The objective of this workshop was to begin a new kind of RSA fellowship engagement ‘RSA networks’, and to discover what they might do and how they might work.
A stimulating ‘Open technology’ format was used to generate, discuss and refine over 70 ideas from the 260 fellows and staff present.
I proposed ‘What’s wrong with university” and “The University for Improvement” as ideas for debate and constructive thinking. The fellows who joined me were surprisingly gentle, compared to the RSA report “In from the cold- the rise of vocational education” written by Professor Sir Graham Hills in November 2004. Graham was project champion of the RSA’s Visions of a Capable Society programme in 2004, and he identified the following flaws in the qcademic ethos:
- Fragmentation of knowledge
- Internal referencing, peer review, cronyism and social corruption
- Absence of context, flight from reality
- Objectivity taken to extremes, dehumanisation of science
- Authoritarian attitudes to knowledge and behaviour
- Competition between knowledge bases leading to internal uniformity and external conformity
He continued to claim that the world of reality and technology, outside academia was:
- Holistic, not reductionist
- Context driven, not subject driven
- Mission-oriented research, not blue skies
- Teamwork, not individual scholar
- Multi-authored publications, heteregeneous knowledge bases
- Divergent not convergent thinking
- Reflexive philosophy rather than objective statements
- Decisive criterion: does it work?
Nevertheless I went away feeling that both business and academia (both well-represented in the session) were unhappy with the current state of affairs and the University for Improvement – an idea based on the Inter-Disciplinary Inquiry-Based Learning project (IDIBL) I am working on at the University of Bolton – was well received.
As Graham Hill put it: “The best way to connect the world of industry to academia is to people it with students” – something IDIBL will be striving to do.