Humboldt’s university model in the contemporary world

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The article analyses the history of Humboldt’s university model and its relevance and effectiveness nowadays. Humboldt’s university model has been developed in the beginning of the 19th century by W. von Humboldt and widespread worldwide. Universities which were organized according to the model depended on a national state and interacted with it, benefiting the state’s culture and educational level of the population, developing scientific research. The model was criticizing during the 20th century, but many famous universities shared its values. B. Readings in his “University in Ruins” shows that Humboldt’s university model does not work anymore because of the decreasing influence of national states, growing significance of the global market and disappearing of national culture as phenomenon. The author argues that Humboldt’s university model has been restricted since Humboldt’s times but it is still the basic model of contemporary universities worldwide.

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Wilhelm von Humboldt was one of the famous officials in German education. He formulated the mission of German universities of those times. W. von Humboldt had become the head of directorate of education in Prussia since 1809. The country was in ruins after Napoleon’s invasion, but the government believed that developing a modern system of education was an important step to the revival of the country. W. von Humboldt worked on all levels of education: basic schools and higher education. He argued that “reason cannot desire for man any other condition than that in which each individual not only enjoys the most absolute freedom of developing himself by his own energies ... according to the measure of his wants and instincts, and restricted only by the limits of his powers and his rights” [1]. He believed that only free person might be useful for the state, only free and educated people could be the base of the powerful state. This idea was put into the principles of a new university in Berlin which was founded in 1810. Humboldt’s university in Berlin was based on a new model of higher education which could be called as a democratic model. The key characteristics of the new university were “free person”, “free research”, “free education” and “free knowledge” [2. P. 401]. The first principle of the Humboldt’s model of the university is the academic freedom. It means that teachers are free to create content and syllabuses of their courses and students are free to choose the courses they attend. The second principle is the utility of scientific research and education. University lectors should be scientists, they should be able to conduct scientific research, publish articles in scientific journals, and they should be active members of the contemporary scientific community. W. Humboldt established the principle in order to protect higher education from degradation. Medieval universities sometimes did not change their syllabuses for hundreds of years, that was why many of them went into decline after 18th century. University teacher must always be aware of the latest scientific discoveries and he or she should be able to transfer the culture and skills of scientific research to their students. These principles have existed for 200 years but they are still topical worldwide. Many well-known universities which are included into the list of top-500 universities share these principles in their missions on their official websites. American Association of University Professors (AAUP), one of the most famous professional organizations in the field, recognizes academic freedom as an important value of higher education [3]. At the same time Humboldt’s model of the university (German democratic model) has been criticized since the 19th century. German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer wrote that writing articles in scientific journals had become the abuse for university professors, a step to academic career, but it was not a wish to share results of scientific research any more [4]. Another famous philosopher of the first part of the 20th century H. Ortega-y-Gasset criticized German university for its aims and its principles [5. P. 45-50]. He argued that the university mission was not growing a new generation of scientists, which were ready to give their lifetime to science. The mission of the university of the 20th century was involvement of students into cultural context of the contemporary world. Ortega-y-Gasset showed that German universities were scientifically oriented and forgot that people’s lives did not consist of only science. Scientific methods according to the Spanish philosopher should not be a centre and main goal of higher education in the 20th century. Not all students were going to be scientists, but all of them would live in their Epoch and they might be aware of the cultural meanings of the contemporary world. At the same Ortega-y-Gasset mentioned in his famous work “Mission of the university” that good and experienced scientists were rare talented in teaching. They often considered work with students as time loss; they would better spend this time conducting the research instead of the boring teaching [5. P. 59-60]. Bad lectors hardly can interest their students, they should be interested in teaching, this is the best way to make lessons useful and get teaching outcomes. During the 20th century high education became more widespread and affordable worldwide. The availability of higher education and so called “mass model” of a modern university have made some difficulties and often contradict Humboldt’s principles [6. P. 465]. Not all applicants desire to be scientists; many of them just want to learn a profession and to be in demand in the labor market. Prestigious professions and professions in demand are determined by global economy and some of them by national states. Universities cannot ignore these circumstances and try to attract applicants by their educational programs and persuade young people apply to their programs; otherwise they risk losing in the competition on the education market. In such way an “average person” influences on strategy of the modern university, academic policies, contents of courses and etc. Moreover, universities depend on financing, and in the case of insufficient financing it may make universities to decrees the education quality and requirements to professors. The increase in number of universities implies that there will be leading universities and