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Context of critical thinking- a university

Idea of a university. Principles of a university. Different perceptions about the purpose(s) of universities. The aim of a university and its role in fostering openness and commitment to truth. The curriculum in a university and its role in fostering intellectual culture.

University Etymology
The etymology of the word university is from the Latin, universus, meaning whole and entire. Other equivalents are from Anglo-French universite and universitas meaning a corporation or society. Indeed, it is a community of scholars and masters. Other words which were used as synonyms for university include: the Academy or Studium.

Historical time frame

The first universities, per se, began in the 12th century A.D. In the 11th century, Bologna became an important centre for legal studies. Some of the oldest universities according to age include: University of Bologna, Bologna, Italy, founded in 1088; University of Paris, Paris, France, founded c. 1150 (now split between several autonomous universities); University of Oxford, Oxford, England, founded before 1167; University of Cambridge, Cambridge, England, founded c. 1209; University of Salamanca, Salamanca, Spain, founded in 1218. If the idea of university is re-coined to mean ancient institutions that did not originally grant degrees but now do, then some European and non-European institutes predate the University of Bologna (for example, Nalanda University had been established by the 5th century BC in India [now in ruins], Nanjing University founded in 258 in China, and Al-Azhar University founded in 988 in Egypt). The awarding of academic titles was not a custom of other educational institutions at the time but ancient institutions of higher learning also existed in China (Yuelu Academy), Greece (the Academy), and Persia (Academy of Gundishapur. The Academy, founded in 387 BC by the Greek philosopher Plato in the grove of Academos near Athens, taught its students Philosophy, Mathematics, and Gymnastics, and is sometimes considered to resemble a university. Other Greek cities with notable educational institutions include Kos (the home of HippocratesHippocratic oath), which had a medical school, and Rhodes which had philosophical schools. Another famous classical institution was the Museum and Library of Alexandria. Institutions

bearing a resemblance to the modern university also existed in Persia and the Islamic world prior to Al-Azhar University, most notably the Academy of Gundishapur. In these universities, the professor was a scholar, not a researcher. Medieval universities considered themselves to be the protector of human knowledge, but they did not feel the urge to make it grow. This was a logical consequence of the static world view of the middle ages. Instead of searching for new knowledge, there was an unlimited respect for classical knowledge. Knowledge was something considered to be complete and static, at least, static in time. In space, knowledge was quite mobile. The Wanderstudent, the young scholar who moved from one university to another, was a fairly common phenomenon. The ideal was complete knowledge of the septem artes liberales, the seven liberal arts (Grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy) which, taken together, were the whole of human knowledge. We would call them sciences or, in some cases, pseudo-sciences. Later in the 15th and 16th century with the Cartesian split (Rene Descartes- cogito ergo sumI think therefore I am), knowledge and indeed truth came to be conceived as a product of the self. That is truth was not considered objectively but subjectively. In the 19th Century, through individuals like Fichte and Humboldt and Mill, they suggested that the object of universities is not to make skilful lawyers, physicians or engineers, but capable and cultivated human beings. In 1809, von Humboldt established the Berlin University, where he attempted to materialize his ideas. In his opinion, a university should approach knowledge scientifically. It should produce knowledge, not reproduce it. Von Humboldt attempted to do away with a whole series of basic components of traditional university education. For instance, he stressed the individual freedom of those who came to university to better themselves (academic freedom). Obviously, this idea was nurtured by the intellectual climate of the Enlightenment. Universities for almost 1,000 years provided a basic curriculum in liberal arts, consisting of two courses: The preparatory trivium (grammar, logic, rhetoric) and the advanced quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy)(Borusso, 2007). The concept of university has undergone a metamorphosis . Universities have become the heart of research, knowledge generation, community service and channels to solve many societal problems. After the critical stages of renaissance - enlightenment-industrial revolutionworld wars, a new epoch of universities emerged. Universities are now engaged in humanities, sciences and technical subjects. Knowledge has been the commodity of the individual; the university and society (refer to the topic Philosophy, openness to reality). Indeed, without knowledge, resources are left fallow. All world economies depend on knowledge.

Principles of universities
Some principles of universities include:

- Universality
This means that universities should enable one to have a grasp of truth in wholeness, and that is why the earlier universities stressed on the seven liberal arts. It should enable the human intellect to know and appreciate truth in its totality , hence the need for Philosophy and for that matter, Metaphysics. The individual sciences, the separate sciences, are parts of a whole.

