What is the purpose of a university education? Is it primarily to learn or to acquire credentials for a future job?

By: | Post date: December 30, 2016 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Academia

Habib le toubib, how do you manage to keep breaking my heart so with your questions? (Ah, by sending A2A’s that I leave in the too hard basket for weeks.)

I admire and love the ideal of liberal arts education. I do. Really. It makes you a better person.

But we live in an age where universities are not the province of the children of the loaded, which is where the ideal of liberal arts education flourished. Unis are not there to train philosopher kings (or at least philosopher baronets).

Universities seek to be loss-leaders for research; they’ll take in whoever’ll pay, and they’ll give them a crap education while they’re doing it. The State needs credentialed citizens, because it needs a trained workforce.

(And oh, the disaster that AI is about to wreak on the white collar workforce. But hey, at least they’ll then have the free time for a liberal arts education. If they don’t starve first.)

It is also true that the web allows the democratisation of vocational learning (and we’re seeing that), and also the democratisation of Bildung, of the kind of education that’s good for you. MOOCs are a thing, and so are fora like this.

Universities were about learning. Societies has made universities about credentialisation. But for better or worse, that too is getting disrupted now, along with everything else.

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