As the university engine starts up once again, ready to mould, shape and form the minds of another swathe of young ‘uns (jealous sigh), the debate about the public utility of universities again rages. Or, to be closer to the truth, it doesn’t.
Adding to the list of “things the majority of the public cannot bring themselves to pretend to even care one bit about” can be found the true place for universities within society (alongside climate change, the destructive nature of capitalism and politics).
In his excellent article, Will Hutton firmly states the case not just for universities but for the position of knowledge for knowledge’s sake. With more students now being able to put letters after their names than ever before, we should now be entering the New Age of the Enlightenment (Enlightenment II – This Time it is Objective). Instead, the degree has become a tool to gain a job, a functional follow on from A Levels, a right. And with these movements, the unspoken, hidden reasons at the centre of universities, the pursuit of knowledge, has become buried beneath layers of club promos and the ubiquitous student election hand-outs. The intellectual pursuit has been replaced by the experience (or the pursuit of something most academic can only dream of).
My anger over the forced changes to the Higher Education system is wide-ranging and multifarious, with my venom spitting on many targets: from the commercialisation of universities to the rising popularity of mediocre, pointless courses *cough* business/management *cough*. But they all hint toward the tainting of the image of education as a hub of intellect, to a quasi-finishing school that uses terms such as ‘transferrable skills’ far more than is necessary. Instead of twisting the process and purpose of academia to meet the employer’s demands *genuflect*. Surely generation after generation of bright students with a thirst for knowledge and a flair for thinking outside the intellectual box is more desirable than lines of drones who are no more ‘ready for employment’ than the Greek Government are ready to announce a round of tax cuts.
Politicians once again need to rediscover the true raison d’être of universities; they are the drivers of society, the place where no idea is too stupid, the place where multiple definitions of peace are formulated not just ridiculed, where the thought so lacking in the rest of society is present.
Higher education is not a formula that can be applied to all, it requires a passion otherwise we enter into a system of people paying thousands of pounds for the privilege of having a few letters after their name. And we can’t have that.
Andrew Jones B.A., M.A.