a great public debate about British universities is now in full swing. Since the immediate post-war crush, the expansion of student numbers has gone ahead steadily, and even further growth is now required. The Government has accepted from the UGC a target figure of 170,000 places by the late 1970s. The Young Conservatives, not to be out-done, call for 250,000 places. From all sides—the professions, business, and industry in particular—there is a great demand for more graduates, particularly in the sciences.
In face of this pressure, the universities will find it hard to resist rapid growth. In addition to the expansion of those already in existence, several new universities will appear within the next few years, to join Keele in proving that the urge for reform can combine with the urge for growth. Yet there are many misgivings about the pace and character of this growth, most bluntly and crudely summed up in Kingsley Amis’ formula, “More means worse”. One need not accept his pessimism, while yet requiring answers to such questions as: Can the teachers be found? Will the additional number of students benefit from the traditional forms of university teaching? What will happen to research? Will the demand for scientists upset the humanities? and so on.
A recently translated book by the German philosopher and teacher Karl Jaspers helps to relate these problems to each other by offering a coherent series of answers to the question: What is a university for? Jaspers’ answer, basically, is the traditional one of three-fold purpose—Research, Education and Instruction. He sets this against the background of the Intellectual Life. Most of his views about universities depend upon the picture he draws of the search for knowledge, and what he has to say about this leads him to define the objectives of the university in similar terms—the assumption of truthfulness; the unity of knowledge; the value of knowledge for its own sake.
Most of this is unexceptionable (if a little vague at times); we can be grateful for the insistence on the unity of the universe of knowledge, while slightly alarmed by his tendency to ignore the effect of utter dissimilarities in procedure adopted by the different sciences. For the urgent need is to probe the assumptions within each science before eluding to those held in common. The slogan of “Knowledge for its own sake” conceals the pressures acting upon the university from without, which lead it to develop research in particular directions (and not others).
Jasper points to the multiplication of technical institutes outside the university as evidence that the framework is no longer adequate. Nevertheless, in spite of their natural tendency to expand into universities, within these, “even the presence of outstanding scholars in the humanities has not been able to produce anything more than an empty educational routine bereft of the vitality and strength which comes only with creative scholarship”. Jasper’s solution to this problem is the inclusion of technology as a field of basic study within the university.