Monday, April 21, 2008

Education and Ideology

Here at Cumbria, we are a University where the Church is a stakeholder, and has representation on the governing body. From time to time I meet up with colleagues from similar institutions around the country (e.g. Canterbury Christ Church, Chester, Winchester etc - mainly former C of E teacher training colleges) We always find ourselves discussing what's distinctive about our Higher Education Institutions (HEIs in the lingo) and whether that's good, bad, neutral or irrelevant.

One question that does come up is whether having a Christian world view informing the institution skews the education it delivers: is it genuinely academically free, or is it 'tainted'? Some academics and others concerned with education feel very strongly that it is.

It begs the question as to whether any Higher Education is delivered without some ideological bias. After all, modern Higher Education functions within a clearly capitalist framework. Students pays fees for a service, they are treated more like customers, institutions talk about marketing, brand and they compete for market share.

The new HE world we now live in has its positives; everyone has had to smarten up their act to compete. For example, I don't even know where Student Services was when I was at University, and I've no idea how I would have found a counsellor if I'd needed one. The Chaplain was the only 'student welfare' person I was aware of, apart from my personal tutor. Information about support and help has to be much more 'in your face' now.

However, It would be fascinating to hear a Marxist critique of our model of Higher Education today. I suspect it would express concern that the economic model which is taken for granted in the delivery of UK higher education, essentially places HEIs in the position of endorsing that social and economic ideology, and hence the education they deliver is not ideologically neutral. Market economics now shape the assumptions, commitments and priorities of the modern 'student experience'.

So in defence of Church HEIs, there's no such thing as an ideology-free blank canvas to draw education upon. If Christians have a resource of thinking that can scrutinize the assumptions made in modern education with questions that arise from a world view that can challenge the 'default' world view, then we might be doing everyone a favour.

PS It's worth bearing in mind that Oxford, Cambridge and Durham are all arguably Church inventions, and it doesn't seem to have blighted their scholarship!

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