Universities Challenged: Society Needs to Have a Civilised Conversation with Itself about Its Values. but Spending Cuts Threatening the Humanities Put That in Danger
Grayling, A. C., New Statesman (1996)
However the coins are counted in the public spending cuts now facing the country, higher education is going to be one of the most affected sectors. Cuts in public subsidy--only partly compensated for by rises in student fees--will change the shape of universities and their purpose accordingly. For example, we can expect to see some, perhaps many, humanities departments being closed as part of the effort to keep science and vocational studies funded, even though these latter, unlike the humanities, will retain some public subsidy because of their importance to the economy.
Add to this how increases in tuition fees will not only fail to compensate fully for the cuts but will act as a brake on student recruitment, too, and the net impending effect will be a shrinkage in higher education, with the greatest shrinkage in the humanities.
Some will say that too many have been going to university anyway, with a concomitant lowering of standards and the introduction of too many "Disneyland degrees". This is true. They will add that many of these students should have gone into practical training, such as was provided by the polytechnics before they were misguidedly changed into universities. This is also true. Yet the ambition to educate more people to a high level, to meet not just the economy's needs but those of a complex society by enriching the lives of its individual members, was always a good one. What we see in the cuts is an abandonment of that ambition in favour of economic imperatives alone.
As change is now inevitable, let us take this opportunity to review the question of what higher education is for. Universities are hybrid entities that, since the adoption of the Hum-boldtian model of combined teaching-and-research institutions, have served a number of different purposes, many of them extremely important. But at least two kinds of confusion have got in the way of a clear grasp of some of those purposes. One is the mistake of trying to model the academic life of the humanities on that of the sciences. The other is a distorted view of what society stands to gain from advanced study.
First, note that everything that goes by the name of education is a mixture of training and education proper, the latter being the cultivation of intellectual power and sensitivity in conjunction with widened horizons of ideas about life and the world. Training is just what it implies: the acquisition (and practice) of skills and bodies of knowledge pertinent to their exercise.
One can construct a rough grid in which, in the vertical dimension, training progressively yields to education as pupils mature, while in the horizontal dimension, the balance of training over education is greater at the applied-science end of the spectrum, the opposite being the case at the other, literary and philosophical, end.
The key word there, however, is "balance". Engineers and biochemists can benefit from thinking about ethics and politics (they might find themselves working in the oil industry in developing countries where already vulnerable lives might be adversely affected by what they do). In the other direction, literary scholars can benefit from training in logic and the social sciences. Accordingly, at each vertical and horizontal limit of the grid, both training and education are necessary. To fail to explain to someone the point of being trained in a skill is to halve its value, while to invite people to reflect and discuss if they know little and cannot reason is futile.
But are engineers taught ethics? Are students of literature schooled in logic? This is not a question of C P Snow's "two cultures"--the abyss separating science from the humanities--though it goes without saying that this is a vast problem all on its own. It is instead the more modest and fundamental question of the proper mixture of training and …
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Publication information: Article title: Universities Challenged: Society Needs to Have a Civilised Conversation with Itself about Its Values. but Spending Cuts Threatening the Humanities Put That in Danger. Contributors: Grayling, A. C. - Author. Magazine title: New Statesman (1996). Volume: 139. Issue: 5024 Publication date: October 25, 2010. Page number: 39+. © Not available. COPYRIGHT 2010 Gale Group.
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