What is the purpose of higher education?
UNIVERSITY COLLEGE CORK | 23 April 2020
Most of my experience of Higher Education is that of a student, and I am now in my first year of lecturing. To my pleasant surprise, the two experiences so far are not jarringly different in that they both involve continuous learning, developing ideas and engaging critically in the world around me. As a lecturer, however, I am no longer only responsible for my own learning, but that of my students. This has made me reflect on my time as a student, what kind of learning I hope to support in my teaching, and the purpose of Higher Education.
On reflection, my experience in Higher Education resulted in a skillset, and an understanding of the importance of putting that skillset to use in the position that I am now in. As a student of Psychology, we not only learn about the biological and cognitive underpinnings of human behaviour, but the social and contextual elements of lived experience, and how it shapes the people we are. More importantly, we learn that in order for individuals and communities to prosper, we need to critically examine the structures in which we live, and seek to advocate for resources and services for those in need. For me, the purpose of Higher Education is to examine the structures of life, from which we benefit and are subject to, and understand the role we can play in ensuring we are amplifying the voices of those who need to be listened to.
The University is undoubtedly symbolic of many of these structures from which many of us benefit. We must face this, and try to dismantle the barriers to education on a cultural and fiscal level. However, I think it’s also the role of the University to serve the communities that host and support it, to use these systemic structures as sounding boards that make it a safe place to learn. It should be a place of service, that is active in learning from each other, and continuously creating inviting spaces for sparking conversations and actions. We must examine who we are learning from and with, and be critical of our curricula and classrooms to unsure the breath and depth of human experience is apparent in both. If we are held to certain expectations due to the historical recognition of the University as a learned place, then we should be an example of continuous development and integration. The purpose of Higher Education is to learn about yourself and the world that you live in. To do this, we need to learn from the people around us, and be active in the process of creating new knowledge together. I hope that I can contribute to this learning in others, and create supportive environments in which students are free to challenge their own assumptions, learn from others and carve out a role for themselves in a fairer and more progressive society.