Old values edged out as elitism displaced

January 18, 2002

Universities may be failing to teach social values in the face of a rapidly changing higher education system and economy, vice-chancellors have warned.

Speakers at next week's Church of England conference, on the future of values in post-compulsory education, are expected to tell delegates that universities must redouble their efforts to reinvent their role as imparters of social values.

In his keynote speech, Sir Geoffrey Holland, vice-chancellor of Exeter University, will warn that traditional liberal values and the life-enhancing role played by higher education could be lost as the sector adapts to the need to produce graduate employees for an increasingly complex and demanding jobs market.

Sir Geoffrey told The THES : "It is important that the economic imperative, which is there for just about every student, does not rule the roost to the exclusion of other important dimensions.

"First, research, where time horizons and expectations can be too short and utilitarian. Second, the relevance culturally and socially of a liberal education. Third, the value of the residential experience for students, and fourth, the value of the one-to-one relationship (in the face of the increasing self-directed learning on computer)."

Sir Geoffrey also said that higher education still had to address values and how they relate to the ageing student population.

He said that universities were still largely geared to catering for the traditional school-leaver and not for the rapidly growing number of mature students.

Peter Scott, vice-chancellor of Kingston University, said that values in higher education were partly defined by lingering elitist characteristics and mentalities in the system.

Professor Scott said: "The fact that this transition to a mass system in England is so recent has produced various forms of dislocation.

"There is an extraordinary lag between perceptions and realities in higher education today. And there is a danger that our construction of values will relate more to this anachronistic 'feel' than to the contemporary reality of higher education.

"We must be very hard headed and recognise that conventional notions of academic hierarchy are being rapidly eroded and that values can no longer be regarded as implicit."

The conference, which poses the question "What is college and university education for?", is due to take place at Church House, in Westminster, London, on Thursday.

Higher education minister Margaret Hodge is expected to speak at the conference.

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