So you’ve seen the picture, what is it all for anyway?
I mean, what is university for? Obviously universities do think that at least part of the reason that they’re there to do vocational training. Otherwise we wouldn’t have them producing doctors, teachers and youth workers. All these professions are very ‘hands on’ and with all of them you probably learn far more when you’re actually doing the job than you did at university or college or whatever. But without that piece of paper, the degree certificate, the meal ticket, you won’t get the job that the degree barely qualifies you to do.
But actually it’s a much bigger debate.
To quote a Guardian article that says it rather well. “For Humboldt, a German philosopher and diplomat, a university was to do with the “whole” community of scholars and students engaged in a common search for truth. For Newman, it was about teaching universal knowledge. For Robbins, an economist commissioned by the government of the time to draw up a report on the future of higher education, universities had four objectives: instruction in skills, promotion of the general powers of the mind, advancement of learning, and transmission of a common culture and common standards of citizenship.”
In the US the debate also continues. To quote evolllution.com, “The purpose of higher education in the United States has been a topic of debate for many years. We have a 200-year tradition of the liberal arts where colleges are focused in preparing individuals for productive contribution through character development. More recently there has been a demand that there be a greater focus on career development. It is in the resolution of this tension that we progress in improving the enterprise of higher education.”
I hate to say it folks, but even I as a simple farm boy know that running a process you don’t understand, seeking results you’ve never actually decided upon, isn’t any way to guarantee success.
So let’s go down the list.
“A community of scholars and students engaged in a common search for truth.”
Well that one’s dead in the water. In a world of no-platforming and similar, the search for truth in anything but technical fields incomprehensible to the political active is doomed.
“About teaching universal knowledge.”
Almost by definition, there’s too much knowledge out there to teach it all to any one person any more. Even the stuff that is agreed universally is spread across mutually incomprehensible fields.
“Instruction in skills,
Well we can do that. ‘Doctors and teachers exams must pass, if err they wish to rise above the working class…..’
“Promotion of the general powers of the mind.”
The may well happen. But if it does, does it happen to all, some or just a few? And how do you do it reliably anyway. Indeed are the university staff in contact with students trying to do this anyway?
“Advancement of learning.”
This probably happens on an individual level. Everybody comes out of university knowing more, even if all they’ve learned is that it was an expensive way to put off serving fries in McDonald’s for three years.
“And transmission of a common culture and common standards of citizenship.”
Don’t even go there. Stand up and say that in some universities and you’ll be no-platformed.
“Preparing individuals for productive contribution through character development.”
I think this is one most people would cling to. Back when less than 5% of the population went to university it might even have been possible to achieve. But now in many courses there may not even be the personal contact time between educator and the individual student for the educator to know a student well enough to know what their character is, never mind develop it.
“A greater focus on career development.”
Some courses are career orientated, always have been. But with some courses the only career they open up directly is teaching the course either at university or at a simplified level in school.
In simple terms, at some point between the age of sixteen and twenty-one you become an adult, and have to first support yourself, and then perhaps go on to help support a family. This basically happens whether you go to university or not.
In fact a cynic might comment that it might be more likely to happen if you don’t go to university.
So for some people it will make sense to take some sort of course in that period which will enable them to enter their chosen career.
But for others it’ll make far more sense for them to enter employment and then pick up education as you go along. I know men in their forties who’ve worked since they were sixteen and who hold the recognised equivalent of a university degree and a masters degree.
For others again university might be the place for them to go in their middle years with the children left home and the mortgage about paid off. After all people will be looking at an active and working life stretching into their seventies. So three years in university when in your fifties, bringing to the table a wealth of lived experience, could be far more useful that when you’re in your late teens.
But whilst this model might suit us, will it suit the university industry which is just geared up to pile an ever increasing number of students through, mortgaging their futures to fund and justify its current existence?