Debate: What is a University For?
|10 December, 2014||Filled under Debates, Previous Events||
The Liverpool Athenaeum
Thursday 22 January, 6.30 – 8.15pm
Most agree that universities are changing: whether from rising student numbers, the expansion of on-line learning, increasing emphases on employability or what many see as the instrumentalisation of research, through impact statements and partnerships with policy makers and big business.
In the resulting debate the meaning of Higher Education remains hotly contested, not only because of the special role universities play in passing on knowledge in society, but also because of their historical purpose as places where new ideas are formed.
Top down policies aimed at bridging the gap between the academy and the workplace increasingly locate government employability and impact agendas at the heart of the university experience. Yet, just as universities are being encouraged to share academic ‘benefits’ with the wider community, political concerns about the potentially harmful impact of ideas are leading to an increasingly formal co-option into the fight against ‘Islamist radicalisation’. Meanwhile, bottom up challenges to ‘harmful’ ideas on campus have lead to student bodies banning controversial debates, on the basis of protecting ‘student safety’ and ‘well being’.
Whether giving greater consideration to the negative impacts of ideas or seeking to embed knowledge into judicial, economic and social policy for the benefit of society, many welcome this new culture of social responsibility. While some continue to defend ‘blue skies’ research, academic freedom and knowledge for its own sake, growing numbers regard these themes not so much as principles but privileges for an academic elite.
Are universities places for freeing the mind or a mere anteroom for the workplace? Should it be possible for universities to forge relationships with business and apply knowledge in the real world, without compromising intellectual integrity? Are these simply necessary adjustments to the realities of new national and global markets? Or, in a climate of spending cuts and growing managerialism, a further chipping away at the intellectual foundations and freedoms of universities?
Even accepting the principle of defending academic autonomy, would we rather see our universities as battlegrounds for dangerous ideas or inclusive, welcoming spaces where social responsibilities are taken seriously? And is it enough for students to go out into the world with a thorough knowledge of their subject matter or should we expect them to think and act as productive and responsible members of society?
Is academic freedom simply an expression of privilege? Are ideas abstractions, remote from the everyday realities and practical needs of both students and academics? Or in the rush towards employability and social impacts are we in danger of sacrificing the university as a distinctive, open arena, where received wisdom may be criticized and opinions expressed, free from the cotton wool constraints of safe spaces and even safer thinking? In short, what is a university for?
Dennis Hayes is Professor of Education at University of Derby and Director of the influential campaign group Academics For Academic Freedom (AFAF). A columnist for the Times Educational Supplement, he is currently education columnist for The Conversation and member of the editorial board of the Times Higher Education magazine since its inception. In 2009 he edited and contributed to a special edition of the British Journal of Educational Studies on Academic Freedom and writes regularly in the national and international press on free speech and academic freedom. His latest book, published next year is The ‘Limits’ of Academic Freedom. In the educational world he is well-known for his book on The McDonaldization of Higher Education (2002) and his controversial co-authored work, The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education (2008) – described as ‘one of the most important books to have been written in at least the last twenty years in that crucial area where philosophy, policy and practice coincide’.
Kevin Bean is a lecturer at the University of Liverpool’s Institute for Irish Studies. His research interests include theories of nationalism and national identity, the emerging post–Good Friday polity in Northern Ireland and the politics of Irish Republicanism. Kevin has written on the peace process in a variety of magazines, newspapers, and books as well contributing to radio and television discussions on these issues. His latest book is The New Politics of Sinn Féin (2007).
Kevin is especially interested in the ways that ‘the Impact agenda’ is increasingly shaping the nature of research in the universities, and the potential conflict between academic independence and government policy.
Harry Anderson is the current President of the Liverpool Guild of Students. He graduated from the University of Liverpool in 2014 with a BA(Hons) in Modern History, focussing on domestic contemporary issues and post war British ideology. Since being elected Harry has worked on improving the University’s approach to teaching and learning, specifically in the area of Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) and has also taken a lead on the Guild’s preparations for the 2015 General Election.
Caroline Ramsey is Senior Lecturer in Management, at the University of Liverpool Management School.Before entering academia Caroline occupied sales and marketing management roles in the textile and clothing industries.
Over the years, she has taught Strategy, Organizational Change, Leadership and general Organization Studies. During the last 15 years her attention has focused more and more on work, or practice based learning. Currently, she is involved in The University of Liverpool’s Doctorate in Business Administration programme.
Most of Caroline’s research and writing to date has been in the field of management learning, particularly developing what she calls a scholarship of practice that owes its inspiration to Aristotle’s phronesis but is built more on the 20th century thought of the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein and the Russian literary theorist, Mikhail Bakhtin. Currently, she’s researching how leadership is worked out in conversation and is totally spoiled by the existence of people called leaders! She’s also interested in processes of judgment, attention, silence and voice.