We have moved very far from Newman’s idea of a university - the purpose of which was to present a cultural inheritance of the Western World and to provide the tools whereby graduates could continue their journeys of education.
For some time now universities and colleges have become forcing houses for future jobs and careers. The idea of a broad education has been replaced by the utilitarian considerations of how to get a foot on the ladder of successful employment.
With the annual scramble for points and places, those entering universities have been obliged to join a kind of lottery or multiple choice approach to their future, ranking universities as first, second, and third choices.
With the Department of Education’s decision to award bonus points for those taking maths, and the proposal that other subjects may also be included, with participants in this kind of educational bingo, voices have been raised asking whether this is such a good approach to education. Is it a good idea to create a kind of two tier system whereby those who pursue such subjects which have obvious career or employment potential are priviledged above those who wish to study other subjects which may not be so highly prized, but were part of the original idea of a university - like the arts.
“Yes, we need to be practical, but the purpose of universities become obscured when they are turned into places where young people are directed to certain specialist career courses.”
With the emphasis on qualification, it raises the question is it necessarily a good idea that every intelligent person has to go to university with some given extra points and perks to study for a career? Is there now a disconnect between the traditional idea that a university was a pause to explore, where away from the school system, a young adult could mature as a well-rounded individual - take time out to read, join the lit and debs, the film society or a social sports team before stepping into the real world which is harsh and career orientated.
As university courses become more specialised, there are schools of thought that youngsters entering university should study a broad range of subjects in their first year - a year that could include philosophy, ethics and morality - certainly not bad thinking in today’s climate. The scenic route has its values - not least broadening young people’s horizons.