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Sir David Watson Keynote 'Higher Education and the Question of Conscience'

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John Rose-Adams
14 March 2012

Sir David Watson

Professor of Higher Education and Principal, Green Templeton College, Oxford


This presentation is about what higher education institutions (chiefly universities) say they have been doing for and to their most important members (their award-seeking students) and why it matters.  I am intrigued by how varied these claims have been over the long history of the higher education enterprise, but also by how strong and determined they invariably are.  Essentially the argument here is that such claims represent a moving combination of recurrent themes, nearly all present at the creation of the modern university, and liable individually to wax or wane according to mainly (but not exclusively) external influences.

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 simply “capable” of operating more effectively in the contemporary world.  All of these qualities scale up, of course, but in differing ways.  I shall examine these (and other) claims in historical and philosophical perspective, and with a particular focus on the “discourse of inclusion.”

The speaker

David Watson has been Principal of Green Templeton College and Professor of Higher Education at the University of Oxford since October 2010. He was Professor of Higher Education Management at the Institute of Education, University of London, from 2005-2010, and   Vice-Chancellor of the University of Brighton between 1990 and 2005.  His most recent books are Managing Civic and Community Engagement (2007), The Dearing Report: ten years on (2007), The Question of Morale: managing happiness and unhappiness in university life  (2009), and The Engaged University (2011).

He has contributed widely to developments in UK higher education, including as a member of the Council for National Academic Awards (1977-1993), the Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council (1988-92), and the Higher Education Funding Council for England (1992-96).  He was a member of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation's National Commission on Education (1992-1993), and the National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education chaired by Sir Ron Dearing (1996-1997). He was the elected chair of the Universities Association for Continuing Education between 1994 and 1998, and chaired the Longer Term Strategy Group of Universities UK between 1999 and 2005. He is President of the Society for Research into Higher Education, a Trustee of the Nuffield Foundation, a Companion of the Institute of Management, and a National Teaching Fellow (2008). He chaired the national Inquiry into the Future for Lifelong Learning, and co-authored its report Learning Through Life (2009). He was knighted in 1998 for services to higher education. In 2009 he received the Times Higher Education Lifetime Achievement Award.

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