Various scholars and policymakers present crucial ideas concerning the status of universities and higher education in modern society. Although many claims that higher learning systems originated from medieval Europe, this is not true. Higher learning systems existed in the ancient traditions as monastic organizations, and the western culture only contributed to the emergence of the ‘university form’ of higher learning. Understanding the role of universities according to the ideas other scholars present and the challenges the institutions of higher learning face is crucial for addressing societal problems. Universities should help change the behaviors of individuals by equipping them with skills in reasoning and being moral. The challenges such as the information revolution, unsustainable reformation of the universities, and decline in scholarly authority are the major threats to the universities in contemporary society. The book by Allan Patience is vital for understanding the status of universities in contemporary society, as this review highlights.
Keywords: monastic organizations, university, information revolution, and unsustainable reforms
The Future of Universities
Patience argues that “while some piecemeal reforms in universities have been implemented in recent years, many of the problems presently confronting them have not been addressed” (2022, p.1). Some factors that threaten the continuity of higher education are information revolution, criticism of scholarly authority, and the transformation of universities (Patience, 2022). Information revolution has emanated from technological advancements, while criticism of the scholarly authority entails the denial of explanations by scholars regarding the emergence of different challenges in contemporary society (Bowen & Shapiro, 2016). Still, the transformation of universities without proper support for the changes exposes them to the risk of collapsing. The ideas that Patience presents concerning the threats universities and institutions of higher learning face reflect the claims others have presented regarding the education status in modern society. Palvia et al. (2018) argue that technological advancements have enhanced opportunities for accessing information, limiting individuals’ interests in pursuing education at higher levels. On the other hand, deniers of the contemporary issues affecting society also contribute to the deterioration of higher education because they oppose the scholarly research findings (Patience, 2022). Therefore, ideas Patience presents concerning the challenges that universities face are insightful for society in understanding the fate of higher learning.
Universities and Realization of Sustainable Society
In response to realizing the societal goals, authorities have significantly focused on the educational sector to enhance research and improve literacy levels. One of the approaches that the authorities have embraced to improve literacy levels and promote research to help realize the Sustainable Development Goals, mainly number 4, entails expanding and reforming the higher learning education systems (Kakar et al., 2021). However, Patience marks the unsustainable transformation of university education as one of the threats to higher learning. Patience (2022) argues that governments have resorted to transforming university education without providing adequate resources to sustain the increased number of students who enroll in the institutions. Failure to provide adequate resources such as human resources and capital for constructing well-equipped laboratories or libraries poses a significant threat to university education.
The Origin of Universities
Patience also discusses the origin of universities as the centers for the advancement of knowledge and research in ancient society. Some scholars falsely claim that Bologna was the oldest university, and it had set the basis for starting higher education globally (Patience, 2022). However, analysis of the ancient society depicts that Hindus used their temples as institutions for advanced learning, similar to the Buddhists, and Judaism, among others. Providing a historical overview of the origin of the universities in different traditions helps to deconstruct the belief that only western culture promoted the institutions for higher learning. Therefore, Patience reinforces the argument by Peters (2019) that universities existed in different societies through their focus and mode of learning differed depending on the culture of the particular communities. Peters (2019) argues that Indian, Chinese, and Middle East communities had universities that acted as organizations for higher learning. Therefore, Patience helps to affirm that medieval Europe only acted as the origin of the ‘university’ form of higher learning. Still, monastic forms of higher learning existed in other societies before the western culture conceived the idea.
The higher learning institutions in medieval Europe also acted as the hub for knowledge, thereby playing a critical role in the reformations during the renaissance period. Patience (2022) recounts the impact that the returning soldiers from the crusades and scholars played on the development of the Age of Enlightenment. The returning crusaders influenced other scholars in European society to indulge in extensive research on the challenge’s society experienced. Through the influence of the humanists, individuals experienced a powerful urge to extensively expand their knowledge on different issues concerning humanity and the surroundings (Rubini, 2014). The explanation regarding the role of universities in the reformations and renaissance that occurred in medieval Europe helps promotes the role of higher learning institutions in the advancement of the welfare of contemporary society. Owen et al. (2013) affirm that institutions of higher learning are crucial for the changes in society as they act as the hubs for research and innovation. Through discoveries in technology, agriculture, and health, society shifts its approaches to addressing humanity’s challenges.
Perspectives on Ideal University Education
Patience (2022) expands university roles by considering the perceptions of other scholars, such as John Henry Newman. John Newman perceived universities as institutions for pursuing knowledge and nurturing the youth into becoming responsible leaders or members of society (Patience, 2022). The view of universities as institutions where a team of individuals with enthusiasm for knowledge acquisition assemble depicts that they should not aim at other external gains other than expanding the learners’ cognition. Further, the definition of a university, according to John Newman, is also instrumental for understanding the significance of higher learning institutions on changes in behavior of society members. Newman’s assertions contradict contemporary society’s occurrences, especially regarding universities. Jessop (2017) argues that universities have shifted their focus to financial gains, and scholars have resorted to pursuing education for titles instead of knowledge or behavior changes. Therefore, Patience’s article is instrumental in understanding how higher learning institutions fail to realize their initial missions.
Patience not only provides an understanding of John Newman’s view on university but also considers the criticisms of the idea. Scholars such as Alasdair Chalmers MacIntyre criticized Newman’s idea of universities based on perfectionism (Patience, 2022). Notably, public institutions must have some flaws due to the changes in societal activities that do not reflect the mission of their establishments. Carnoy and Samoff (2014) also argue that public institutions reflect societal needs, which change significantly over time. Therefore, criticism of the flaws of the universities, as Patient recounts, depicts that leaders should aim at establishing policies to guide their operations.
Patience also presents Wilhelm von Humboldt’s idea of the university, helping promote the understanding of ideal higher learning. Humboldt argued that an ideal university should equip individuals with skills to be and develop their reasoning in the academic fields (Patience, 2022). The ideas on the attributes ideal universities should have are essential for educational professionals to understand the necessity for changing the curriculum for higher education. Osmani et al. (2019) corroborate the idea of the need for changing the curriculum by claiming that graduates from the current institutions lack employable skills, and most of them are unprepared to embrace the challenges in the real world. Therefore, changes in curriculum for the learning institutions will be vital in promoting autonomy and suitability of graduates to help society overcome some of the threats it faces.
To conclude, the ideas Patience provides concerning university education are essential in understanding the measures for improving societal wellbeing. Patience provides insightful ideas on the attributes that university education should entail and the challenges that limit institutions from realizing their missions. Still, the article helps to delineate the origin of universities, thereby improving the knowledge of how they evolved to reflect societal needs.
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Carnoy, M., & Samoff, J. (2014). Education and social transition in the Third World (Vol. 1044). Princeton University Press.
Jessop, B. (2017). Varieties of academic capitalism and entrepreneurial universities. Higher Education, 73(6), 853-870.
Kakar N. Popovski V. & Robinson N. A. (2022). Fulfilling the sustainable development goals on a quest for a sustainable world. Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.
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Palvia, S., Aeron, P., Gupta, P., Mahapatra, D., Parida, R., Rosner, R., & Sindhi, S. (2018). Online education: Worldwide status, challenges, trends, and implications. Journal of Global Information Technology Management, 21(4), 233-241.
Patience, A. (2022). The Idea of the Public University: Discovering and Teaching Knowledge in a Confused World. Taylor & Francis.
Peters, M. A. (2019). Ancient centers of higher learning: A bias in the comparative history of the university? Educational Philosophy and Theory, 51(11), 1063-1072.
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