Come back, Cardinal Newman

January 17, 1997

It is refreshing to see Cardinal Newman's The Idea of a University regaining currency in debates on the purposes of higher education.

It is quite wrong however for Frank Webster (Opinion, THES, January 3) to invoke Newman in his advocacy of a re-drawn binary line. On the contrary, Newman's "idea" was that of an institution which, by virtue of its dedication to the pursuit of universal knowledge, could also provide an appropriate environment for teaching, "a seat of university learning, considered as a place of education": "An assemblage of learned men (let us add women) zealous for their own sciences, and rivals of each other, are brought, by familiar intercourse and for the sake of intellectual peace, to adjust together the claims and relations of their respective subjects of investigation. They learn to respect, to consult, to aid each other. Thus is created a pure and clear atmosphere of thought, which the student also breathes . . . "

Newman's words were distinctly echoed by Gareth Roberts, who spoke in the course of addressing the CVCP annual conference of higher education "educating at the cutting edge, bringing students into contact with the best minds in an atmosphere of free inquiry".

A "teaching-only" institution would not, in Newman's terms, be a university at all.

Graham Holderness University of Hertfordshire

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