Universities don't 'know what they're for' any more

May 30, 1997

Universities face a "knowledge crisis" and no longer know "what they are for", a study published this week will argue.

Ron Barnett, professor of higher education at the Institute of Education and one of the editors of The End of Knowledge in Higher Education, published today by Cassell, argues that "there is no obvious base in the knowledge we're giving students these days".

The multi-disciplinary study argues that the academy has been "attacked" from outside.

Professor Barnett said that mass higher education had led to "marketisation". "At one time students would come to an elite university system secure in the knowledge that they'd be initiated into a disciplinary culture. Now students, often in a modular system, want different things out of universities and have new relations with a wider society. Pure knowledge is losing its authority."

The emphasis on vocational and work-based learning, and "state-sponsored conceptions of knowing, such as the competency-based model of the National Council for Vocational Qualifications", have had a major impact, he said. "Whether we should try to re-emphasise a clear differentiation between HE and FE is a very important question. My view is that it is almost inevitable."

The book contains contributions from Leeds University's Peter Scott and professor of philosophy at St Andrews, John Haldane, and was co-edited by Anne Griffin of Greenwich University. Professor Barnett will publish another study, Higher Education: A Critical Business, next month.

* Opinion, page 10

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