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Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to explore the origins of tensions between the benefits (such as technologies and skills) and the substance of knowledge (often described as “pure inquiry”) in Australian universities. There are advantages to considering this debate in Australia, since its universities were tightly connected to scholarly networks in the British Empire. After the Second World War, those ties were loosened, enabling influences from American research and technological universities, augmented by a growing connection between universities, government economic strategy and the procedures of industry. This paper thus traces some of routes by which arguments travelled and the ways they were articulated in post‐war Australia.

Design/methodology/approach: Ideas do not travel on their own. In this paper, the author takes a biographical approach to the question of contrasting attitudes to university knowledge in the post‐war period, comparing the international scholarly and professional networks of two British scientists who travelled to Australia – contemporaries in age and education – both influencing Australian higher education policy in diametrically opposing ways.

Findings: This research demonstrates that the growing connection with economic goals in Australian universities after the Second World War was in part a result of the new international and cross‐sectoral networks in which some scholars now operated.

Originality/value: Australian historiography suggests that shifts in the emphases of post‐war universities were primarily the consequence of government policy. This paper demonstrates that the debates that shaped Australia's modern university system were also conducted among an international network of scholars.


School of Arts

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Journal Article

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