The conversation was the latest in a range of interviews at Imperica, a smart new project by the renowed Paul Squires which “tracks a number of disciplines, wraps them all together, finds the interesting angles, then talks to the people behind them.”
The conversation began with a discussion of how accesible ideas are today, which made me say that I think ideas are harder to actualise because of the false confidence that an abundance of them creates, and ended up touching on many things including education. Here’s an extract:
Are we seeing a shift from intellectual rigour to the more technical display of “doing things”?
AP: During my lifetime, the number of young people that go through university has increased enormously. When I was an undergraduate, it was 10% of the population. Now, the target is 50%. That change implies a change in what university education, is. So, if you pick the cleverest 10% and tell them to sit around for three years, they can very probably go deeply into something. I studied Physics. If you just pick half of the population and say that “We’ll give you an education”, then education is going to be something else. The ratio of students to teaching is much higher, so you can’t give people that kind of personal attention and engagement.
Education itself has been reconceived since Mrs. Thatcher’s day. Now, it is seen as a way to fit people into the economy – to produce useful cogs for the industrial machine. Learning for itself is not a priority of the Government. So, higher education becomes industrialised, and produces an industrial product.
SG: The irony in that, is that we’re a knowledge economy – we’re not even in an industrial economy. And, yet, you’re right, the industrialised approach, turning out people who then become knowledge workers…
AP: It’s an industrialised conception of knowledge… not for its own sake, but “useful knowledge”. Physics isn’t all that useful, but engineering is. I don’t think that’s anything to do with the Internet, but the Internet feeds into this trend that already exists. The same goes for research; funding is made increasingly conditional on producing useful knowledge. How are “users” going to benefit from this knowledge?
Your Leading Thoughts
- Are ideas more accessible today, in your option? And if so, what are the repercussions of that?