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Is there a need to debate the role of higher education
and the public good?

Author - Sandra Fisher


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Higher education and the 'educated' student

Higher education institutions are `producing citizens and this means we must ask what a good citizen of the present day should know' (Nussbaum 1997: 8). Equally we should ask what higher education should be `teaching' citizens in the broadest sense of the word. Some would argue that viewing higher education as a business results in higher education shifting its focus to the economic success of its students and that this focus will delineate concerns that are outside of this (Gumport in Hodges Persell and Wenglinsky 2004: 337-338).

Conceptualizing student identity beyond their role as a worker, that is, as a member of a family, community and society, implies providing students with an education that goes beyond an instrumental view of it. This instrumental view of education, it has been argued, largely views education as `valued more for its vocational function in contributing to individual careers or national productivity rather than its intrinsic value' (Blackmore 2001: 354). For students, is `accumulating material goods the essence of the good life' (Giroux 2001: 6), and will they be given other objectives for democracy other than profit making?

The language of higher education has become industrialized (Coffield and Williamson 1997). The traditional academic interpretation of higher education is now in competition with the new notion of competence linked to the workplace. The traditional academic interpretation of competence focuses more on learning as a process rather than a product (Barnett 1997a: 30-31). Providing students with an educational experience which is less about the journey and more about the destination or now more commonly termed the `learning outcome', may result in, to use a business term, `opportunity costs' for students and society.


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