Culture clash on the way to work

April 30, 1999

David Blunkett's proposals ("Make work part of study, THES, April 23) that humanities students should undertake work experience and a module "related to enterprise, work and the potential for creativity" are good so far as they go. They do not, however, address what he correctly identifies as the gap between universities and the world of work.

This is a gap between cultures. The world of humanities faculties is a world of "the word". It is a world in which the goal is to persuade others, and the test of validity is "plausibility", which rests on an appeal to intuition. The mode of learning is reflective, and writers and teachers are interposed between student and raw material. There is a huge emphasis on individual learning and achievement.

In the world of work, people have to focus on issues, the goal is to find a solution to a problem, and the test of validity is "Can we do it?" "Will it work?" "Will it sell?" The mode of learning is in essence experiential and entrepreneurial. You face the problem at first hand, you work in teams, and you communicate by sharing knowledge and experiences with colleagues.

To bridge this gap, what is needed is a far-ranging shake-up of the academic culture. It needs to become one in which, among other things, value is place on expertise, not just publications, in which academics emphasise methodology of inquiry in day-to-day teaching and experiment with approaches such as problem-based learning, and in which students work in teams.

Adding work experience and careers modules to the curriculum, while potentially valuable, will not produce a cultural change. It would be more to the point to send academics on work experience.

Peter Levin

Consultant in teaching methods

London School of Economics

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