Thursday, July 05, 2007

Should universities be more than a stepping stone to a lucrative job ?

"How can Britain ensure that its Universities remain world class" is the question posed on today's Telegraph Speakers Corner. It follows warnings from a senior Cambridge academic that UK universities risk losing their reputation very quickly, perhaps within 10 years, unless something drastic is done to halt the slide in quality research.

Here's what I've just posted:

"If universities existed purely to select and nurture the next generation of academics, then it would make sense to continue with entry straight from school, on the assumption that the young mind is more likely to be creative than one more exposed to received wisdom.

But increasingly British universities are seen as mere finishing schools for careers in commerce, the professions, teaching, social services etc where no great premium is placed upon creativity or original thinking, and more on ordered logical thinking, and the ability to present a case in a manner acceptable to professional people.

In the latter instance, the case for proceeding straight to University from school is much harder to sustain: a prior exposure to commerce and its ethos and its disciplines would make sense. Some funding might come from extension of the sabbatical principle, eg one year off for study/research for every seven worked ( aided perhaps by universities being free to award one year Master's degrees without a prior Bachelor's degree).

Once Universities are cleared of the intellectual deadweight of youngsters who are there purely as a stepping stone to lucrative jobs in the City etc, it would free up professors and other academics to devote more time to students with true creative flair. That bold but simple step might be what's needed to revive Britain's fading reputation as place where there's a ferment of unconventional thinking and revolutionary new approaches.

This retired scientist is somewhat dismayed at the aridity of so much of what passes for science and technology these days - much of which seems to be mere dotting of (i)s and crossing of (t)s."

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