Terms of concealment 1

December 3, 2009

Your article on philosophy cutbacks in UK universities calls for a wider debate ("Being philosophical may be limited to 'leisured' classes", 26 November). Terms such as "vocational" and "academic" are widely used in public discourse, but are rarely interrogated. They rank among those terms whose meaning is apparently obvious and which exert a great deal of power in debates over the future of education.

I would argue that a vocation need not be attached to a particular profession or line of work. I'd also question the assumption that disciplines whose subject matter is unfamiliar, or which appear to lack relevance to the "real world", are non-vocational. Perhaps that which does not resemble the most familiar aspects of life is most able to affect it, to challenge the world we belong to? If degree courses are increasingly specialised, the tendency will be for students to choose a particular area of knowledge and cling to it for dear life. This may seem to be the reality presented by the "knowledge economy", but it will limit the options of those wanting to gain an idea of the whole, or a broader grasp than is offered by highly focused degree courses.

These are philosophical questions and ones that I think should be staged in any university. This becomes harder if the academy is expected to take its bearings from terms such as "academic" and "vocational". Scholars have a vocation, and to deny students the chance to share in it seems to be a retrograde step for society.

Edward Willatt, University of Greenwich.

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