Third Level Education – where to go?

Talking last week to academics at the Department of the University of Debrecen, I drew a parallel between developments of the economy and third level education today. It is surely true that a growing number of young people avails of university education and obtains degrees. However, they gain useful skills, being usually well trained specialist with a higher qualification; however, academic training as matter of universal and critical thinking is increasingly left to a small number of students only. I contended “Not least the tiger economies of the recent years show that the increasing number of graduates goes hand in hand with maintaining and even strengthening an elitist system of third level education. The economies – and the universities – are able to prosper for a short period of time. But they do so only to fail after the short blossom in even more sever ways. What is needed is not more specialist and diversified (in terms of differentiated) offers but more critical engagement.” The discussion shows that the idea of third level education as matter of engaging in critical universal thinking can offer very well an also financially feasible answer by universities. Orienting on more students then means challenging more students to get engaged in real education rather than inflationary schemes that are actually non-starters. We can see already today the increasing difficulties of maintaining high numbers of students. And offering more of the same cannot be an answer.

Not least recent debates at the School of Applied Social Science at University College of Cork, aiming on developing a “MSocSc ‘Routes’” are on an entirely wrong way, especially if they go the way of piecing up a somewhat ‘artificial offer’ without clear concept. Colleagues who see here another opportunity to eclectically merging existing offers under a new heading act in an irresponsible manner. Claiming with such a strategy a process of establishing a profile is surely misleading. “Profiles of knowledge, of research is about having something to say. They are about looking for questions rather than providing answers on issues that are actually not a problem.” An eclectic MSocSc ‘Routes’ can be compared with offering a system as we just saw it collapsing on the financial markets: insure what cannot be insured to create another insurance for the next layer of investment that cannot be insured. “This is not a paradox. This is not about contradictions of bubble creation. It is simply about a lack of responsibility.”

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