Q&A with Matthew Braham

We speak to the professor of political philosophy at the University of Bayreuth. Plus the latest higher education appointments

十月 31, 2013

Last month, Matthew Braham, professor of political philosophy at the University of Bayreuth in Germany, was named this year’s winner of the European Award for Excellence in Teaching in the Social Sciences and Humanities - the only pan-European award for teaching excellence.

Where and when were you born?
In Montreal, Canada on 8 April 1967.

How has this shaped you?
I left Montreal when I was 6. It was my mixed cultural and educational background that has shaped me (my mother is German, my father was born in England to parents of Polish and Spanish Jewish descent and spent many years in the US). My father for a while was a professor of the philosophy of education and my mother is a sculptor. I changed primary schools seven times. I have fond memories of my comprehensive school in Totnes, Devon and am indebted to University College London and the University of Oxford for offering me the best of British higher education from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s.

How does it feel to be honoured with the “only pan-European award for excellence in teaching”?
I am overjoyed. I take it as confirmation that I have understood something important about the world and have been able to put that understanding into practice.

Tell us about someone you’ve always admired
I do not admire anyone and never have done so. However, I respect all who make efforts to make positive contributions to the world in which we live whether in science, the humanities, arts, crafts, business, agriculture or media.

What has changed most in German higher education in the past decade?
There have been great changes: the introduction of the bachelor’s and master’s degrees that offer students more choice; the development of career-track professorships; the opening-up of the job market to international candidates. My appointment in Bayreuth was unthinkable a decade ago.

What are the best and worst aspects of your job?
The best: the opportunity for continual intellectual growth and the chance to create such opportunities for others. The worst: colleagues who fail to understand that the main educational purpose of higher education is the systematic development of a reflective intelligence and not simply technical and occupational training.

What advice would you give your younger self?
Learn the saxophone.

What keeps you awake at night?
Three things: my research problems; the implementation of progressive ideas for postgraduate education at my university; and the hideously bad schooling that my two sons have to suffer.

What is an undergraduate degree worth?
If it is from a decent university and taught by committed teachers, it is worth far more than the fees [charged] in the UK or the US. But that does not imply that such fees should be levied. I do not know what the level of fees should be as I did not pay a penny for either of my degrees at UCL and Oxford and I am grateful for that. Times, however, have changed. Moderate fees seem to me to be morally and practically defensible as long as they are combined with means to prevent social exclusion and excessive restrictions on future opportunities to experiment with our lives.

To what, or whom, do you feel most allegiance?
I have no allegiances. Doctrines and organisations restrict my freedom of thought.

What do you do for fun?
Learn the saxophone (not fun for my neighbours); I enjoy repairing and rebuilding bicycles (and riding them); I swim, run, hike, ski and seek out as much unspoilt countryside as possible.

What philosophy do you live by?
I don’t; I just try to think clearly and express myself concisely and am motivated to leave the world a better place than I found it. I live by an old-fashioned combination of searching for the truth and a solid sense of public service.



Chris Williams has been appointed the new head of the School of History, Archaeology and Religion at Cardiff University. He joins from the College of Arts and Humanities at Swansea University.

Teesside University has created two new positions within its senior management team and has also added two existing staff members to the vice-chancellor’s executive board. Malcolm Page and Liz Holey have been appointed to the new roles of deputy chief executive (chief operating officer) and pro vice-chancellor (quality), respectively, while Juliet Amos, director of human resources, and Michael Lavery, director of the department of external relations, have been made assistant chief executives.

Sheffield Hallam University has named Paul Harrison its new pro vice-chancellor for research and innovation. He will join in January 2014 from the University of Leeds.

King’s College London has appointed two new academic heads. Russell Goulbourne has been made the head of the School of Arts and Humanities; he will join at the end of January 2014 from the University of Leeds. Michael Luck has been named head of the School of Natural and Mathematical Sciences; he was previously head of the department of informatics.



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