In this keynote address to the 2004 IMHE General Conference in Paris, the author tried to lay out the profound changes that are taking place in society. These changes give rise to a new context in which institutions have to make decisions. Three principle elements characterise the new context: a rightward shift in political thinking, an intensification of competition, a more central role for knowledge in generating innovations. In terms of policy, universities are now encouraged to reduce their dependence on government funding, to regard themselves as providing a wider range of educational services, and to be global players in research. In this context, intensifying competition often operates according to static and dynamic modes simultaneously. Dynamic competition has given rise to a number of collaborative arrangements. And if universities are to prosper, they have little choice but to engage with others in developing and introducing new modes and models of teaching and research.