Reflections on the modern university

Working in higher education, I have come to realise  many problems that the current model of the university. I work at an art college, which is a strange mixture of a university with all its medieval structure, and more fluid structures which are required by the nature of the work that we do with students. It always strikes me at how archaic the current systems of higher education are, leaving the students fearful of their lecturers and begging for good grades and on the other hand lecturers who struggle with the pressure to achieve pre-established learning outcomes (often vague and arbitrarily determined) leaving little room for innovation in their curricula. Added to this is the pressure of an institution to turn a profit with the admission of any student that will pay for some kind of qualification at the end of a few years.

This article provides good insight on the state of the university today. It is US-focused and although different conditions apply to different systems in different countries, the concepts outlined here are largely accurate on a global scale, as I see it.

End the University as We Know It

Published: April 26, 2009
Op-Ed New York Times

GRADUATE education is the Detroit of higher learning. Most graduate programs in American universities produce a product for which there is no market (candidates for teaching positions that do not exist) and develop skills for which there is diminishing demand (research in subfields within subfields and publication in journals read by no one other than a few like-minded colleagues), all at a rapidly rising cost (sometimes well over $100,000 in student loans).


Widespread hiring freezes and layoffs have brought these problems into sharp relief now. But our graduate system has been in crisis for decades, and the seeds of this crisis go as far back as the formation of modern universities. Kant, in his 1798 work “The Conflict of the Faculties,” wrote that universities should “handle the entire content of learning by mass production, so to speak, by a division of labor, so that for every branch of the sciences there would be a public teacher or professor appointed as its trustee.”

Read more here.

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