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Demonising the Universities and its feather bedded lecturers.


 I know someone, no names no pack drills, who put his daughters through Cambridge/Oxford and came out of this parental experience quite disenchanted by Universities and the teaching within. Which brings me to:

In a Study of Moral Theory Alasdair MacIntyre (1981), raised the disquieting possibility that what we take to be ‘the’ language of morality now amounts to little more than a collection of verbal remains – husks from which the kernels of coherent moral beliefs have long since been removed.

 ‘What we possess … are the fragments of a conceptual scheme, parts which now lack those contexts from which their significance derived. We possess indeed simulacra of morality, we continue to use many of the key expressions. But we have – very largely, if not entirely – lost our comprehension, both theoretical and practical, of morality.’ The most we can do is to transpose the traditional issues of morality into the vocabulary of a barren utilitarianism. Moving on from this fairly apocalyptic view to the Universities, our future, our children's future.

Which bring us to University teaching. Much of our contemporary discourse about universities still draws on, or unwittingly presumes, that pattern of assumptions: the idea that the university is a partly protected space in which the search for deeper and wider understanding takes precedence over all more immediate goals; the belief that, in addition to preparing the young for future employment, the aim of developing analytical and creative human capacities is a worthwhile social purpose; the conviction that the existence of centres of disinterested inquiry and the transmission of a cultural and intellectual inheritance are self-evident public goods; and so on. Wel, that what they say when they rather heave handedly advertise their educational wares/seat of learning,  to lure students.

While that conception of a university and its purposes is still very much alive and may, I suspect, still be the one held by a great many ‘ordinary’ citizens, we may be nearing the point, at least in Britain, where it is starting to give way to the equivalent of MacIntyre’s barren utilitarianism. If ‘prosperity’ is the overriding value in market democracies, then universities must be repurposed as ‘engines of growth’. The value of research has then to be understood in terms of its contribution to econoetoric of national .

To those who find the newer conception persuasive, even self-evident, existing universities can seem to have been disappointingly slow to recognise their proper role, retaining their archaic structures of self-government, their gentry-professional ethos and their blinkered devotion to useless knowledge. Since the 1980s much has been done to ‘reform’ – that is to say, destroy – such features and to render these inward-looking and obstructive producer-cartels ‘fit for purpose’. But more remains to be done, and the key to the transformation, it turns out, is to be found in that unlikely embodiment of right-wing market thinking at its purest, the student.

Arrayed against them are the universities and, more particularly, academics, who, unless kept to the mark by constant assessments and targets, will revert to type as feather-bedded, professional-class spongers. A curious inversion has taken place whereby academics now occupy the demonised role formerly assigned to students, who must now be defended in their efforts to obtain ‘value for money’.

Source: London Review of Books 
    Fulfilling Our Potential: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice
Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, November 2015, ISBN 978 1 4741 2492 8

more apocalyptic strain i

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