I’ve just been reading an article by Steve Fuller, a philosopher at my favourite University, Warwick, entitled “A robust challenge to the value of a university education”. He is saying that the exam system of universities is letting them down and some employers — he mentions Ernst & Young — are now instituting exams of their own when recruiting new staff.
I think the dilemma of universities is more fundamental than that. There is confusion between their two chief virtues — that of places where bright young people want to gather and vocational training. This is what happened at the first university in Europe, Bologna, formally inaugurated in 1088 and has continued ever since. To achieve more clarity I think that present-day universities in the advanced countries ought to be separated into two strictly different sorts of establishments — universities and colleges.
Firstly, universities for the very brightest young people who are chosen by invitation by any sort of method any particular university decides on and from wherever and at any age. Universities would be for those who have a genuine love of learning and can be taught and mentored to the highest levels of scholarship in a wide variety of subjects, whether having immediate commercial potential or not. Universities would be supported by government funding on the basis that a country does as well as its most intellectual individuals within it can be encourage and not frustrated.
Colleges which teach specific vocational skills and no wider than that, all other aspects of a well-rounded education being more than fully supplied by the internet these days. Invitation strictly by exams and continuation through college life also. Colleges would only teach subjects for which there would be commercial patrons == admittedly ignoring a large band of present-day ‘university’ subjects on the grounds that these are skills that an individual can learn during leisure time.