Not by higher education alone?

'Not by Bread Alone' book cover, via CoE websiteThe Bible tells Christians that ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’ (Matthew 4:4). The aphorism is echoed in the title and plot of Vladimir Dudintsev’s anti-Stalist novel Not by Bread Alone. Now it is the main title of a recent book about the importance of higher education in developing modern societies built upon the fundamental values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law: Sjur Bergan Not by bread alone (Council of Europe higher education series No 17; 2011). Public debate often assumes that the only purpose of higher education is to prepare gradutes for employment, and this view feeds back into third-level entry requirements and second-level curricula. Hence, we see an increasing focus on “training” (rather than educating) graduates in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (with attendant risks to the arts, humanities, and social sciences). This third-level policy brings a concommitant focus at second-level on bonus CAO points for maths generating calls for bonus points for science and a compulsory leaving certificate science course (perhaps to the detriment of the study of foreign languages; and quite how this stands with the Minster for Education’s stated aim of moving away from the CAO points culture is unclear).

To be sure, preparing graduates for employment is indeed an important purpose of higher education; but, as this book emphasises, it is not the only one. As the editor put it in an earlier publication, as man does not live by bread alone, human existence is about more than work, and higher educuation should be directed to every facet of human existence, and in particular to sustaining the values of the kind of society in which we desire to live. This argument is at the heart of Not by bread alone; from the abstract:

Not by bread alone gathers essays on higher education … [which] spell out a view of higher education as a key factor in developing modern societies built on the fundamental Council of Europe values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. …

To fulfil its role, higher education needs to prepare for citizenship as well as for employment, for personal development as well as for the development of a broad knowledge base. … We also need to take a close look at how the public responsibility for higher education and research can best be exercised in a society with many actors, all of which have their own legitimate agendas. In this situation, public authorities have an overall responsibility for coherent education policies.

Contents include essays on

  • Higher education governance and democratic participation: the university and democratic culture
  • Democracy: institutions, laws, culture and the role of higher education
  • Higher education between market and values
  • Safeguarding ethics and values in higher education: a shared responsibility
  • Higher education as a “public good and public responsibility”: what does it mean?
  • Public responsibility and institutional autonomy: where is the balance?
  • Academic freedom and institutional autonomy: impact on international students
  • Institutional autonomy between myth and responsibility
  • Reflections on ranking in Europe.

This books therefore stands as an important corrective to the rather instrumentalist views sweeping european higher education at present.