many second-rate universities, which will not be able to follow high standards and enlist talented applicants. It means that many universities will be oriented on “average person” with the average needs and goals. Usually the “average goal” is a profession which will give the opportunity to feed future alumni, but it is not a scientific research during lifetime or a desire to benefit the alumni’s state and Humankind. As the result of growing education market in the 20th century Humboldt’s principles and Humboldt’s university mission hardly work in all universities. Nowadays universities and colleges often prepare students for the labor market, and participate in the market themselves. It seems that the university values of the Modern Age “academic autonomy”, “academic freedom”, humanitarian (liberal) education and philosophy faculties are leaving the stage. Is it time to reconsider university’s mission? And Humboldt’s ideals and principles are not topical nowadays? The idea of university’s crisis was quite popular during the 20th century and it was discussed by many familiar philosophers, governmental officials and researchers. Among the most famous works should be mentioned “The Self-Assertion of the German University” by M. Heidegger, 1933 [7], “The idea of the University” by Karl Jaspers, 1923 [8], writings by J. Derrida [9]. One of the last widely discussed works was “University in Ruins” by Bill Readings, 1997. The author of this book wrote that the contemporary capitalism had become international and it influenced on all spheres of our life including higher education. A state does not determine sociopolitical mission of its universities. Processes of globalization and “Americanization” determine universities’ missions to a greater extent than the state. Readings claims that “nation-state is no longer the primary instance of the reproduction of global capitals, “culture” as the symbolic and political counterpart to the project of integration purchased by the national state - has lost its purchase” [10. P. 12]. So, university had the historical horizon of self-realization in the framework of Humboldt’s model in the 19th and the 20th centuries. A university functioned due the national state’s budget and it was assumed that alumni would benefit the state’s culture, improve its social institutions and represent scientific community. Today these values have lost their attraction. Now the global market establishes values, and the main aim of the universities, as Readings writes, is the development of “human recourses” for the marketplace instead of “national culture”. Readings emphases on “Americanization” and leading role of North America in the field of higher education. As we know the leading scientific journals usually are American and British. The well-known rule “publish or perish” means that scientists must publish their research in the English language. Bologna process is one of the most significant projects in the field of higher education in Europe and Eurasian continent also aimed to make European universities more competitive in comparison with American colleges. Primarily this is the marketing goal, and secondly the development of the European (cultural) educational environment. Today university rankings have become more and more significant for universities’ reputation. Universities of Top-5, Top-100 and etcetera are considered as the best universities in the world. The criteria of the evaluation are 1) academic reputation - 40%; 2) employer reputation - 10%; 3) student-to-faculty ratio - 20%; 4) Citation per faculty - 20%; 5 & 6) International faculty ratio - 5% & International student ratio - 5%. The methodology for the evaluation of the first indicator is on the QS Topuniversities web site “Academic reputation is measured using a global survey, in which academics are asked to identify the institutions where they believe the best work is currently taking place within their own field of expertise. The aim is to give prospective students a sense of the consensus of opinion within the international academic community. For the 2015/16 edition, the rankings draw on just under 76,800 responses from academics worldwide, collated over a five year period. Only participants’ most recent responses are used, and they cannot vote for their own institution” [11]. This methodology is also applicable to determine the employer providing the best working conditions in the particular scientific field. The second indicator shows us which university provides the best graduates for employers: “The survey asks employers to identify the universities they perceive to be producing the best graduates. This indicator is unique among international university rankings”. The third indicator “is a simple measure of the number of academic staff employed relative to the number of students enrolled. In the absence of an international standard by which to measure teaching quality, this indicator aims to identify the universities that are best equipped to provide small class sizes and a good level of individual supervision”. The forth indicator reflects the scientific contribution of a university to science: it “aims to assess universities’ research impact. A ‘citation’ means a piece of research being cited (referred to) within another piece of research. Generally, the more often a piece of research is cited, the more influential it is”. And “the last two indicators aim to assess how successful a university has been in attracting students and academics from other nations”. Almost all indicators the QS universities’ rankings evaluate universities as market players, which should meet customer needs (students’ needs). Only the forth indicator measure universities’ success in publishing scientific papers. The rankings do not measure, for example, the significance of a college for its region and a state, or a contribution to patriotism education among young people. It is worth noting that patriotism education is significant for a national state and universities where future political elite studies [12. P. 96]. It is not easy (if possible) to develop a methodology to measure compliance with the traditional principles of universities, or any values; market indicators are much easier in developing. Anyway, the increasing of their significance affects traditional values reducing their importance. Perhaps, Martin Heidegger and Jose Ortega y Gasset would be concerned about university’s mission nowadays. Wide dissemination of codes of ethics in universities and colleges in 1990-2000s was another reason to suspect that Bill Readings was right and the