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Week 7- University

1. What is a University and what does it do?

A University is a huge building; at least University College Limerick looked enormous last September. It is also a place I had looked forward to attending without much thought for anything other than the social life and it would be a bonus to study a Science subject. University for me has turned out to be so much more raising so many questions about life and the way I live. A University is a centre of and for learning and it has been a steep learning curve for me. It is a place where students like me are set free for the first time and have to come to terms with freedom and the responsibility it brings. For the first time the whole day comprises of a series of choices that are mine alone to make and it takes a while to realize the consequences of these choices! Universities are made up of “the assemblage of strangers from all parts in one spot” (The Idea of a University. I. What Is a University? John Henry Newman). A University is a place where people from all over the world gather, with different backgrounds, cultures, religions and personalities. It is a place of communication and self-development and a place where people work, live, learn and spend time together. It is about people, lots of people. It is also a social centre!

A University is a place where people can be educated for life and for a profession and where students get degrees. A University Newman says “is a school of knowledge of every kind, consisting of teachers and learners from every quarter”. Many things take place in a university; universities are, I believe, a microcosm of life. The word university is derived from the Latin universitas magistrorum et scholarium, roughly meaning “community of teachers and scholars”. Newman believes that “The general principles of any study you may learn by books at home; but the detail, the colour, the tone, the air, the life which makes it live in us, you must catch all these from those in whom it lives already”. A University should be a place where students get to meet and interact with those who know and love their subject and those like themselves who are getting to know their subject. In some countries the university is controlled by political or religious authorities. It is a place where information can be exchanged and explored and where students begin to ask questions after the rote learning of our Leaving Certificate. It’s a place where I discovered learning was for me and I had to be independent and self-motivated! “It is a seat of wisdom, a light of the world …… an Alma Mater of the rising generation”. (http://www.bartleby.com/28/2.html (12-3-2011). It is also good fun.

There are many different types of energy in universities. There is the initial physical energy- the heat, space, light and sound. There is also the energy within the university body. The energy generated by the university community, the mindset of people and their attitude. There is a pride attached to the University we students attend. The ethos, though unspoken can be felt and comes from the many policies within the university. These policies are a standard statement adopted by the authorities who run each university. Some policies many be seen as positives and others as negative, by the students, depending on the persons own out look.
Universities are an economy within an economy, just as they are a community within a larger community with the ripples, positive and negative, spreading far beyond the University gates. It is a place where goods are exchanged, distributed and consumed and where services are required.
There are many different cultures within the university- music, sports, clubs and societies. The best learning occurs when people experience positive aspects to university and university life. And when people feel supported, which is difficult given the size and variety of people and needs. Failure is experienced when people feel that the university has not lived up to their expectations or they have not performed to their abilities. Universities are centres of hope and opportunity. They provide opportunities for growth, development and technological advances. There are threats to Universities also from negative public image, budget crisis and the decrease in general achievements of the university.

2. What should a University do?

A University should provide people with a sense of community, where they feel they belong and are valued. It should be a place that is concerned with people firstly and then with education. It should be a place where people learn how to continue to learn because people never stop learning. A University should engage students in research and learning as students will go on to develop new ideas. Humboldt believed that “The university is reserved for what the human being can find by and within himself: insight into pure science. For this self-activity in the fullest sense, freedom is necessary, and solitude is helpful; from these two requirements flows the entire external organization of the universities. Lecture courses are only a secondary aspect; the essential thing is that people live for a number of years for themselves and for science, closely alongside like-minded individuals of the same age, conscious that this same place has a number of already fully developed intellects who are solely dedicated to the elevation and promulgation of science. http://www.schillerinstitute.org/fid_91-96/962_humboldt_education.html (12-3-11). While I agree that University students should have the opportunity and time to look in-depth at a subject I do not think that solitude would be good. There is I think a lot to be learned from interacting with others and the sharing of ideas. I also do not think it would be good if Universities were full only of people of similar age and interests as Humboldt suggests. Universities should promote lifelong learning where each person might seek to realize their unique human potential. Universities should be free from pressure from individuals and selective groups who might overwhelm the common good that the education system is meant to support. A University should promote critical thinking among its students and should not be concerned with “The economic justification for education – equipping students with marketable skills to help countries compete in a global, information-based workplace” (http://lass.calumet.purdue.edu/cca/jgcg/downloads/WhatIsAUniversity.pdf (12-3-11). Learning should be presented as a whole and not as separate subject areas which only serves to encourage a fragmented view of learning. Universities should also be concerned with the development of the whole person not just the intellect. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education”.

3. What will a University look like 2050?

By 2050 universities will have changed greatly from what we know. Universities as we know them have not changed much over the last hundred years, they have just developed. The world is in a time of enormous change and this change will have a huge effect on the future of universities. Population growth is forecast to be 9.07 billion in 2050.This population growth will increase the demand for university places. Ireland’s government is currently cutting financial support to universities and this will affect the physical organization of campus, the personnel available and the budget available for research in 2050. Technological progress has changed the way students are taught with information easily available on the web in any location. Peak oil means that transport, the structure of buildings, goods and services available will all have an impact on universities in the future.
“Changes are occurring every day on a national and world scale – we are faced with economic globalisation, the revolutions in information technology and biotechnology, growing inequality and social exclusion (leading to a renewed struggle for citizens’ rights), violence of all kinds, environmental pollution and climate change. All of these things are increasing the need for new knowledge and skills, for new scenarios for our global society”. http://lass.calumet.purdue.edu/cca/jgcg/downloads/WhatIsAUniversity.pdf (12-3-11)
Universities too are faced with the need for change. I think universities will be smaller with more virtual universities and distance learning which presents the challenge of retaining a sense of community. Distance learning may be an add-on or the whole course and will allow flexible study and lifelong learning. Academic semesters will probably disappear, as is already happening, and students will start their courses when and where they wish. With distance learning the restrictions on places will not be an issue, as it is now. With distance learning failure will not be such a costly event and will be seen as an incitement to try again, not a reason to drop out of the system as happens now. Most information will be held electronically and the need for print on paper will be reduced. Face-to-face teaching may be lost and this would mean losing the chance to provide students with the whole feel for a lecture and the enthusiasm of the lecturer, loosing what Newman described as “the colour, the tone, the air, the life which makes it live in us, you must catch all these from those in whom it lives already”. With the development of the virtual university, students may lose the independence developed with the University experience and the life skills gained with independent living. One of the challenges that face universities of the future is to find a way to retain the opportunities for developing social skills and mixing with people from different backgrounds, cultures, religions and personalities. Universities in 2050 should, but may not, provide for the development of the whole person. One of the fears would be that Universities of the future would produce only social network graduates. University, I believe, will be about assessing knowledge learned elsewhere and awarding degrees based on this assessment. Universities will become centers of research more than places where things are learned. They will be places where people return many times to up skill. They will infuse sustainable thinking into campus life, drive innovation and be centres of in-depth research.
“Education should consist of a series of enchantments, each raising the individual to a higher level of awareness, understanding, and kinship with all living things.” AUTHOR UNKNOWN

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