Institutions of higher education have always had a major part to play in the development of enquiry and their role has never been greater than it is today. Yet they developed in rather different ways in the West and in China and in the process some of their original goals have tended to be downplayed, if not forgotten. My aim in this chapter and the next two is to use history not just to try to understand certain intellectual or philosophical issues that we continue to face, but also to see what we can learn from our analysis of the past that may be relevant to how we should tackle some of the problems, educational, ethical, political, of our modern situation.
Where higher education is concerned, some of the lessons take the form of warnings—of what happens when universities are insufficiently self-critical, or when they do not stand up for themselves and resist pressures from outside, including from government. But at least some of the morals are positive ones, from which we can draw strength. One of the Chinese lessons is to value the past, though that should not be to the neglect of the present and the future. One of the Greek ones is to value education in and for itself—as opposed to valuing it for the qualifications for a career that it may provide. Meanwhile, thirdly, we may reflect that whatever may have been the case in the past, we are now all in it together. No country, however powerful, exists in isolation, as September 11, 2001 brought home to the USA in the most tragic way. In the current situation of increasing globalization, the universities provide one of the very best opportunities for international cooperation.
In the West I would endorse the conventional view (cf. Rashdall 1936) that traces the origins of our universities to the great late medieval schools of Paris, Bologna, Oxford, and so on. In some cases they go back to the eleventh century ce. What was distinctive about those universities was that they awarded degrees. Bachelors of Arts and Masters of Arts thereby acquired legally recognized qualifications. More