Higher education is a field of study. It does not have an integral cognate discipline that defines its extent and borders. Contributions to understanding higher education come from, among others, sociologists, historians, political theorists, economists and students of science policy and cultural studies. These were the disciplines whose exponents were assembled by Burton Clark in UCLA to summarise for a wider audience the contributions their disciplines were making to scholarship and research into higher education in the early 1980s. This paper reviews these disciplinary approaches and Clark's reactions to them in the light of later developments in higher education and its study. It concludes by claiming that the contributors showed remarkable prescience in identifying many of the main developments in higher education studies over the following quarter of a century. It also asserts that although there has been a huge expansion in higher education studies since then, and they now have all the attributes of an academically respectable field of study throughout the world, they remain dependent on their foundation disciplines for their intellectual rigour.