Thursday, November 23, 2006

The role of university

There's an interesting letter in today's FT from Andrew Oswald, Professor of Economics at Warwick. He says that a successful university has to make losses. He believes that companies, not universities, should use research to create commercial spin-offs and license new patents. Universities, he says, are not high schools for people over 18 and do not exist primarily to educate (not sure if I agree with the latter point if one takes the literal meaning of educate ie leading out). In his opinion, the main role of universities is "to find out new ideas and give them away...Their job is to uncover those things that matter to the emotional prosperity of our world but that intrinsically will not be discovered by commercial organisations."
I wonder whether the primary aim of Labour's education target of sending 50% of schoolchildren to university is to enhance the emotional prosperity of the country?

6 Comments:

Blogger Serf said...

Its an interesting idea. Philosophically, if Universities are doing research only to make money, there would be no need for them, as they would be duplicating the private sectors efforts.

However, in our Statist system, the government wants universities to make money, so as to reduce the burden on the treasury.

11:32 am  
Blogger Winchester whisperer said...

True but does this Govt policy compromise intellectual integrity?

1:52 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmm...as someone who dropped out of university [Cardiff] after the first year this has always been something of a touchy subject.

I am old enough [40] to have passed the eleven-plus and gone to a grammar school.

I never understood those Labour gripes about 'condemning to failure'. My view was 'Well, yeah, but it's only the thick kids who fail, so what is the problem?'

Having dropped out of university [or been thrown out on year for flunking] I do have something of a less arrogant view. I've never been convinced of this idea that having a university degree is some sort of universal passport that guarantees one is well-educated, intelligent, insightful and guaranteed a life on the sunny uplands. That was always a bit of a 'come-on' to get people to give up three years of their lives.

Now that those 3 years have to be funded by student loans, and there are no grants because of NUlabour obsession with the 50% target, I can't see the appeal. Some genuinely will benefit in red-brick universities. But standards have gone down the toilet, not that a majority of students could be turned into literate well-mannered graduates even with 150 weeks of one-to-one tuition.

I had to go the 'hard route' of doing professional exams in banking. The idea that one can 'fast track' that process with a degree has some currency when 10% of the population went to uni - if it is 50% you are whistling in the wind, but did anyone tell the students -

Of course, learning must be encouraged - but most graduates simply don't have a broad base of knowledge. My great uncle fought in the first world war and was a headmaster of an independent school in Barry. He was learned in history, geography, the arts and the sciences as they were then.

It really annoys me now that Labour is trying to pigeonhole by class [Wales never seems to worry about such things] and whether one is from a 'disadvantaged' background when they should be worrying about whether people want to learn, and give them a broad understanding and an ability to think and communicate.


And those who want to become plumbers should be encouraged to do that, because where I come there is no shame it all in one brother being a farmer and the other a teacher - it is just about doing what suits you best and that way ensure society has an ecletic mix of the people needed to keep it going - not just a load of 'manager' class civil servants pushing pens around all bloody day....l

11:53 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry about the length of that last post but I had to get it off my chest !!

I agree that Labour do have a point that we must compete with India, and produce graduates. It did also seem unfair that years ago large numbers of people were denied university, even if they might have benefited, and were condemned to be second class citizens.

But if university is to mean anything, surely top quality scientists and engineers are required as well as 'Media Studies' students ? That said, who is to say that people studying PPE or classics a generation ago weren't doing 'vocational' courses.

Mr Whisperer, I recommend, if you can find it, an article written by Boris Johnson [or may have been in interview] called, I kid you not, 'Ich bin ein Frankfurter'. He was apparently quite relaxed about there being courses in 'Golf Course Management' on the basis that if it didn't lead to paid work afterwards, the courses would soon have to 'adapt or die'. I'll try and dig it out, as I think it was in the Guardian, rather than in his Torygraph column.

Best wishes.

12:15 pm  
Blogger Winchester whisperer said...

Thank you for your comments. I am in fact Ms Winchester (post divorce) and a classicist

1:55 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ms Whisperer - yes, thank you for pointing that out before my language veers even further into 'unparliamentary' [if not unprintable...]

http://education.guardian.co.uk/egweekly/story/0,,1692986,00.html

Here's that article - I had to whinny down my search as there were over 300 articles featuring the word 'frankfurter' - perhaps we should also send Bozza a card as he has survived over a year in the job - that's 3 home secretaries these days...

10:37 pm  

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