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We are condemned to learn

Towards higher education as a learning society


Author - Dr Ted Fleming


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Higher education (HE) worldwide is facing demands to change. Quality assurance is required. Restructuring, performance appraisal and the reform of governance are underway. In Ireland, state funding is being reduced and alternative funding is sought from research, links with industry and fees from foreign students.

This is an opportune time to ask: How might higher education articulate a vision that includes responding to the demands of the economy for well-educated workers, and to the demands of the state for cost-effective teaching while also responding to the learning needs of citizens? How can the demand for work-related learning be balanced by the requirements that a democratic society has for critical, active citizens?

This paper attempts to articulate an agenda for higher education beyond the reductionist vision of the economic agenda. Jürgen Habermas is the starting point for the discussion and this paper argues that HE has a critical role in a democratic society. Habermas has a profound impact on our understanding of both society and education and this paper reconstructs a critical agenda for HE in the modern world.

This paper:

  1. Briefly outlines current issues in Irish HE.
  2. Identifies the ideas of Jürgen Habermas that are useful in understanding the learning project of a modern society – the demise of the public sphere; the importance of civil society as a location for de-colonising the lifeworld and the learning potential of the theory of communicative action and discursive democracy.
  3. Identifies the implications for HE.

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