Indeed, the rhetoric is that college keeps a nation 'competitive'. This is about science and technology stealing the march, but that limits what the college can do or actually does. This claim is about research money, and that, more and more research is what it buys. Indeed, a large part of the research produced today is vanity research - papers that the researchers and their family (not really) only read - but this at least provides the justification to the policy-makers why the universities are needed. However, this wont save the universities as this de-emphasises teaching even further. The great hope of building nations of geniuses that peaked in the Postwar years is truly dead and buried.
However, there are other forces which have come to prominence, perhaps irreversibly. Globalisation, that umbrella term which seeks to hide and yet glorify the globally transient flexibly accumulative capitalism, is now the unseen elephant in the China shop: The Vice Chancellors are somewhat the blind men who can hear the breaking China but yet to figure out the beast.
With a pre-determined outcome, sadly! While the college itself declines alongside its national patrons, and globalisation takes over our drawing rooms (and bathrooms, as mentioned), the other obtrusive force in our China shop of sensibilities is technology. The techniques of human connections have now been transformed, and indeed, despite the persistent resistance from inside most colleges, they are being transformed. Like newspapers, college classrooms formed communities on the national lines: Like Internet, the modern learning technology will create inherently global colleges. This will not just mean global delivery of learning, as it seems to mean today. It will also mean deep 'internationalization' (one would wonder why we use the term, but this has something to do with the politics of the academia) of the curriculum and truly global conversations about teaching and learning. If the new architecture and building technologies defined the national-modern college, networking technologies will help us craft the ones in the new global-modern era. It is not necessarily post-human, as some of the commentators seem to be concerned about: It is just another phase in human transformation, and progress.
So, that's the story: The college, abandoned by the nation states, as the latter plunge into a terminal crisis, will find a new identity in globalisation, enabled by the new technologies of human connections. This will change everything, including the students' expectations and ultimately the scholarship they produce. It will give the college a new purpose - that of educating a global generation. And, this transformation will go beyond the superficial tinkering on the edges of nationally constructed curriculum and bring about fundamental shifts in knowledge and learning.