University Challenged

Though not as embedded as some, I have spent rather a lot of time in academia. As such, I was interested in the provocative statements in The Decline and Fall of the British University.

In an age where books were scarce, communication was difficult and people who could read and write were almost as rare as the books, it made sense to centralise the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge. If you wanted to learn you headed towards where the books were and the people who could read them and that meant the great universities like Paris and Oxford. Poor communication, expensive reading materials and illiteracy were the foundation blocks for the universities. If today we have excellent communications, free online information and general literacy, we also have an environment in which the universities are struggling to maintain their position.

In the face of this change, British universities are still largely marketing themselves as providers of privilege and mind-broadening experiences. The former selling point is losing weight with the emphasis shifting to the latter. I think the market forces will ultimately cause the product to be updated as students, wary of debt, look for more efficient and flexible ways to learn. MIT and the OU are leading the way here.

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Categories: PhD

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