Is there a need to debate the role of higher education
and the public good?
limits on learning: higher education for citizens of the world
In the words of Barnett:
If higher education is to be in any form of business, it has
to be in the highest forms of human development. If education
is an intentional set of processes aimed at producing worthwhile
forms of human development, higher education has to be in the
business of producing the most advanced forms of human development.
A higher education designed to bring about critical persons capable
of working towards a learning society can be no other.
(Barnett 1997b: 162)
Barnett proposes that higher education seek to replace the idea
of developing students critical thinking with its focus on knowledge,
and instead to develop `critical being'. Critical being focuses
criticality in three domains, i.e. knowledge, self and the world.
I suppose what Barnett is calling for is a more embracing higher
education for students which attaches importance to the role of
critical reason, self-reflection and critical action. Barnett (1997b)
suggests that developing a curriculum for critical being presents
challenges and risks for academics. Such a curriculum would seek
to invoke the highest level of criticality, i.e. `transformatory
critique' which would impact on the three domains of criticality,
i.e. knowledge, self and world via knowledge critique, reconstruction
of self and critique in action (collective reconstruction of world).
This contrasts with the lowest level of criticality, i.e. critical
skills which impact on the three domains of criticality in a much
more limited way, promoting discipline-specific critical thinking
skills (knowledge), self-monitoring to given standards and norms
(self) and problem-solving (means-end instrumentalism) (world) (Barnett
1997b: 103). In essence Barnett wants higher education to introduce
students to the potential of knowledge, self and the world, to a
bigger landscape beyond the immediate acquisition of a piece of
knowledge, skill or end result.
Developing a curriculum for critical being would present academics
and students with challenges. For academics `setting up an educational
framework in which students can make their own (author's
italics) structured explorations, testing their ideas in the critical
company of each other' may mean that `pedagogical roles and relationships
become uncertain and necessarily invite risk into their proceedings'
(Barnett 1997b: 110). For
students viewing their education beyond their passing of examinations
or gaining that prized credential may initially challenge their
perception that education is a means to individual ends.
We cannot deny that most students go to higher education, particularly
at undergraduate level, with a view to obtaining employment and
in particular `good' employment. However, to create higher education
institutions where students `develop their critical faculties' and
are encouraged `not only to participate in the production of knowledge
but to believe, too, that if they want to, they can change things'
(Barr 2002: 322) is to recognize
the potential of higher education to shape and realize the good
of all citizens. If we want to remain hopeful of the transformatory
potential of higher education then government, industry, higher
education institutions, society and individuals have to be willing
to put the theory into practice. The closer alignment between higher
education and industry has the potential to open up possibilities
of not just demanding but of realizing `a correspondence between
citizens of civil society and citizenship in organizational workplaces'
(Casey 2003: 632).