University of Utopia: How Universities of the Future Can Benefit from Utopian Ways of Thinking


Nearly 500 year ago, Sir Thomas More wrote his classic work about the perfect society. The word "utopia" that translates to "non-place" or sometimes "good place" is a fitting description of today's universities and business schools.

Business schools in particular, as observed by Prof. Mark Gatenby, have become what most academics fear: an institution more interested in making money than shaping the minds of young people. They have set aside ideas and values defines what a university is all about.

Prof. Gatenby has likened today's universities with a factory for the mind. An establishment that operates under the guise of efficiency and standardization but lacks leadership and reliability, monotonously peddling minds through the productions lines.

The assistant professor at the University of Southampton remains hopeful as he reach out to the different places of the academy to discover possibilities of improving the current system with the help of individuals - fellow educators and students from different disciplines and departments working together.

Searching for Utopia includes celebrating technology and the possibilities it offer for bridging interdisciplinary boundaries and breaking departmental walls. In their university, they have begun working on different curricula through co-design groups. The group is consist of students and staff from various departments that puts on their thinking caps and pool their collective knowledge for the benefit of students.

The learning and teaching process have changed because of technology. Embracing this change and accepting tools it offers can help enhance students' learning and appreciation of the different areas of knowledge available to them.

Robert Hutchins suggested in 1953 that higher learning institutions should adopt a "compulsory core curriculum" that students should master as part of their educational foundation before proceeding to more specialized learning in an attempt to establish better communication between disciplines.

"Disciplinarity", however, according to Prof. Gatenby has reached its limit and is now obsolete since discipline-based ideas alone cannot solve most modern day problems. A view supported by Amanda Goodall and Andrew Oswald who suggested social sciences focus more on interdisciplinary working.

Opening up traditional discipline-bound thinking and creating new spaces for "post-discipline" thinkers might be the best approach. Creating uninhabited islands where new knowledge can populate and grow.

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