Many chapters in this book focus on contract research (hereafter CR), but mine differs from these in three respects. First, rather than focus on CR in its own right I want to situate it in a much wider landscape of knowledge production, circulation and consumption. My reason for doing so is simple: we cannot possibly form a view on the why and wherefore of CR unless we understand the broader epistemic context in which it currently exists. As we'll see, in this context CR appears as just one instance of a widespread shift to seeing knowledge as a means to fairly well-defined ends. Secondly, I want to pay very close attention to the university as an institution where, it seems, ever more CR is occurring. The increasing prominence of the latter in the former is part of a profound post-1970s shift in the political and moral economy of Western higher education. This sea-change has comprised one very particular answer to the venerable and intimately related questions: 'what is a university?' and 'what is a university for?'. Note that I pose these questions in very general terms. My aim here is not to comment on one or other actually-existing university but, instead, to consider the modus operandi of any institution that would take this name as its own (rather than any other). Thirdly, I wish to be highly normative. I am going to present some proposals about what ought to happen in the future based on what I take to currently be the case. It seems to me wrong-headed to presume that whatever happens to occur in universities at any given time necessarily constitutes a sufficient answer to the questions just posed.