The Role of Universities

I have recently been thinking about the role of Universities in the education of people. For now, being involved with a couple of different ones in different countries, I could see the differences in teaching style, goals, scope, depth and organization, including whole administration and what are the requirements. This is even more prominent now, as in Slovenia our student organization (ŠOU) had introduced into the parliament the law. While I am not sure what their goal is, I am assuming that what they are discussing in their proposal is what they think is important for students.

Sadly, trying to get what they want out of the education from that proposal is impossible. Not that because it would be hard to read, it is actually not, presuming one knows Slovenian, which most, though not all, people affect by it know it. It is because it reads more like a proposal for changes in the social transfers than having anything to do with the actually education.

There are other indications of the role of University that I have seen. I have recently had a conversation with one of my teachers about my master thesis. It was very interesting that I was encouraged to do a master thesis for a company, because it is a good opportunity for the possible employment later on. That most people actually pick either than or doing a project for the company they already work for.

This actually gives a picture of trade education. People go to the university in order to learn a trade. The structures in the university actually make it harder for a person to get a more well-rounded education. Why? Because it is hard to take subjects from different faculties in the same university. And I know that it can be quite hard, as I took neurology and programming as electives when I was enrolled at the Faculty of Economics. And one can imagine that there is no neurology course there, even though we apparently have researches that do fMRI studies together with cognitive neurology laboratory.

When this is put together than at least the the Faculty of Economics there are only 12% of credits that can be taken with the electives. The rest of the classes are already predefined based on which department at the Faculty of Economics did a person pick at their study. In the cognitive science, this is a bit different, but there is a reason for this. There they only predefine the first year of masters and they are a bit flexible on the subjects. They don't do any of this for the second year, but that might be because everybody needs to go abroad in the second year and write their masters, so there is not a lot to be able to redefine it.

So when I was visiting the WU or cognitive science program in the University of Vienna, I was a bit surprised at the organization. While WU is quite strict, they seems to at least have modules, so people can choose what they are interested in and not do everything the same as everybody else. At the University of Vienna cognitive science program they were even more flexible and taking with them, apparently the Bologna reform gave them the feeling that they are less flexible. Even though they only have to argue why the subject is relevant for the mayor in order to be counted toward their core subjects.

The more the system is flexible the more it comes closer to what I have always seen the role of the University. I have seen the role as the place where people could get knowledge in order to be better informed. I have this (probably unrealistic) vision of people through their life attending courses in the subjects they are interested in. This way the people could get the equivalent to a couple of university education in their lifetimes. And I can not see how the society would be worse of if more people knew comparative literature or the history of Madagascar or the physics needed for civil engendering.

This would require a couple of things, two of them would be a more flexible workdays and the wish for people to actually learn various things. The last one is the one that worries me, as some people seems very unmotivated for any kind of learning. But this is something that I will have to accept. Even if these people, who still want to be educated, are the ones that are shifting at least some of the education that the university provide to be more like the trade schools.