On education

January 24, 2014

Today was a work day in that I had a long standing appointment to meet with the Vice Chancellor at Bangor University as a part of the developing partnership we are building there.  I left my wife at the Brimstone Hotel (well you are entitled to some luxury on your 60th and drove to Oxenholme station to get the train.   I could have driven but I needed to clear some email and there is nothing like public transport to get your mind focused and fingers dancing on the keyboard without the distractions of the internet.  When I arrived I met up with Chris from the Welsh Audit Office to discuss some of the exciting things we are talking about with one of our longest standing clients – citizen engagement is just the start of that and it links to the University.

I was impressed the VC, and Irishman currently learning Welsh (to add to the Gaelic he already has from his mother's Connemara roots).  He said he had arrived to late to stop the closure of the Theology department, but had managed to restore Philosophy (and now Religious Studies) back after abandonment in the 1980s.  We had a long discussion about the need for trans-disciplinary work and the fact that smaller universities in small countries may be better placed to innovate than others.  Expect more on this over the coming months and there is a sense of coming home for me about spending time here.

One of the key points here is one of the roles of a University which is to think about things for their own sake, not for some immediate and measurable commercial purpose.   I remember the late and great Max Boisot pointing out that most of the current British and US economies are based on primary research carried out in the first half of the last century which apparently had no purpose.  Short term functionalism, and its impact on our capacity to operate as a knowledge economy are to my mind one of the main issues in modern education.  It is not that we should not have vocational education and commercial focus, the opposite in fact.  But such a focus must not be the be all and end all of education.  I think we can make some small contribution to both, and the partnership with Bangor will take that forward faster.  I just have to find the time to make it work.

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