international capital had made universities (based on Humboldt’s model) to become providers of educational services. Codes of ethics and conduct came from commercial companies [13]. In 2005 Council for Industry and Higher Education and Universities UK, CIHE addressed to university managers to follow the pattern of commercial companies in coding ethical norms [14]. Business has had a big experience in the field of making codes of ethics by the 21st century. Universities had to inherit and use this experience, structure of codes, concrete units as “conflict of interests”, statements on ethical committee and others [13]. One of the main questions that bothers commercial companies is efficiency of ethical codes in the management of company and developing effective corporate culture. The key word is efficiency. Business strives to become stable and make customers trust it. The ethical code demonstrates customers and other stakeholders that the company follows principles of business ethics and it is worth their trust. Today universities are also follow business ethics. That is not bad and there is a lot to learn from business ethics. The most wide-spread values we can meet in business codes of ethics and conduct are integrity and efficiency. The examples of the international companies which include the values in the codes are Lukoil [15. P. 8], The Coca-Cola company [16], Toyota company (it uses the word “honor” and this principle is its first) [17]. Tolerance of religious and ethnic diversity is also one of the ethical principles of international big companies because otherwise they cannot do their business abroad. New conditions bring new ethical principles and values [18]. The prevalence of business ethics is determined by the globalization and the contemporary world economy. Now tolerance is a topical ethical issue, but it was not so topical 200 years ago. Values and their significance are changing. Does it mean that values of Humboldt’s model are not topical today? As Schopenhauer and Ortega y Gasset noticed, Humboldt’s model did not work perfectly. Bill Reading wrote that it could not work by definition today. Humboldt’s university mission and the national state are ghosts on the territory of the global market. If he was right, the Humboldt’s principles are miracle and business ethics of the international market absorbed and dissolved them. The only way to survive and develop is adaptation to new conditions in globalized world, what includes adopting new values. Universities have to do this, but it does not mean that the old values and the principles of professional ethics are dying. Tolerance is the value of the contemporary world and it coexists with the other ethical values [19]. When V. von Humboldt was solving the problem of universities in the beginning of the 19th century in Germany he had not complaints about ethical principles of professional ethics of university professors, but he aimed to make professors to follow them. Universities have always strived to freedom of thought and self-organization since the very beginning of the first universities - the Bologna University and Sorbonne. The academic freedom was not the invention of Humboldt. The medieval universities were based on medieval economy and conditions of those times, that was why universities very outdated and could not function in the beginning of the 19th century. Aristotle’s views were very significant for the Christian doctrine [20] and usually were included into syllabuses even in the beginning of the Modern Age. Many European universities depended on the Roman Catholic Church and were losing power with it. Scientific and technical progress brought new values which coexisted with traditional values and never replaced them. Nowadays students also study Aristotle’s philosophy but in another manner and another context. Humboldt reorganized universities according to the conditions of his Age. He made the new University in Berlin and the national state the reliable allies to each other. The university was not a part of the national state, it had academic freedom. The reforms of higher education in Austria-Hungary did not take into account traditional values of universities and, may be, that was why these reforms did not succeed [21. P. 285-301]. Humboldt combined traditional values of universities - academic freedom and self-organization with the new system of governmental funding. The utility of education and science became the organizational principle of the new university and the ethical principle of university professors as well, coexisting with the traditional for the first universities spirit of liberty. It is not surprising that science, conditions and circumstances have changed since Humboldt’s time and today and we cannot apply his university model without any corrections. American technocratic and innovative model [2] is based on Humboldt’s university model and its “Triple Helix» [22] means university-business-state. It “is based on a prospective role of the university as the leader in relationships with business and government. These relationships are built to produce new knowledge, innovation and economic development” [2. P. 401]. Creative thinking, ability to find necessary information, skills of scientific research are required knowledge and skills of a graduate. Openness to new technologies and information, rapid response to challenges of the contemporary world became new requirements to university and professors. The values of the business ethics help universities to archive new goals and uphold new standards. The world is changing, but it is also complicating. The same happens with universities: they absorb the new values of business ethics, but Humboldt’s university model is still the reliable frame for the contemporary universities. The new developing model of university has already ethical problems as Humboldt’s model had in Schopenhauer’s times. The innovation-oriented university emphasizes on practical results and leading positions in the university rankings forgetting about fundamental science and long-time expensive projects. Even today the base of university’s structure in many countries is Humboldt’s university model and ethical principles of the model are still in need. REFERENCES [1] Humboldt W. 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About the authors

O V Savvina

Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia

Miklukho-Maklay str., 10a, Moscow, Russia, 117198




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Copyright (c) 2016 Саввина О.В.

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