Bedford Way Papers Series 43

The Question of Conscience

Higher Education and Personal Responsibility

February 2014
More details
  • Publisher
    UCL IOE Press
  • Published
    6th February 2014
  • ISBN 9781782770268
  • Language English
  • Pages 172 pp.
  • Size 6.625" x 9.5"

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. The Question of Conscience 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 wades deeply into the various discourses on the state of higher education institutions (HEIs) in the UK (he also examines HEIs in the US and elsewhere), their problems and their prospects, to examine what HEIs say that they do for and to their most important members, award-seeking students. This self-critical look at what he calls "my trade" is for Watson a matter of the "question of conscience" or higher education's role in shaping students' moral and civic character...If taking this book to heart, it would bode well for those faculty members in theological and religious studies in the liberal arts to look critically at what our institutions exist to do and how we participate in that mission."

- Teaching Theology and Religion

Foreword--Theodore Zeldin
Frontispiece: What does the university do?
Preface: 'My trade' and why it matters
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
List of websites

David Watson

David Watson is Professor of Higher Education Management at the the Institute of Education, University of London.