Revitalising the Ideals of Higher Education. Educating students for life as professionals and citizens in a complex world

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Title: Revitalising the Ideals of Higher Education. Educating students for life as professionals and citizens in a complex world
Author: Vognæs, Stinne
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Social Sciences
Publisher: Helsingin yliopisto
Date: 2021
Language: eng
Thesis level: master's thesis
Degree program: Globaalin politiikan ja kommunikaation maisteriohjelma
Master's Programme in Global Politics and Communication
Magisterprogrammet i global politik och kommunikation
Specialisation: Media and Democracy
Media and Democracy
Media and Democracy
Abstract: The aims of higher education have always been subject to debate and opposing opinions. In an increasingly complex world with many global challenges, the aims of higher education are once more debated. Furthermore, a growing international student body is also challenging what students should be educated for. How does these factors affect the aims of higher education and how should the university prepare students for this complex world? This partly inductive, normative case study of the University of Helsinki consists of 11 qualitative interviews from across faculties with representatives from 11 different international master’s programs. Through dialogical interviews these questions were explored. Martha Nussbaum’s theory of cosmopolitan citizenship and the three abilities of critical thinking, world citizenship and narrative imagination alongside theory on political socialization and the broader scholarly debate on the aims of higher education provide the foundation for the thematic analysis. The findings indicate that the ideals of cosmopolitan citizenship are still prevalent in the interviewees’ thinking about the skills and attitudes that students need. At the same time, many of the interviewees were not sure whether these skills and attitudes were being sufficiently developed, and many said that not enough was being done. This raises questions as to whether these skills, which are often not subject-area specific, can be brushed off as ‘nice to haves’ or whether there are real consequences if not ensuring that these skills and attitudes are approached in the same manner as subject-area knowledge. Based on the alignment between the interviews and Nussbaum’s cosmopolitan citizenship, it can be argued that what makes students good professionals is also central to making them good citizens. This study argues that students need a strong ethical, moral and value-based foundation to make them both responsible professionals and citizens. It should be explicitly planned for. This might be challenged by external pressures pushing for optimization, effectiveness and seeing education as primarily fulfilling companies’ HR needs alongside incentives structures that might not encourage teachers to prioritise teaching these skills. The findings of this study indicates that the skills of Nussbaum’s cosmopolitan citizenship are valued in the program representatives’ thinking, yet there seems to be a lack of awareness as to how these skills are being developed in practice. This study encourages a more active discussion to clearly articulate what the aims of higher education should be in the 21st century and how that should be put into practice.
Subject: higher education
cosmopolitan citizenship
University of Helsinki
political socialization

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