Vocational education in universities?
The word ‘vocation’, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, means ‘the action 0n the part of God of calling a person to exercise some special function, especially of a spiritual nature, or to fill a certain position’. The word implies both a status or profession, and a special calling (even if you leave out the religious reference).
It has become common in recent times to consider whether ‘vocational’ education should be an activity conducted in universities. The Guardian newspaper has recently hosted a discussion on this issue, in which some academics expressed a view that ‘training for work’ is not part of the academic mission. But is this a fruitful debate? Is there really a strong intellectual separation between education in some wider sense and the acquisition of information and skills relevant to employment? If the latter is somehow improper in a university, then whole Faculties would need to disappear, in all universities including the most ancient. How, for example, could you then allow a law, accounting, engineering, or even medical degree?
It seems to me that this discussion takes us down a cul-de-sac. What matters is not whether there is a relationship between a university education and a professional career path. Rather, what matters is that the university education observes the highest standards of intellectual inquiry and critique. Universities need to demonstrate that the skills they help to develop in students will serve those students well in later life. Insisting that such skills must not be ‘relevant’ is silly. Rather, they should encourage the sense of vocation, or ‘calling’, that should be part of every person’s working experience.