Are We Betraying Humboldt’s Ideals?

Some people argue that the ultimate goal of university teaching should be vocational qualification. Similarly, in the Bologna Declaration (1999), the European Ministers of Education agreed that undergraduate studies shall “be relevant to the European labour market as an appropriate level of qualification”. These arguments are certainly opposed to the Humboldtian model. About 200 years ago, Wilhelm von Humboldt wrote: “There are undeniably certain kinds of knowledge that must be of a general nature and, more importantly, a certain cultivation of the mind and character that nobody can afford to be without. People obviously cannot be good craftworkers, merchants, soldiers or businessmen unless, regardless of their occupation, they are good, upstanding and – according to their condition – well-informed human beings and citizens. If this basis is laid through schooling, vocational skills are easily acquired later on, and a person is always free to move from one occupation to another, as so often happens in life.” Universities have to decide between two perspectives of academic education: between – as the philosopher Nida-Rümelin boldly put it – “McKinsey” and “Humboldt”.

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About Andreas Wieland

Dr. Andreas Wieland is an Associate Professor of Supply Chain Risk Management at the Department of Operations Management, Copenhagen Business School. His current research interests include resilient and socially responsible supply chains.

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