Monday, 6 March 2017

Universities and democracy

Universities traditionally link research and teaching. This means the place where knowledge is produced is also where it is passed on.

As such, students at universities are able to receive a critical education - one in which knowledge is constructed and contested rather than simply received.

This is why it is important that universities engage in research and why university lecturers must be both teachers and researchers.

It is because of this that universities are central to the effective operation of civil society; alongside contributing to public education more broadly, those at the forefront of their disciplines have a duty to educate those citizens privileged enough to be able to attend to be critical and independent of thought. In this, working to allow a wide variety of students from different groups and backgrounds to attend is hugely important. 

In areas of professional education like nursing, social work and teaching, this can help ensure these professions remain representative of those they serve. And through their research and scholarship, lecturers can advance democracy by advising policy makers, providing considered solutions to society’s problems and holding policy makers to account.

Yet recent reports in the Times Higher Education have suggested that elite universities and the like are more focused on themselves than on their civic role. And there is a danger that all universities divide teaching from research and focus only on government or business agendas rather that the wider contribution they can make to the public good. 

New civic universities - like Plymouth - are well positioned to influence civil society positively, but only if we choose this path. At a time when respect for expertise is challenged and the gap in political views between those with a degree and those without is widening, surely the case to do so is overwhelming.

Photo by Sage Ross on Wikimedia Commons
Creative Commons License
Universities and democracy by Peter Kelly was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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