At cross-purposes with minister 4

May 23, 2003

Charles Clarke refers to the "medieval concept" of the university as a community of scholars.

In fact the primary purpose of the medieval university was to prepare students for the then major professions of law, medicine and theology, in the "higher faculties". Students followed the foundation arts course, which was what we might call transferable skills. Possession of at least one of the higher faculties (graduate study) was a criterion of a university. Another was attracting students from a wide area; another the acceptability of graduates to teach in other universities. This was an example of peer review, which only in the past decade has been largely replaced by an inspectorial system. Medieval universities were also originally independent corporations not controlled or financed by the state. Reconsideration of these features might help us to see what a university should be.

John Radford
University of East London

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