University: Theory or Practice?
Theoretical subjects such as mathematics, philosophy and economics should be removed from university curricula and replaced with practical subjects such as computer programming and engineering. Do you agree or disagree?
The question of what should or should not be on a university syllabus has always been a contentious one. But suggesting that we make simplistic choices such as removing philosophy and replacing it with engineering is simply ridiculous. In this essay, I will explain why we need to think carefully about forcing our youth into certain college courses.
First of all, universities are not just training centers for companies. Of course the university must remain in contact with the ‘real’ world and provide courses that can be applied to ‘real’ world problems. However, this does not mean that the university’s only function is to provide cheap job-ready recruits for corporations. The real world is not a simple place: it is a multi-dimensional, interwoven web of interests, realities, perspectives and complex social interactions. Perhaps engineers can build a bridge, but they cannot do it by themselves. They need to be politicians, communicators, visionaries, designers, accountants, leaders, and problem-solvers. Similarly philosophers or economists cannot dwell in the clouds concocting grandiose theories: they need to be communicators, writers, breadwinners, accountants, cooks and baby-sitters. We all live in worlds where practice and theory constantly intersect, and our choices of course in college do not mean we are less practical or more theoretical. They simply reflect an area of our interest at a particular point in time.
A second reason why colleges should offer a wide range of courses is in response to market demands. Many colleges depend on tuition fees, and if people want to pay for doctorates in divinity or diplomas in dog-grooming, then the college should respond to this and provide the best courses possible.
Thirdly, imagine a world full of engineers, or philosophers, or food scientists, or economists. Clearly civilization would come to a halt, as would conversation. From time to time gaps will arise in the job market because of new economic or population trends, and colleges will need to produce more doctors, business graduates or nurses, but overall, a healthy society will have a healthy range of courses for its people to maximize its human potential.
However, the most important reason is that people are immensely versatile. An engineer can be a philosopher, and a cook can be an physicist, or a musician, or a day-trader. There is no need to pigeon-hole people and put artificial restrictions on their activities. College should be an opportunity to explore and to connect with the world, rather than a joyless initiation into a lifetime of work. In a world that is changing faster than ever before, we need to forget simplistic distinctions and instead prepare ourselves for a rich, varied lifetime full of opportunities and wonder.