Wednesday, September 25, 2013

"Skills Thinking" in Higher Education

In “The Poverty of Skills Thinking in Higher Education,” Frank Furedi considers some of the implications of the growing emphasis on “skills” as distinguished from academic knowledge in higher education.  By “skills” is meant training, or those outcomes and abilities needed for the labor market. The essay reflects more of a European experience than a North American one, but the arguments are still thought provoking. Furedi argues, on the one hand, that the emphasis on skills leads to a devaluation of academic knowledge (and the higher level thinking and analytical abilities that are inextricably connected with that knowledge). On the other hand, when knowledge becomes secondary and provides merely a resource for the acquisition of skills the skills themselves become trivialized.  Thus, at one university students can take a “Generic Skills Training Course” to learn how to use an on-line catalog, and doing Google searches is a “Information Technology Skill”.  Other “skills” are enthusiasm and self-confidence. “Something important is lost,” argues Furedi, “when universities adopt the rhetoric and values of a human resources organization.” 

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