I have just been digesting the content of “Higher Ambitions” the governments recently published ‘framework” for the future of Universities here in the UK.
The impact of this report will be significant in shaping future priorities and investment in the sector and as such will frame much of the activity that JISC and JISC CETIS will undertake over the coming years. If not framing future activity it will certainly frame the environment in which we operate. The document does outline useful observations, in particular, relating to work-based learning , business and community engagement and in anticipation of the changing student demographic. These are themes that have been explored by the JISC through it’s funding and development activities over the last few years and as such is a strong endorsement of the current JISC strategy.
Technology is highlighted as a key element of the sectors global competitiveness although those of us who remember the e-university project will proceed with some caution in pursuing these ambitious objectives. More concerning is, what I consider, an over emphasis on the STEM subjects seen as,to the detriment of arts and the humanities, the key to future economic growth and the implicit suggestion that the key metrics applied to determine the “quality” of education are employability or a “good” job (whatever that may be). The report fails to recognize the massive contribution the arts and humanities make to society, even using the preferred metrics of government , financial, the arts and humanities generate around 30% of research income for UK universities.
Somewhere the “joy” of learning as reward in itself is lost and there seems little recognition of the benefits, economic or otherwise, of subjects such as the classics. I’m mindful that many of our current crop of politicians ,received their political grounding in the classics and other theoretical subjects. Many of our celebrated entrepreneurs also received a “classical” education. The government recently appointed Martha Lane-Fox as head of digital inclusion, Martha is highly regarded as a vanguard for women in technology and her entrepreneurial skills and yes Martha studied “classical” History at Oxford; I’m sure that she would contest the value of her studies in helping shape her successful business career.
One hopes that we don’t loose sight of the bigger picture in education by sacrificing the arts, humanities and the classics in striving for the perceived and dubious short term economic benefits of business/employment related courses, do we even run the risk of “training” our students for jobs that may not exist?