‘Thirsty for national profit, nations, and their systems of education, are heedlessly discarding skills that are needed to keep democracies alive. If this trend continues, nations all over the world will soon be producing generations of useful machines rather than complete citizens who can think for themselves’
(Nussbaum, Not For Profit, p. 2).
‘what is your final goal, you may ask. That goal will become clearer, will emerge slowly but surely, much as the draft turns into the sketch and the sketch into the the painting through the serious work done on it … and through the consolidation of the first fleeting and passing thought’
(Vincent van Gogh, letter to his brother Theo, July 1880).
Against the grain
Over the centuries various kinds of universities and colleges have embraced the idea of higher education as part of the struggle to create a better, fairer world. An example is the Church Colleges which were established in the nineteenth century specifically to train teachers. The University of Winchester grew out of one such college – King Alfred’s College – and it retains a commitment to and belief in the value of higher education beyond (but not instead of) academic and career success.
Our University mission statement and values emphasize the importance we attach to personal growth through intellectual development. They carry our determination to educate in ways that challenge our students to think of the role they might play in the world, and to be mindful of the vulnerabilities of the public good, and of the dilemmas faced when considering the needs of others in relation to those of the self. Our current vision – ‘To educate, to advance knowledge and to serve the public good’ – maintains this commitment to learning beyond the formal curriculum, and retains a fundamental trust in human learning.
It is a very challenging time for any University in the UK to support a retrieval of Liberal Arts education. The costs of most degrees have risen dramatically for students in the past few years, and it is not surprising that students look for degrees with well-defined career paths. But the Liberal Arts have always championed the idea of education for its own sake, and not for financial gain or any other merely instrumental ends. William du Bois, campaigning for the education of black people in Liberal Arts in late 19th and early 20th century USA, said ‘The matter of earning a living … is and must be important, but surely it can never be so important as the man himself.’
Liberal Arts at Winchester shares this view of truth. We believe that there are students who wish to study for the sake of studying, even in these difficult financial times; students who share Tolstoy’s view that ‘without knowing what I am and why I am here, life is impossible.’ In offering Liberal Arts again at Winchester, we hope to show that education can be more, much more, than just a training and preparation for a job. As Newman said in the 1860s, a University that takes seriously the cultivation of the intellect, ‘if it refuses the foremost place to professional interests, does but postpone them to the formation of the citizen.’ We hope that our graduates will, again as Newman said, ‘be placed in that state of intellect in which he [or she] can take up any [job] for which he has a taste or special talent with an ease, a grace, a versatility, and [ ] success…’
As a small University, Winchester has the informal and friendly atmosphere that enables students and tutors to get to know each other and to work together. Groups are small, and combine rigorous reading of texts with the exchange of ideas. Students’ work is closely followed by the tutors who will continually raise the bar for each individual. Our tutors are dedicated to showing the contribution that a Liberal Arts education can make in the life of each individual. More generally, it is our intention in the Department of Education Studies and Liberal Arts at Winchester to make a significant contribution to the future shape of higher education in UK universities. We are in the forefront of the resurgence of the idea of Liberal Arts degrees in the UK, and this is now an important part of Winchester’s drive for distinctiveness of vision and mission. The BA and MA in Liberal Arts are a major contribution to this.