purpose of post secondary education

Academia from a student perspective

when universities were founded about 1000, there were two broad mandates, prepare students for participating in civic discourse and to provide skills to contribute to societal well being. These goals varied depending on who underwrote the institution. Academic faculty were interdisciplinary in their studies and clearly worked across areas of scholarship for their own needs and to meet the educational needs of the institutions.

The balance between the two goals along with scholarly works has undergone rebalancing over the ages. In fact the scholarly activities, particularly in what have been designated as major research institutions has, in many ways become almost cocooned, become increasingly narrowly defined by “disciplines and have had most promotion and tenure decisions based on what is now called the publish/perish paradigm. Only in few institutions has “teaching” taken precedent and few, if any content scholars been formally educated in the practice and art of “teaching”

While the idea of a university education has a large oeuvre created by academics and public intellectuals, looking at post secondary education, globally, it is clear that the balance between the pragmatic, income generation preparation has become the dominant issue at hand not only due to the sources that fund the public and private institutions but also due to pressure from students, many of whom incur significant amounts of, often, unforgivable debt to gain institutional recognition via certificates of performance completed. The shifting of the measure from collection of courses taken to an articulation of individual competences or various designations indicates such a major shift  may be difficult to rebalance as part of the certification.

Part of the issue rests with the fact that the student population has changed over time. In the past, many had far different motivations for attending a university where the need for certification to enter into the economic life was not as critical as the “life of the mind” as may have been idealized, recently, in the movie “Dead Poets Society”. This is readily seen when the larger image of post secondary education becomes the extension beyond secondary and into the economic system writ large. This is further reinforced by those underwriting the costs of the educational side of post secondary education, separate from finance of scholarly pursuits of academics (also a career path). There are sufficient programs and academic institutions that do emphasize the exemplar of liberal studies but, in the end, few individuals are able to enter the scholarly path, made more evident by the increasing demand for faculty as “teachers” with little opportunity to enter the traditional tenure track domain of scholarly practice. This is a global trend and not just a problematic within the developed world’s academic systems.

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