Role of the University

What is the role of the university? This has been a preoccupation in the press recently but it is a perennial question posed since the establishment of the University of Bologna in 1088. And during the intervening period the university has altered and changed its role many times. We would not recognize a medieval university (or a 19th century one for that matter).

Patrick Keeney, in the National Post, takes up the question again and summarizes his concern concisely:

“Simply put, is the university an educational institution or a vocational one?”

Keeney’s perspective is easy to determine, the title of the article is “Don’t Turn Universities into Job Training.

What I don’t get is why “education” (i.e. a liberal education) is mutually exclusive from “job training” (i.e. practical skills for the workplace).

For me, the basic objectives of a university education are to graduate students with the ability to think critically and to engage in informed discourse. The rest, forgive me, is gravy. How you get to this state could happen in many ways, including focusing on specific job skills or occupational objectives.

For me it’s not either/or but both. The sooner we get to that perspective the better IMHO.


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