Posted by: Gillian | February 21, 2012

University is not a rite of passage – or is it

I’ve just responded on Twitter to George Siemens:

RT @gsiemens European universities: re-form or die: http://bit.ly/xmbrwA <Yes: but rite of passage or rite of discontinuous brain?

This is key to so much of the current UK HE debate.  I’ve written elsewhere about whether universities in the UK, at undergraduate level, are for academic development or whether they are social buffer zones between home and work: what happens away stays away and no-one need be embarrassed.  Making the big assumption that academic enquiry informs the interest of many undergraduates (and I’m sure there really are many out there who already know they wish to be the chief researcher in their chosen field), it still remains to ask if the standard ladder of in at 18 and out via a PhD somewhere around age 30 is the right model.

People enter HE for a huge variety of reasons and hanging on to the idea of the chance of a well-paying job is obviously one of them but if the jobs are not there (cue any set of current employment statistics for university leavers in general), then retaining intake across all disciplines is not to be taken for granted.

In addition, there are many older people with degrees and/or senior professional qualifications and years of work experience who are in positions where research is required and they know, more or less, how to frame it. Many are very successful in their research and if work would let them get the prestigious letters after their name that full-time on-campus grads can achieve for similar input, then they would be very pleased.  In theory, the Bologna process and professional postgrad qualifications allow this.  In practice, I am still searching for a single university with a high reputation that can cope with someone turning up in any Faculty on a Monday with a work-based research idea they are willing to take forward and having a confirmed research-based degree space by Friday that is likely to simultaneously deliver results in a commercially viable timespan.

Yes, there are LOTS of caveats in that – but that’s the vision.  Anyone up to meet the challenge?

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