Posted tagged ‘arts’

Universities and cultural regeneration

June 24, 2014

My university, Robert Gordon University, will today launch a major report on how to promote cultural regeneration in the North-East of Scotland. This report was produced by a working group I established last year, chaired by Professor Paul Harris of RGU’s Gray’s School of Art. What follows below is the Foreword I wrote for the report.

‘From the very earliest days of higher education history, universities have been centres of cultural engagement and development. Towns and cities grew around higher learning establishments, and the scholarship nurtured in the universities often provided the roots for local arts and culture. That is still largely true today: almost every city that has a major cultural offering also has world-class universities.

I take the view, as Principal of Robert Gordon University, that this institution has a special relationship with its city and its region, and that it must give expression to this through its contribution to local culture and through its leadership in debates about how that culture and creativity can be further enriched. It was with this in mind that I established the working group that has produced this very valuable report.

It is my hope that the assessment of our cultural future set out in this report, and the recommendations made therein, will provide a valuable contribution to the future of the North-East of Scotland more generally.

I am most grateful to Professor Paul Harris and to the team which produced this report. Moreover, on behalf of RGU I can give an undertaking that we will continue to work with the community of the North-East and with all other key stakeholders to ensure that together we can indeed create a new North.’

Universities have a responsibility to keep arts and culture alive. What RGU hopes and intends to do in the North-East of Scotland should be done by every university in every place. This allows us to be true to our intellectual mission, but also to give extra substance to the need for regional development and a good quality of life.

The RGU report sets out ten key findings and recommendations – more of which tomorrow.


No nose for Irish industry?

April 13, 2011

In a world where statements about higher education are often less than fully informed, it is important that the dialogue between universities and the relevant regulatory body – in Ireland’s case the Higher Education Authority – is conducted with a degree of sensitivity and mutual respect. Mostly that has been the case, even where there are disagreements. Therefore I found it somewhat startling when the new chair of the HEA, John Hennessy, was recently reported by the Irish Independent as saying that some academics in the arts and humanities ‘”hold their nose” at the idea of working with industry’. He went on, apparently, to suggest that ‘the humanities have a problem in communicating their contribution to the wider society – a problem the sciences do not have.’

It may of course be that the HEA chair had some specific evidence for these assertions that the newspaper did not include in the report. It may also be that he had more detailed proposals as to how and where the arts and humanities should be engaging with industry where currently they are not or where their communication with society falls down. But if so, it would be helpful to see some of this evidence and assess the proposals. As it is, my fear is that the comments, which he made on the occasion of a public lecture, reinforce the tendency to make unsubstantiated judgements about academic work and use these as a basis for new regulatory restrictions and controls.

It cannot be a matter of surprise that the arts and humanities have less interaction (but hardly none) with industry than is the case with science or engineering. However, in my experience they often work closely with the performing arts, with educational bodies, with voluntary organisations, with cultural and tourism bodies, and so forth. Accusing the arts of not working with industry is in some ways like accusing biochemists of not working with the Abbey Theatre.

John Hennessy’s appointment has been welcomed by many, and it is hoped that he will oversee a well judged and effective cooperation with the academic community in Ireland. But it might be better if the patterns of this cooperation were established a little better before he moves to launch public criticism of some sections of higher education without much visible evidence to back it up. I suspect that the arts and humanities can always usefully review their interaction with the wider society, including industry, but it is better to stimulate such a review in a somewhat more sensitive and less caricatured way. I hope that a constructive dialogue will be more typical of what is to come.

Science and the humanities: an eternal battle?

March 29, 2010

Over recent years the debates on higher education funding have addressed not just whether that funding is sufficient, but also increasingly how it should be distributed. In this context the growing volume of science funding, often linked to economic development priorities, has sometimes raised the issue of whether science and engineering have got a better deal than the humanities, the arts and the social sciences. Sometimes this debate addresses issues of how the humanities can also stimulate the economy, and sometimes it has more generally raised the question of whether we are neglecting disciplines that have major pedagogical benefits and which moreover provide important social and cultural supports.

