The twentieth century saw the greatest expansion of higher education in history. Universities multiplied and expanded around the world. This has accompanied an explosion of knowledge and a multiplication of disciplines and subdisciplines. Academics are part of a global network of teachers, scholars and researchers, linked through books, journals, electronic communications and a great deal of face to face interaction in visits and conferences. University students were estimated to have passed the 100 million mark in 2003, and 2 million of them were studying outside their home country. Universities during the past century have become more involved in the economy, in government, in many areas of civil society and in most professions, and they now educate large numbers of those who are in leadership and other key positions in most societies in the world. As common phrases like ‘information society’, ‘learning culture’ and ‘knowledge economy’ suggest, the role of institutions of higher education, being centrally concerned with information, learning and knowledge, is of increasing importance.
The increases in institutions, disciplines, academics, students and influence have gone along with massive transformations in universities. There are now many types of university, and, even among those with long histories that have sustained some continuity with their past, those that have flourished have also undergone and continue to undergo huge changes. At the same time, there has been considerable differentiation, and universities by no means have a monopoly of the expanded fields of teaching at higher levels or conducting research.