Universities should train great thinkers

Students shouldn’t go to universities to become skilled for the workplace. That is what Australian law student Andrew Campbell states in The Guardian. In a submitted opinion, he argues that students should spend the years at university to become great thinkers.

Universities are increasingly expected to make their students ready for work. Students are supposed to graduate with a set of practical skills that enable them to quickly adapt to a work environment. Thus, university teaching is increasingly a mix between the learning of theory and practical skills. Some universities – like Monash University – are blatant about it: “We equip you for a successful career”, others design courses specifically aimed at the workplace.

But even these attempts are not enough, says Campbell. Both students and employees still wish that universities taught more practical skills. Universities should cease the focus on the work field, Campbell writes: “In the current climate, practical skills are apparently what everybody wants. But despite their best efforts to convince us otherwise, it is misguided to expect universities to impart these skills. The truth is, there has always been a disjunction between study and work.”

Universities aren’t meant to prepare students for work, says Campbell. Students are supposed to acquire academic skills: research, analysis, argument, clarity of thought. Some of those skills are immediately transferable to the workplace. But mostly, graduates are indeed more likely to need skills like communication, time management and planning.

Those work skills are only to be acquired through work experience, Campbell argues. “Universities needn’t bother. In attempting to do so they only undermine their natural expertise and will inevitably disappoint students who will graduate from university feeling they haven’t learned these skills anyway.”

Students have their entire life to acquire work skills. Why, Campbell asks, would the few years at university be used to also teach those skills? Campbell: “Workplace skills will always be there, to be picked up as needed; but university is, realistically, the only place in which one will have the opportunity to immerse oneself in theories and abstractions.” Rather than follow a weak attempt to mix theory and practice, students should study Kant.

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