Aristotle or Something Fresh?

Posted on August 25, 2010

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Allegedly the first example of Higher Education we have is that of Plato’s Academy in Athens. The work above by the Italian master Raphael depicts this ‘ideal’ form of learning. But is it ideal? Even then the great men Plato and Aristotle would wear a pouch of their back to collect money for the lectures and teachings they gave. The ideal is fee paying? But how can this be so? Is the ideal from 330 BC the ideal for today? What is the ideal of Higher Education? Is Higher Education for all?

Growing up my idea of university centred on the hallowed grounds of Oxford and Cambridge and my idea of perfection was those institutions. They were elitist and exclusive and to reach those heights was an accolade that would make my family proud. However, being somewhat distracted by rugby, alcohol and the other delights of the world, I did not perform as I should have in my A-levels After taking a year and reassessing what I wanted to do. I applied for Law at Kingston. My family could not be any more proud of me were I studying at Oxford, Cambridge or Harvard rather than Kingston. I also doubt I would have been any happier with my choice as choosing to study at Kingston was entirely appropriate to my needs in how the course was delivered and structured.

What I came to understand about Higher Education is that it is a gift. That gift is not given, it is earned. For those who take the opportunity of higher education and university and work at it; the experiences you gain are invaluable and the paths you open up can change your life. Universities that have histories of widening participation expand that gift and they open access up to those who may not normally have had access to that gift. However. However, a gift is not something to which you are necessarily entitled. It is something that is earned though good deeds and conduct. In the case of Higher Education, it is earned through academic excellence.

Recent A-level results have indeed left many people without that opportunity. The sad reality is that education is not open to all. Not everyone will be able to do a degree. There are some students going into some fantastic apprenticeships and some students even training as accountants without a degree. An apprenticeship teaches you to do a job. A degree teaches you to be an academic. But academia is not something that is right for everyone and we should not presume to judge that academia should be the route for all.

So what do we want our higher education to be? Do we want to teach people to do jobs? Then why have higher education? Scrap it and introduce apprenticeships for all. The reality is the university is meant to be about more than a job. It is about maturing as a person, learning who you are, what you can be and importantly, equipping you to get there. We as a society need to value the differences between apprenticeships and degrees and expands appretinceships to a point where the routes are both as accessible and acceptable to any candidate no matter what their background. University is one form of higher learning, but it is not the only form of learning. We should expand further education, and take the egotistical need to have ‘Higher Education’ our of our focus, and put having the education appropriate to each student at the heart our of strategy.

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