Sharing practice #4: What is HE really for?

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Classroom of Students

In our latest blog, we asked member of our SIME community what they think HE is really ‘for’.

The responses we received were quite varied – and perhaps pose more questions than answers. While there is certainly a feeling that HE serves a purpose to facilitate ‘learning about learning’, there are also wider social, political and economic questions that extend far beyond the realm of this short blog.

Here is what our members had to say…

‘In my view, this question really ties in nicely with our blog about independent learning. I think we have a bit of an identity crisis with HE here in the UK, as successive governments, and indeed the general public, can't seem to quite decide what it's really 'for'. In my own view at least, we shouldn't think of it merely as 'training for work', but rather I'd hope that it serves a purpose as a place to develop critical skills, as well as specialist subject knowledge. Whether that knowledge is used for work or not is almost beyond the point I think – learning in itself is something we should all value and promote.’

Mike Ryder

‘Higher education is a way for people to learn about something they (hopefully) find interesting and help them develop the skills and connections to help them later in life. It is not just a continuation of school or a "checkbox" you need to get a job. It is a place for people to learn not just about topics, but to learn about themselves, what they like, try new things and make new friends. But, most importantly, higher education is for everyone.’

Harry Rolls

‘I also believe and hope that higher education is about more than the preparation of professional technicalities. Higher education is about learning how to learn and how to genuinely think. It allows the exploration and understanding of ourselves and an interpretation of the world around us. Ultimately, it is a path to seek truth.’

Fabian Fluche

‘Higher Education serves multiple purposes, which vary depending on individual perspectives. Anecdotally, students come to university so that they can "get a better job" but it has the potential to be so much more than the acquisition of knowledge and skills leading to career opportunities.

‘Historically Higher Education has been a means of upward social mobility leading to reduced inequalities and the promotion of social justice – but does it still provide this opportunity? Universities have a long history of student (and staff) activism, with students often at the forefront of social and political movements advocating for change but have, arguably, become more mainstream (less conducive to radical thought).

‘The increasing pressures on HE mean that there is an increasing focus on commercial viability. But perhaps HE should strive to maintain its role as a beacon for diversity of thought and ideology, challenging established convention and driving societal change.’

Neil Ralph

‘We have all been recently stressed and confused about the impact of AI in Universities. At our awareness session run by one of our student representatives, he pointed out to us: “I am at the Uni to connect with people, learn the soft skills, learn how to present to different audiences, work in groups, … the rest is all available elsewhere.” So I guess what he meant by the rest is the knowledge, the content that we have been so precious about.

‘To a certain extend I agree with him. We can find a lot online, use AI to help us summarise it, analyse it and even respond to it. We have become knowledge co-creators through wiki functions. Knowledge, at least in the world where we take digital accessibility for granted, is simply at our fingertips. This makes me wonder what am I here for as a lecturer? It poses more fundamental question about what we mean by education, and whether we need to move the narrative away from delivering content through teaching, to facilitating curious enquiry focusing on learning.

‘This requires a paradigm shift not only towards student-centricity but towards education and knowledge co-creation. Such shift comes with further accountability, agency and responsibility on both sides, the student and the academic. It also comes with a radical redefinition of the sitting in a tiered “cathedral” fronted with the one-who-knows-it-all behind a pulpit. Are we ready for this?’

Radka Newton

Join the SIME community

If you’d like to continue the discussion, and to join our ever-expanding community of scholars, please email Teresa Aldren.

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The opinions expressed by our bloggers and those providing comments are personal, and may not necessarily reflect the opinions of Lancaster University. Responsibility for the accuracy of any of the information contained within blog posts belongs to the blogger.

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