Wednesday, March 2, 2011

What Do We Mean By 'University'?

I've a piece in today's Australian, 'Research the name of the game'.

Private providers want to use 'university' in their titles.  I'm counselling caution, and explaining what makes universities special.  A sample:
What defines the modern university is research. All universities teach, but this is refined and enriched by research: high-level investigation, analysis, synthesis, interpretation. In short, the facts and opinions are continually invigorated. Like fish, they stink if they're not kept fresh.
Research, in turn, is grounded in teaching: in interaction with students, researchers must distil and defend their ideas. The task of the university, as philosopher and mathematician Alfred North Whitehead put it, is to weld together imagination and experience. This also happens between colleagues, within and between disciplines: narrow specialisation is overcome with the aid of peers and traditions.
(Photo: Mastronarde)


danielsmith said...

Nice article, Day. It's frustrating to see words that might have needed dozens or hundreds of years to earn their meaning being appropriated casually for a bit of rub-on branding. Although I suspect many academics would look at their own universities of the past 15-20 years and wonder if the term still applies. There are two problems, then: The confusion or corruption of the term "university" by applying it too broadly across organisations, and the dilution of same that comes from existing universities changing (or being forced to change) what they are and do.

Damon Young said...

On your second point, I received an email from a H.Ed. researcher pointing out that there are about 4000 institutions recognised as universities worldwide. Most of them conduct little or no research. So my definition is more an ideal than a statement of fact. I think it's generally more true of Australia, but his point stands: many 'universities' aren't living up to the ideal.