Education and the University by F R Leavis - review by Bernard T Harrison

Bernard T Harrison

The Thinking Class

Education and the University


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In a recent contribution to the New Universities Quarterly (Autumn ‘79) entitled ‘Are the British Universities capable of Change?’, Dr A. H. Halsey presents a gloomy picture of British universities, edgily conscious of their pecking order on the ‘minor redbrick to Oxbridge’ table; defensively status-conscious about polytechnic claims to ‘parity’ and about possible developments towards a comprehensive system of higher education: and stubbornly reluctant to face the prospect of academic innovation with any enthusiasm, in the context of government cut-backs and possible decisions to reverse the expansion of universities in the 60’s. Some of Halsey’s hidden premises may well be highly questionable. (Is there not, for instance, a good case to be made for clearer identification of the role of the university, and can a case not be made against the notion of a ‘comprehensive’ university, at least in some forms?). But his charges of mediocrity and academic constipation ought to be considered seriously, at a time when all involved in education are waiting with trepidation for the November White Paper on proposals for cuts in education, and when intelligent action from within universities will be essential, unless we are all to line up meekly to whatever chopping blocks are set up by our political masters and mistresses.

Against this background, the re-issue of F. R. Leavis’ classic Education and the University might be seen as especially timely. Leavis, famous for his years-long battles against inertia, mediocrity, entrenched interests, ‘technologico- Benthamitism’ (his phrase) and other enemies from within and without the university, was able to reflect for himself

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