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When University College London was founded in the 1820s, the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge ridiculed it as a ‘lecture-bazaar’: an institution that imparted information but not wisdom.

In doing so Coleridge called the opening shots in what would become a fierce debate about the nature and purpose of universities in the nineteenth century. Should they be institutions that offered a commodity: imparting useful knowledge that could be turned by those who acquired it to commercial and economic advantage? Or, were they learning communities: places where people come together to learn lessons that were as much about how to live as they were about how to perform a task?  Read the rest of this post at …

Photograph by Juan Gómez – Photography

The Universities’ Minister, David Willetts, has raised the issue of mutual recognition.

‘I would like to see greater mutual recognition of qualifications so that a student born in Britain can build up credits for a British degree while studying abroad’, he said at a Westminster Education Forum event last week. ‘Not only does this build cultural fluency, [and] the ability to work in differing environments, but it also generates wide networks that form the basis of long term partnerships.’

In pressing for mutual recognition, Willitts is invoking a principle that has its roots in the medieval notion of the university as a studium generale – home to an internationally mobile population of scholars and students who enriched each other through their diverse experience and learning. Until the middle of the nineteenth century this principle was given practical form in Britain in the shape of the system of incorporation: Oxford and Cambridge counted study undertaken in other European universities towards their own degrees.

But in 1861 the English universities curtailed this practice and restricted mutual recognition to Oxford, Cambridge and Trinity College Dublin alone. In doing so they began a territorialisation of scholarship that has been with us ever since… read the rest of this post at

In the UK Higher Education sector talk of specialisation is in the air.

In June results were released of the pilot study for U-Multirank, the European Commission funded new universities benchmarking tool. Contending that existing rankings are too exclusively orientated towards research, it instead aims to make comparisons based on the stated interests and priorities of its users, thereby placing an explicit emphasis on diversification.

Meanwhile, the authors of the University of Plymouth’s HEFCE funded Enterprising Universities Project have argued that the marketised nature of the sector means that institutions will need to differentiate themselves by focusing on what makes them distinctive. Those that offer popular courses will have to do so ‘vertically’ – via league table positions or differential fees – but universities that move into emerging territory can do so ‘horizontally’ – by offering courses or experiences not available elsewhere.

And now the release of the HE white paper includes incentives that seem likely to push some post-92 universities down the path of boutique education.

But this is not the first time ‘specialisation’ has been seen as the answer for troubled British universities. At the start of the twentieth century it was also held up by some as a solution to a number of issues that seem strangely familiar.

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