Taking the debate out of the university
It has been a theme of this blog that the narrative of higher education has been lost, and that as a result the nature and purpose of the university is not well understood in society. This in turn has led to a major drop in support for higher education across government, business and the wider public. Universities however have not been particularly good at re-focusing this debate and restoring a sense of trust.
Not everyone is passive, however. I have been really interested in an initiative that has been taken by the Vice-Chancellor of de Montfort University in Leicester, Professor Dominic Shellard. Yesterday he and the local Church of England bishop were at the centre of a series of debates about the university as a ‘public good’, conducted in various sessions and widely disseminated. One of the more intriguing parts of this was a fairly well organised platform for some of the debate on Twitter. Those who were interested could follow the debate as it evolved via the Twitter ‘hashtag’ #DMUdebate and could address questions or comments to the participants. The journal Times Higher Education added to this by re-tweeting some of the contributions, thereby involving its wider group of readers.
It is difficult to say what impact this event will have had, but at the very least it was a very noticeable one, and a genuine attempt to take higher education’s case to a wider public. Dominic Shellard is, in fact, an interesting university head, with communication skills and a willingness to speak and listen. His initiative should be applauded. Other attempts, in other places, to engage society on behalf of the academy should follow.