Soft strengths

December 17, 2015

In The Wealth of Nations, the Tories’ favourite philosopher, Adam Smith, espoused a view of education that is distinctly at odds with modern Tory policy. For Smith, the education of ordinary people was more important than that of “people of some rank and fortune”. Education was a protection against the dulling effect of division of labour, and against the “delusions of enthusiasm and superstition” that led to disorder in more “ignorant” nations. In short, it made people better citizens.

It is with some concern, therefore, that I note the results of the Higher Education Academy’s UK Engagement Survey, in which “being an informed and active citizen” is listed as one of the weakest outcomes of higher education (“UK Engagement Survey: universities have limited impact on students’ ‘soft’ skill development”, News, 10 December). Noam Chomsky has written of how charging students for their education dulls their willingness to question the system that has co-opted them. Smith himself wrote that, because of education’s public benefits, the expense “may, therefore, without injustice, be defrayed by the general contribution of the whole society”.

Perhaps it is time to pay heed to the educational philosophy of the real Adam Smith, not the fictional one whom the Tories would have us believe in.

David Hardman
Secretary, University and College Union, London Region

Sue Rigby’s assertion that the UK engagement survey demonstrates that the development of soft skills needs to be integrated into curricula more explicitly is timely.

Enterprise educators have a clear role to play here and a great opportunity with the impetus of the teaching excellence framework and the Quality Assurance Agency’s benchmarks that refer to enterprise as “the application of creative ideas and innovations to practical situations”.

According to the survey, a number of undergraduates do not perceive the benefits of these “softer skills”. This may in part be because enterprise education provision is not as joined up and packaged as well as it could be to students and therefore not seen as an important thread throughout their programme of study.

For instance, some providers offer degree programmes in enterprise while others offer modules, and for other providers it exists as part of careers education and employment, or is offered through participation in extracurricular schemes or student societies.

While some innovative work is taking place and should be celebrated, it is time to shout about what we do and the clear benefits and learning gain to our students.

Karen Bill
Chair, Enterprise Educators UK


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