Document Type

Conference Paper


Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence



Publication Details

Paper presented at the Higher Education in Transformation Conference, Dublin, 31st. May - 1st. April, 2015.


Universities have always relied on financial and other resources to pursue their goals. Over the last two decades, the percentage of financial support they receive from government has dwindled (Metcalfe, 2010). The expression, “enterprising university”, is generally used to refer to post- secondary educational institutions adopting entrepreneurial approaches to locate new sources and forms of revenue. Invoking the term in a normative register, some adopt a cheerful, triumphant tone (Meyer, 2002), others a gloomy, foreboding one (Lynch, 2006). Certain opponents condemn the “enterprising university” for spelling the end of university as we know it, whereas certain proponents claim being “enterprising” offers universities their last, best chance of survival. I support the characterization of university as an enterprise, but I do not think it should be framed exclusively (or even primarily) as an economic one. Etymologically, the word ‘enterprise’ means ‘undertaking’— that is, an endeavour, an activity, a project through time. This is an apt description of university whose survival and flourishing ultimately rely on the commitment of its members. I argue that framing university as an ethical undertaking informs while being informed by the following considerations: first, the integrity of university as an enterprise; second, the most suitable basis for evaluating the endeavour; third, the purposes of the enterprise; fourth, how the undertaking is governed, and lastly, who we imagine its undertakers to be. In this paper, I examine each subject in turn. My goal is to demonstrate why the university ought to be imagined foremost as an ethical enterprise— a shared project of teaching, learning and discovery, fostering each individual’s pursuit of virtue.