First, mould the mind

October 25, 2012

I am in broad agreement with Nigel Tubbs' argument that we need liberal arts programmes in the academy ("The importance of being useless", 11 October), but I wonder whether calling them "useless" is at best an unnecessary gambit, at worst a self-inflicted wound? There is a managerial constituency within the academy that will rest its case against Tubbs on the single word "useless".

That said, the real case against predominantly instrumental learning is that serious instrumental learning (training) should begin only when the effort to develop the general power of the student's mind (education) has run its course. The main purpose of higher education is, by definition, to educate, not to train: but, of course, training has always been part of what universities do. So the emphasis in many courses should be on using a training scenario as background for real thinking, real consideration of values, real engagement with controversy, real enlargement of perspectives and so on.

Liberal arts courses that simply luxuriate within the liberal arts may be compared to sitting on a sofa eating chocolates. Tubbs' interdisciplinary courses sound great but a training element in some relevant science and technology would surely not come amiss.

Chris Ormell, The PER Group

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

Worried man wiping forehead
Two academics explain how to beat some of the typical anxieties associated with a doctoral degree
A group of flamingos and a Marabou stork

A right-wing philosopher in Texas tells John Gill how a minority of students can shut down debates and intimidate lecturers – and why he backs Trump

A face made of numbers looks over a university campus

From personalising tuition to performance management, the use of data is increasingly driving how institutions operate

students use laptops

Researchers say students who use computers score half a grade lower than those who write notes

As the country succeeds in attracting even more students from overseas, a mixture of demographics, ‘soft power’ concerns and local politics help explain its policy