The Research Foundations of Graduate Education: Germany, Britain, France, United States, Japan

reviewed by Harold Perkin - 1994

coverTitle: The Research Foundations of Graduate Education: Germany, Britain, France, United States, Japan
Author(s): Burton Clark
Publisher: University of California Press, Los Angeles
ISBN: 0520079973, Pages: , Year: 1993
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Universities are the axial institutions of postindustrial society. They are the powerhouses of the knowledge society and manufacture the human capital that makes it so productive. Where did their power come from, and what is happening to them now that they cater to mass higher education, cost so much that governments are forced to intervene, and are under threat from rival institutions specializing in research?

Burton Clark and his colleagues in five of the most advanced national systems of higher education have in this well-researched volume tried to answer these questions in terms of the history and contemporary state of research and graduate training in the universities. They have done this for each country named in the subtitle, at two levels: at the macro- level of national organization and at the micro-level of the particular disciplines.

What they have found is historically familiar and encouraging but in current terms filled with threatening trends. Until the nineteenth century the universities were chiefly seminaries for the clergy and finishing schools for young gentlemen. Their research orientation began with Wilhelm von Humboldt's plan for the new University of Berlin in 1810, which insisted on the unity of teaching and research, the discovery of new knowledge and its transmission to the next generation, in the same institution. This helped to set Germany on the fast track to industrialism and modernity. So powerful a tool of progress was admired and emulated by other leading countries and rapidly spread around the world. In its migration, however, it suffered a sea change whenever it crossed a frontier. Each country took what best suited its own culture and values and transformed the ideal into something new and idiosyncratic. The very idea of a university came to mean something different in each setting, even in its country of origin.

The German university did unite teaching and research, but at so low a level-the professorial chair with its small team of assistants-that the results, at first impressive, became in the long term too narrow and frustrating; "big science" gravitated to the Max Planck Institute and the like, while graduate education remained in the long-drawn-out master- apprentice mode. Britain, where the Newman idea of the university as "a place for teaching universal knowledge"[1] long preserved the character- forming tutorial system at the expense of research, at length established great research laboratories like the Clarendon and the Cavendish, but left graduate training to the informalities of the individual mentor's guidance. France, already committed to Napoleonic centralism and to the exclusively teaching grandes -coles, which relegated the universities to poor relations, in the end set up the centralized National Centre for Scientific Research, which controlled nearly all research in separate institutions, some loosely connected to the post-1968 independent universities. Japan, whose magnificent school system midwifed "economic miracles" for over a hundred years, neglected graduate education and left most research to the industrial corporations.

Only the United States truly institutionalized the Humboldt ideal in the research university, the multiprofessor department, the graduate school, and the curricular Ph.D.-though at the price of an impoverished high school system and an unfocused liberal arts course at the undergraduate level. This has paid off in American academic scientific leadership in the twentieth century, with more graduate students (1.5 million) than other countries at all levels, a model that attracts thousands of foreign students and scholars and produces more Nobel prizes than any other nation.

The problems and dilemmas of uniting teaching and research are played out at the micro-level in the three or four academic disciplines investigated in each country. Whatever the system, the graduates in physics, engineering, and biological sciences all benefit from teamwork alongside their professors, while the historians and economists are more isolated and left to their own devices.

Burton Clark's penetrating conclusion identifies four trends, none of which bodes well for the universities and the future of research. The continuing expansion is putting a strain on the ability of the universities to unite teaching and research. The demand for more professional experts is pulling university structures apart in ever more fragmented divisions. The explosion of knowledge is hiving off research into separate institutions, owned by government, not-for-profit bodies, and industry itself. And the sheer cost of mass higher education and large-scale research is leading to government surveillance and control. Let us hope that this timely book will alert the universities to the dangers facing them and to the need for corrective action before it is too late.


1 John Henry Newman, The Idea of the University [1858] (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976), p. xi.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 96 Number 1, 1994, p. 127-129 ID Number: 56, Date Accessed: 1/22/2022 12:34:58 AM

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