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

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

Monster behind man at desk

Despite all that’s been done to improve doctoral study, horror stories keep coming. Here three students relate PhD nightmares while two academics advise on how to ensure a successful supervision

Sir Christopher Snowden, former Universities UK president, attacks ratings in wake of Southampton’s bronze award

opinion illustration

Eliminating cheating services, even if it were possible, would do nothing to address students’ and universities’ lack of interest in learning, says Stuart Macdonald

Female professor

New data show proportion of professors who are women has declined at some institutions

celebrate, cheer, tef results

Emilie Murphy calls on those who challenged the teaching excellence framework methodology in the past to stop sharing their university ratings with pride