Academics debate the future of the University in a hostile climate

By staff writers
3 Jun 2011

‘The Role of the University in the 21st Century’ was the theme of a public seminar organised by the Gifford Committee of the University of Glasgow.

The lecture and discussion took place on Tuesday 31 may 2011. Participants in the dialogue were included a range of senior religion specialists from three major institutions.

Professor Gordon Graham from the historic Princeton Theological Seminary in the USA, Professor David Fergusson from University of Edinburgh, and Professors Muffy Calder and Werner Jeanrond from the University of Glasgow offered perspectives on the topic.

Among the key issues tackled were the encroachment of managerialism and the promotion of value in largely economic terms. Professor Srathern called on the students present to find new idioms to to describe societal aims and values, given that the person is crucial to the knowledge making process.

Economic pressure - as an inevitable limitation on autonomy in the sector - needed to be addressed with proper critical thinking rather than simply complied with or ignored, participants said. Industry can be important, but it should not become the whole story.

There was recognition that there is room for different kinds of Higher Education as a provider of useful skills, as a research-led institution; as a place for training in leadership; and as a kind of moral education.

However, many felt that the increase in numbers over the last few years has had negative effects across the sector.

The Sciences, Social Sciences and Arts and Humanities stand side by side on viewing education as a way to foster intellectual curiosity, excitement and engagement in the wider concerns of society.

Student representatives present expressed their concerns about the specific proposals at Glasgow University to make wide-ranging cuts to Nursing, Social Work, Adult and Continuing Education, Anthropology, a number of modern languages, the Centre for Drug Misuse Research and humanities courses at the Crichton Campus.

One student asked the panel to comment on the issue of access to properly funded University education. A march is planned to protest this concern on 22 June 2011, starting at 12pm (tinyurl.com/june22demo).
There were several references during the exchanges to John Henry Newman’s 1854 essay on the Idea of a University.

Professor David Fergusson referred to his university as an ‘Alma Mater’ who knows her children, and suggested that as a model of University education he would like to promote.

The chair of the lecture and discussion was Professor David Jasper, also from Glasgow University.

Meanwhile, writing on the University of Stirling’s ‘Critical Religion’ website, and for the religion and society thinktank Ekklesia, Dr Andrew W. Hass has said that “The University is in a crisis”.

The problem, says Dr Hass, who teaches religion and theology crossing over with philosophy and literature, is not just funding but a fundamental question of identity.

Important areas of work that cannot justify themselves on the grounds of economic contribution, careerist employability or spread sheet empiricism alone, are under threat, he says.

* See: ‘What is a University for?’ by Dr Andrew W. Hass - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/14886

With thanks to Dr Alison Jasper

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