A scan through higher education related Twitter hashtags or browsing universities through search engines reveals the unsurprising fact that universities are the source of much debate and discussion.

What is surprising, on reflection, is that much of this conversation is centred on the “how-what-where-when” of higher education – that is, its place in the political and social landscape, the instrumentality of running complex institutions, their finances, internal politics, the machinations of management and the trials and tribulations of staff and the student body.

But there is something of a lacuna: for there is not that much about the “why” of higher education – what it is for, what it means in the lives of individuals, communities and societies. And especially what it means for those most important people: the students, whose hopes, aspirations, dreams and hard work give primary purpose to our institutions.

As a new semester dawns in Australia it is timely to reflect on and praise the overwhelmingly good purpose of universities and the overall beneficence of their missions.

It is natural for those who work in education and its surrounding offshoots to be focused on their specific function. That is fine, but it does not hurt to consider once in a while the amazing and fantastic opportunities they offer to students and to honour the great productive work of academics and researchers, whose contributions can and do impact people’s lives for the better.

A long list of specific achievements might be instructive and inspirational, but perhaps tedious to plough through as it would be so long. So what we suggest is to take a browse through several websites in which much (but not all) of the content springs from or is generated by, in one way or another, the work of universities, academics, and university-educated people worldwide.

These three websites we nominate (and you could suggest your own favourites) for your browsing pleasure are Arts & Letters Daily, TED: Ideas Worth Spreading, and Australia’s very own The Conversation.

Happy reading, and be prepared to be amazed, delighted, challenged and, who knows, even disturbed by these founts of knowledge.

If it were not for universities such sites would probably not even exist. And we would all be worse off for that. So good luck and go well to all our universities – their staff and students – as they swing into action for yet another year.