Are our universities too specialised?
Writing as a guest blogger in the higher education pages of the Washington Post newspaper, Anne D. Neal of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) complains that American students are not getting a sufficiently rounded education. In fact, she suggests that the US system of higher education has ‘a culture that is anti-intellectual and that often produces students who have neither the skills or knowledge they will need to succeed after graduation’. In particular, she feels that students graduate without having a sufficient knowledge of history, economics and literature.
It is probably worth saying that the ACTA is not without its critics in America, and indeed Anne Neal has been criticised as someone intervening in higher education without sufficient expert knowledge and with a political agenda. However, the points raised in her piece may merit some discussion. Students in our system of education are being pushed earlier and earlier into greater specialisation, often before they are mature enough to make such choices. Modularisation in universities has provided some opportunities to broaden knowledge, but its implementation in practice has often been difficult.
Is it time to look more closely at our education system and to ask whether a more rounded education, continued to a slightly later age, would benefit society? Later specialisation (which certainly cannot be avoided) may work better if it is grounded in a greater degree of general knowledge.