In the week in which the world’s scientists made one last plea for sanity to overcome the dominant greed-driven economic model whose by-product is global climate disruption, our news media are filled with stories of religion-fuelled violence, war and intolerance. Politicians in the ‘developed world,’ distracted by short-term electoral volatility and the pursuit of an increasingly surreal notion of ‘the market’ and growth, still labour under the belief that everything is up for negotiation, carbon reduction targets can be haggled down, or turned into a couple of columns in a spreadsheet that can be cut and pasted into someone else’s account.
So what, then, is the role of those institutions that claim to occupy the intellectual high-ground? Do universities disengage from crucial global issues or run the risk of being de-funded, marginalised and accused of politicking?
Much was made of the need to imbue ethical perspectives in our lists of ‘graduate attributes’ after the crash of 2008. Suddenly, curricula in business programmes, it was demanded, should include a module on ethics or somesuch means of continuing to fill the financial trenches with the foot-soldiers whilst responding to public outrage. Not of course to really ‘think critically’ and question the economic model itself. Programmes must be attuned to the needs of the labour market, personal growth is something you can pick up in ‘gap yah’ and student politics is fine so long as it’s part of the career plan, the initiation into the established parties, of standing in no-hope constituencies whilst networking for better future opportunities.
So, when the future of our planet is at stake (and believe me, this is the most serious situation ever facing us), the numbers of options reducing by the year, what is the role of higher education? Where stand we? Or is that very type of question ‘out of scope’, mismatched to our strategic plan, unmeasured as a KPI?