The inevitable triumph of bad ideas?

The contemporary narrative of higher education leaves open a number of questions about how universities could or should develop. But there are certain assumptions that are, at least by implication, generally considered to be indisputable: that institutions must cut costs (and staff costs in particular); that technology will determine both pedagogy and education policy; that public money will be less and less important as a source of revenue.

Is this picture of the future of higher education inevitable? Joshua Kim, the Director of Digital Learning Initiatives at the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning, thinks not. In an interesting blog post published by Inside Higher Education, he suggests that many of these assumptions are simply ‘bad ideas’ that we should reject.

Whether he is right or wrong about individual items in his list (and I for one don’t agree with him about all of them), it is clear that too much of higher education policy planning is based on an unwillingness to question current received wisdom, rather than on a considered view of what will happen or needs to happen. The rush towards MOOCs was an example of this phenomenon.

It is quite possible to argue that some of Dr Kim’s ‘bad ideas’ are not that bad. But the implication of his list – that nothing is right just because important people say it is – is sound. The critical driver of higher education policy, as indeed of all policy, should be evidence. No idea should be accepted as inherently right without further critical examination. Universities should live by the methods they teach.

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2 Comments on “The inevitable triumph of bad ideas?”

  1. Vincent Says:

    My heart says you’re not an industry, my head would nowadays say on the whole you are.

    I’ve done a few MOOCs with Leiden and Maastricht. And of all that I’ve done they are the the best. Mostly because they’ve found a way to data mine the participants and of course they provide the access to journals for as long as one wants. The Future Learn is quite good too only not so meaty in the course, but they also have huge amounts of secondary reading should one wish to absorb it.

  2. paul Says:

    #badidea: “indisputable: that institutions must cut costs (and staff costs in particular)”
    The edu-market is growing : UK population is expanding, the benefit of English language means the global market is open, ..etc. Salaries at the top are up eg University of Kent Vice-chancellor Professor Dame Julia Goodfellow’s Salary Increases to £265,000 & Scots Uni Principals are the best paid public sector workers in Scotland averaging £242,000 in 2012. It seems to me that rather than knocking morale with talk of staff (salary) cuts that such comments, in an economic recovery, should be kept to a minimum

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