- Academic freedom
This means that students and teachers should be free to engage in inquiry. They should not be controlled by any political body. Academic freedom is for the sake of discovering the truth. This means that it should not be biased, neither should it destroy the nature of human-kind but perfect it.

- Autonomy
This means that the academy in itself should be free from external influence which can jeopardize its search and defense of the truth.

Different perceptions about purposes of universities

John Henry Newman (1907)
He states that the aim of a university is to cultivate the philosophical habit . One apprehends the great outlines of knowledge, the principles on which it rests, the scale of its parts, its lights and its shades, its great and little points, as he otherwise cannot apprehend them. A habit of mind is formed which lasts through life, of which the attributes are: freedom, equitableness, calmness, moderation, and wisdom. What is the end of University Education, and of the Liberal or Philosophical Knowledge which I conceive it to impart? I answer, that what I have already said has been sufficient to show that it has a very tangible, real, and sufficient end, though the end cannot be divided from that knowledge itself. Knowledge is capable of being its own end (Newman, 1907).

Wilhelm Van Humboldt (1767-1835)

He was heavily influenced by the age of enlightenment especially Rousseau. He laid the foundation of a new education system in Prussia (Baltic people related to the Lithuanians and Latvians, the last capital was Berlin). He advocated for the development of three schools of

education: elementary, secondary and university education. His idea is that the university should provide the same foundation. The commonest worker and the finest graduate must be given the same mental training, and for that matter, complete training of the human personality. In his own words, a university teacher is therefore no longer a teacher (like in primary and secondary levels), and the student no longer someone engaged in the learning process, but a person who undertakes his own research, while the professor directs his research and supports him in it. With regard to universities, Humboldt even goes so far as to explicitly dispute that it is within their remit and their ability to train students for a particular career, because if a university were to do this, it would no longer be a university, or universitas litterarum, but merely a school.

Aim(s) of a university and its role in fostering openness and commitment to truth.
Universities have always played a major role in the economic and cultural development of countries. However, their role and expected contribution has changed substantially over the years. Whereas, since 1945, universities in Europe were expected to contribute to basic research, which could be freely used by society, in recent decades they are expected to contribute more substantially and directly to the competitiveness of firms and societies (Van der Steen & Enders, 2008). The modern university has been given the following roles: i) To create/generate knowledge: This is the world of academic research. The student should be able to think critically, to generate new knowledge and be able to impel humanity to progress. Generation of knowledge presumes that a scholar is able to grasp reality, be able to discover its principles and use these principles for the service of humanity. Knowledge dissemination or transfer: As the name suggests, this is provision of generated knowledge through various media, for instance, books, information technology, lecturers, group-work etc. The world of knowledge dissemination is not only meant in the narrow sense of the word, which is dissemination through regular classes, but also the whole complex of attitude formation, value transfer, skills training etc. A university should never transmit information only but knowledge. Service to society: A university exists in an open environment; it interacts with the immediate and remote community. It has its scholars and lecturers from different backgrounds and its outputs affect the society. It should solve and be involved in societal problems: to train people in personal freedom and personal responsibility.



The curriculum in a university and its role in fostering intellectual culture

The curriculum in a university should aim to give a universal scope, besides the different specializations, hence the need for other courses which are not part of the core courses. A grasp of philosophy, metaphysics, logic, rhetoric, music etc helps to give holistic and not partial knowledge. A university should improve the intellect. One must generalize, be able to reduce to method, to have a grasp of principles, and group and shape our acquisitions by means of them. Indeed a university should be a true Alma Mater, where people appreciate and are driven by intellectual activities.

"If the Academy holds by these propositions, not all the force of Caesar can break down its walls; but if the Academy is bent upon sneering at everything in heaven and earth, or upon reforming itself after the model of the market place, not all the eloquence of the prophets can save it."(Time, 1955)

Borusso, S. (2007). History of Philosophy. Nairobi: Paulines Publications. Newman, J. (1907). The idea of a University. London: Longmans, Green and Co. Time. (1955). What is academic freedom? Time. Van der Steen, M., & Enders, J. (2008). Universities in Evolutionary Systems of Innovation. Creativity and innovation management, 17(4), 281-292.