Universities are deadly conservative. We don’t want to be. We say we’re not. But we are. Our traditionalism shows through in the way we provide an undergraduate education which has remained largely unchanged over the past 50 years. We still organise most undergraduate courses so that the possessor of a good first-class degree is capable of proceeding to doctoral research in that subject without any further ado. So the most clearly identifiable outcome of our teaching is the production of individuals who can replace ourselves.
In 1965, this may have made sense; but today in my department at UCL there are 14 times more students than there were 50 years ago. Overall student numbers have grown rapidly since the 1980s, and yet the pedagogical model has barely shifted. It must. In the face of this, some could argue that universities have inadvertently become rent seekers, sitting like a medieval sovereign on the mint of modern credentials.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying we are only interested in our most academic students. Academics are aware of our duty to form the minds of all those who come to study, to help them turn themselves into useful, constructive, critical citizens. But we could be much more ambitious about how we can do that today.
Don’t hide away from the world