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Definition: University from The SAGE Glossary of the Social and Behavioral Sciences

An institution of higher education with the authority to grant academic degrees in various disci plines or fields of study. A university usually consists of undergraduate and graduate divisions. Undergraduate studies lead to bachelor's degrees, while graduate studies lead to advanced degrees, such as master's or doctoral degrees.


Summary Article: university
from Collins Dictionary of Sociology

the form of HIGHER EDUCATION institution which in most countries stands at the pinnacle of a hierarchy of types of institution providing post-school education. There are exceptions to such a generalization, however, e.g. in France the grandes écoles, which train personnel for top positions in the higher reaches of government and industry, stand above the universities in terms of prestige. The university being in origins a medieval institution, there are some European universities – including Oxford and Cambridge – that can claim continuity dating back to this era. Most modern institutions however are comparatively recent creations, a product in some instances of the latter half of the 19th century. Most are more recent still, a result of the rapid expansion of higher education in nearly all countries since World War II. This in turn reflects the fact that in almost all countries higher education now plays a dominant role in occupational selection, although the nature and value of the part played by higher education in this respect is disputed (see CREDENTIALISM, SCREENING, INTELLECTUAL LABOUR).

In addition to the differences already mentioned, other important differences also exist in the character of universities in different countries: e.g. Germany has a system dominated by the professoriat and with an emphasis on research and scholarship and a relatively restricted and closely controlled access, while the US system is much more under the control of administrators, but also ‘open’, allowing wide access to a high proportion of the population (see MASS HIGHER EDUCATION). see also NEW UNIVERSITIES.

As well as its teaching functions, research and social monitoring are also vital functions of the university. As Clark (1983) suggests, the capacity of the modern university is such as to ‘appropriate functions’; thus for some commentators they are now utterly crucial to the essential character of modern knowledge-based societies. See INFORMATION SOCIETIES, POSTINDUSTRIAL SOCIETIES, BELL, LIFELONG LEARNING.

© HarperCollins Publishers 2000

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