This issue was recently discussed in the Guardian newspaper by the columnist Simon Jenkins. He argues that an attack on the humanities, arts and social sciences set in under Margaret Thatcher, who considered these areas to be socialist breeding grounds, and that since then politicians have maintained a bias towards science funding, with Peter Mandelson in the UK completing this process. Jenkins argues that the universities need to re-assert their autonomy and their support for all disciplines on a fair basis.

It is hard to know what to do with this debate. Clearly universities, at least as a sector, need to maintain a balance between the disciplines, though this may still allow some individual universities to specialise. However, it is not helpful to suggest that there is some sort of academic class war between disciplines; in fact one of the more helpful recent developments has been the growth of interdisciplinary dialogue between the humanities and the sciences and the growth of joint projects between them in both teaching and research. It is also unavoidable that scientists will, in overall money terms, gain more funding than the humanities because their infrastructure and equipment is much more expensive. Nor is it entirely unreasonable to fund research that will secure major economic growth andf benefits.

However, it is also vital the universities develop a clear policy for the development of their disciplines, and that such a policy should leave no doubt about the equal value of the arts, humanities and social sciences, and their claim to be recognised as vital academic areas. It is in nobody’s interests that there should be hostility between different parts of the academy. To avoid this requires a better dialogue and more transparent decision-making.

University subjects and disciplines

March 18, 2009

It was reported earlier this week in the Irish Independent that, as part of the higher education rationalisation that is expected, the major casualties would be engineering and the arts, particularly minority interest languages (Italian was mentioned). I do not actually believe that we are anywhere close to taking decisions quite of that nature (though we shall indeed address rationalisation), but in our discusions we shall need to be very careful about what image of Ireland we are presenting both to the wider world and to ourselves.

There seems little doubt to me that the major growth of civil and construction engineering of recent years cannot be sustained, and will not continue anyway as a result of student choice. But engineering as a whole must not be portrayed as an area of the past – it remains critical to Ireland’s future and our economic recovery. As for the arts, we must avoid the impression that they cannot be supported in the same way during difficult economic times; the contribution they make to a balanced education system and to a stable society is vital.

As I have mentioned before, we must pursue a rationalisation agenda, and we must do so urgently. But we must also do so intelligently, remembering that today’s conditions, difficult as they are, will not last for ever, and we need to be equipped to deal with the world as it then emerges.

That is not to say that we should not be pursuing an agenda of radical change; but more of that in a coming post.

This blog’s hit parade

December 7, 2008

This blog has been coming to you, on a more or less daily basis, for six months now. My approach to it is that I am willing to spend 10 minutes each day on it, and on the whole I keep to that; it would not be sensible for me to become a full-time blogger, I have other things to do. But even with those limitations, it has (so far) been a hugely positive experience, and I have in particular welcomes the feedback I have received, and the comments that readers have made.

I am not too focused on the statistics, but today I have, out of curiosity, looked more closely at which posts have received the most attention. And this has revealed an interesting pattern. The posts which have had by far the greatest number of readers are ‘Has Karl Marx left the university?‘ and ‘Personal pursuits‘. In fact, all those posts which have looked at issues of political philosophy and ideology have been widely read, as have those that have focused on the arts and literature. Given my own liking for the band A Fine Frenzy, I am also pleased that all posts that contain references to them immediately pick up a strong readership. The other topic that is always popular is consumer electronics and technology – any post that mentions various desirable gadgets gets numerous hits.

Blogging has become a global phenomenon, but for most bloggers (including this one) it is not a mass medium. And just as I firmly believe that while everyone may have a book in them on the whole it is good that not all of these are published, so I suspect that bloggers should avoid the temptation to believe that what we want to say in public always deserves to be put out there. It was stated a while ago on another site that this blog is ‘unbelievable drivel’ – and that’s quite possibly a reasonable judgement.

I may look at the possibility of developing this blog a little, perhaps inviting other bloggers to join as additional authors to provide some variety of content and style, and maybe some diversity of opinion.