What are universities for?

With two through university and in the world of work, two going through and one trying to decide if and when, universities and university life are much in our minds.

I read Jonathan Bate’s article, The wrong idea of a university, in the first edition of Standpoint, shortly before a recent event, where much was made, by the speakers from our university hosts, of the need to retain graduates in the region and to grow and encourage entrepreneurs. Bate writes,

With Gordon Brown’s restructuring of government departments, higher education is now under the control of the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills (“DIUS”). We no longer have a Department for Education in this country. The idea of a university as “a place of teaching universal knowledge” — Cardinal Newman’s phrase — has, it seems, no relevance in Brown’s Britain. Higher education must now justify itself in terms of the “innovation and skills agenda”. Crudely put, academic research must pay its way by generating real returns in the wider economy. The Research Councils’ big new idea, driven by DIUS, is “knowledge transfer”. This is defined as “improving exploitation of the research base to meet national economic and public service objectives” to be achieved by means of “people and knowledge flow” together with “commercialisation, including Intellectual Property exploitation and entrepreneurial activities”.

Fine sounding words from DIUS  but deep down, like so much else from this  government, absolutely meaningless. One of Bate’s conclusions in his hard copy article (but strangely missing from the website one) is that,

Higher education has been hijacked by the quangocracy: teaching is neglected, research is distorted by bogus assessment methods, and trust in professional judgement is gone.

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