The Question of Conscience

Higher education and personal responsibility

Paperback / softback, 172 pages, 240 mm x 169 mm
1 Dec 2013
Institute of Education Press

Price: £24.99

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Most of the claims about the purposes and achievements of higher education are irreducibly individualistic: it will change your life, through conversion or confirmation of faith, by improving your character, by giving you marketable 'abilities', by making you a better member of the community, or by being simply 'capable' of operating more effectively in the contemporary world. All of these qualities scale up, of course, but in differing ways.

David Watson explores the question of what higher education sets out to do for students through a number of lenses, including the 'evolutionary' stages of modern university history, the sense participants and observers try to make of them, and a collection of 'purposes', or intended personal transformations. The resulting combinations are clustered, around major questions about the role of universities for their students, and in society at large. He concludes by testing claims about the role of higher education in developing varieties of personal responsibility. This book identifies and explores how varied these claims have been over the long history of the higher enterprise, but also how strong and determined they invariably are.

  • David Watson

    David Watson is Professor of Higher Education and Principal of Green Templeton College, Oxford.

CONTENTS: Foreword (Theodore Zeldin); Preface: 'My trade' and why it matters; Outline: What does higher education seek to do? 1. What does higher education do? An historical and philosophical overview; 2. The question of conscience; 3. The question of character; 4. The questions of calling, craft, and competence; 5. The question of citizenship; 6. The questions of conversation and capability; 7. Higher education membership: Terms and conditions; 8. Higher education and personal responsibility; References; List of websites; Index .

Here something new and special has been written about universities. Personal formation through higher learning often falls short of its promise, as David Watson notes, but it is an immensely rich process and in many ways it forms modern societies. If [this book] is widely read we will have another reason to be optimistic about the future of higher learning, additional to those rightly identified by Watson in this thoughtful and accessible book.

Simon Marginson, Professor of International Higher Education, Institute of Education,

If one had to purchase a book that covers the world of higher education with all its diversity of missions, structures, and dilemmas, then this is it. Elegantly written, it draws on empirical research, history, philosophy, and literature to reaffirm higher education’s contribution to the cultivation of humanity.

Rajani Naidoo, International Centre of Higher Education Management, University of Bath,