The right to teach at university: a Humboldtian perspective

Bruce J Macfarlane*, Martin G Erikson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
64 Downloads (Pure)


The right to teach at university is a distinctive philosophical and legal conundrum but a largely unexplored question. Drawing on Humboltdian principles, the legitimacy of the university teacher stems from their continuing engagement in research rather than possession of academic and teaching qualifications alone. This means that the right to teach needs to be understood as a privilege and implies that it is always provisional, requiring an ongoing commitment to research. Yet, massification of higher education (HE) systems internationally has led to the disaggregation of the academic profession with teaching-only positions now increasingly common. University teachers employed to both teach and research face a narrowing set of performative expectations with respect to how ‘research-active’ is defined. This paper challenges these contemporary understandings and, drawing on historical evidence, argues that a broader definition of research and scholarship needs to underpin the basis of the right to teach.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages12
JournalEducational Philosophy and Theory
Early online date13 Jul 2020
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jul 2020

Structured keywords

  • SoE Centre for Higher Education Transformations


  • rights
  • teaching
  • universities
  • Humboldt
  • performativity
  • massification


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