the universities in the twenty-first century. Currently, she is leading a national project on knowledge production in the social sciences and the humanities in Latin America financed by Fondecyt Chile (1200633).


21 June 2023 – Søren S. E. Bengtsen (Aarhus University), Dangerous ontology – the university as rift

TIME: 1:00 pm Central European Time (London: 12:00 pm; New York 7:00 am; Santiago de Chile 9:00 am; Tokio 9:00 pm; Hong Kong 8:00 pm; Sydney 11:00 pm)

Abstract: In many current discourses, we find the university cast in the role of the growth-maker, problem-solver, sustainability-ensurer, and justice-bringer. With the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, I argue that the leading role of the university may be none of these (directly). I shall argue that we may better understand the being and becoming of the university if we turn our attention the many rifts universities cause in the world – unsettling and destabilizing balances of economic and political power and established social and cultural norms and values. By understanding the university as having a ’dangerous ontology’, higher education may be released and allowed to educate for otherness, difference, and uncertainty. A haunting question is, however, if students and teachers will fare well in a rifted and rifting institution? 

Søren S. E. Bengtsen is Associate Professor at the Department of Educational Philosophy and General Education, Danish School of Education, Aarhus University, Denmark. Also, at Aarhus University, he is the Co-Director of the research centre ‘Centre for Higher Education Futures’ (CHEF). Bengtsen serves as the Chair of the Philosophy and Theory of Higher Education Society (PaTHES), and as Vice-Chair of the Danish Network for Educational Development in Higher Education (DUN). He is Co-Editor of the two book series: ‘Debating Higher Education: Philosophical Perspectives’ (Springer) and ‘World Issues in the Philosophy and Theory of Higher Education’ (Routledge).