Universities ‘too often’ focusing inwards in debates like EU

Institutions are suffering from a ‘crisis of confidence’ in their civic engagement role, says Emran Mian in essay to help launch HE foundation

June 10, 2016
Man being lifted up to look through window
Source: Alamy
Looking inwards: universities risk becoming ‘parochial, conservative and insular’ if they fail to embrace civic engagement

Universities and academics focus too much on the way major political questions such as the European Union referendum will affect them, rather than the whole country, and risk becoming “parochial, conservative and insular” if they fail to embrace civic engagement.

Emran Mian, director of the Social Market Foundation, makes the comments in an essay for a collection marking the official launch of the UPP Foundation, a charitable organisation established to tackle the big issues facing UK higher education.

The collectionLaying the Foundations: Examining the Relationship between Universities, Students and Society, covers the topics the foundation is focusing on: access and retention, the civic university, employability and global citizens.

In his essay, Mr Mian argues there are three symptoms for universities “losing confidence in themselves as civic institutions”. Primarily, he suggests that academics too often frame societal issues within the context of what it means to higher education.

“When you look closely, are people from universities engaging in the debate about immigration or the future of the UK in the EU from the perspective of what it means for universities or what it means for the country? All too often it is the former,” he writes.

Mr Mian also noted an “unwillingness for academics to be at the leading edge of cultural change or to take risks in political, religious and economic debate” and universities’ propensity to treat widening participation as an issue of “regulatory compliance” instead of an opportunity for civic engagement.

Speaking to Times Higher Education, he said that autonomous universities “wouldn’t quite be living up to the credence that they have and the scale that they have if they’re not challenging some of our cultural assumptions, if they weren’t getting stuck into some of the most difficult and controversial ethical, religious or political debates that are going on in society”.

“If universities continue to talk about public issues in a parochial way, it risks becoming a bit of a cycle. If vice-chancellors only talk about the Europe debate with respect to what it might mean to their future funding, then it feeds into that idea that they are not a broader part of our society and our economy – [that] v-cs are mainly there to look after the interests of their institution.

“When they get involved with public debates, they should be thinking about the role of the university within the wider public.”

john.elmes@tesglobal.com

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

United Nations peace keeper

Understanding the unwritten rules of graduate study is vital if you want to get the most from your PhD supervision, say Kevin O'Gorman and Robert MacIntosh

David Parkins Christmas illustration (22 December 2016)

A Dickensian tale, set in today’s university

Eleanor Shakespeare illustration (5 January 2017)

Fixing problems in the academic job market by reducing the number of PhDs would homogenise the sector, argues Tom Cutterham

Houses of Parliament, Westminster, government

There really is no need for the Higher Education and Research Bill, says Anne Sheppard

British dean of US business school also questions the ‘strange’ trend of increasing regulation while reducing state funding in the UK sector