Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

'The Thought of Those Days When We Were So Radical Is Fantastic'

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

'The Thought of Those Days When We Were So Radical Is Fantastic'

Article excerpt

Leading scholars reflect on seven institutions forged in the 1960s that were striking for their innovative approach. Matthew Reisz reports

One of the great educational experiments of the 1960s was put under the academic spotlight in a conference at the Institute of Historical Research.

Utopian Universities: a 50-year retrospective focused on the seven "new universities" that were created over a four-year period (Sussex, East Anglia, York, Lancaster, Kent, Essex and Warwick). All were notable for their willingness to rethink what a university should look like, how and what it should teach, and how it should be governed. Separate sessions explored innovative campus architecture and curriculum design, the role of philanthropists and entrepreneurs, and the student experience.

Marina Warner's recent decision to resign her professorship at the University of Essex on the grounds that its founding ideals had given way to a commercialised "culture of obedience and deference" has raised questions about how relevant and indeed distinctive "the utopian universities" remain today.

An opening discussion chaired by Laurie Taylor brought together some academics who lived through the dramatic early days to discuss this.

Peter Buckley, director of the Business Confucius Institute at the University of Leeds, studied at York, East Anglia and Lancaster and found it "an incredible liberation for a grammar school boy", starting from the moment when an interviewer told him off for calling him "sir". The general social sciences degree he gained at York, he added, had held him in good stead ever since, offering a range of perspectives often lacking in those with single-honours degrees in economics. He was less impressed by the bold hiring policies that led to a few appointments who "should never have been allowed in a classroom". …

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