What is or should be the relationship between a democratic polity and its educational institutions and places of higher learning?

Contemporary discussions of curricula place great stress on utility, on the value of learning skills as they apply not just to the employability of students, but to the economic and political well-being of a state or nation.

Older, more humanist notions of education as a process of self-fulfillment, of making a better moral person, have been challenged by such technocratic ideals and are often seen as outmoded.

At the same time the question of what values inform democratic education raises the issue of who decides on what should be studied and how. 

How much autonomy should educators have, and to what extent should funders  – whether the state and politicians, grant giving agencies, private gift-givers and donors or voters and ‘the public’, however defined – affect or influence university policy, academic curricula or research objectives. 

There is a tension at the heart of this issue, one between the public good of material well-being and the democratic value of free critical thinking, one that raises the question of how independent and autonomous educational institutions should or can be in a democratic society.