Education vs. Training: Reflecting on the Purpose of Education in the 21st Century
• German Rectors' Conference (HRK)
According to Wilhelm von Humboldt, the German philosopher and founder of the University of Berlin, education is about Bildung – the concept of uniting the individual, culture and society in harmonious interplay. Universities, therefore, are not only responsible for training professionals, but also for cultivating the individual. German and U.S. university leaders convened at the German Center for Research and Innovation (GCRI) on September 5, 2012, to discuss different approaches to and current challenges of traditional university education.
In the face of a changing economy and the internationalization of the job market, students are required to simultaneously adapt to several challenges when joining the workforce. The same applies to universities which find themselves confronted with the necessity not only to educate citizens, but also to meet the demands of the job market.
Prof. Dieter Lenzen, President of the University of Hamburg, opened the panel discussion with a comparison of the current state of university education in Germany and how it has gradually moved away from the Humboldtian concept. According to Lenzen, the Bologna reform places greater emphasis on the employability of students and thereby neglects the teaching of ethical values and the ability to adapt. However, the German Bologna concept – an adaptation of the original contract – aims to educate a workforce that is capable of developing its own skills and moving inventions to the marketplace, based on the idea of “knowledge through research.”
Following Prof. Lenzen’s presentation, Dr. Nancy L. Zimpher, Chancellor of the State University of New York (SUNY), introduced the U.S. concept of university education. Facing the challenge of meeting workforce needs, universities base their curricula on the demands of the state. Dr. Zimpher described the universities as the economic engine, a driver for economy and the quality of life for citizens, serving both state and citizenry.
Prof. Beate A. Schücking, President of the University of Leipzig, closed the discussion by again turning to the Humboldtian concept. Her presentation focused on the aspect of lifelong learning. While graduates previously built their career in just one profession, today’s generation will need to adapt to different scopes of work. Prof. Schücking stressed the importance of more diversified curricula and called on universities to fulfill their duty of educating people not only for a profession, but also for life.
The event was moderated by Prof. Jeffrey Peck, Dean at the Weissmann School of Arts and Sciences, and Vice Provost for Global Strategies at Baruch College, City University of New York. It was organized and hosted by the German Center for Research and Innovation in cooperation with the German Rectors’ Conference (HRK), the political and public voice of Germany’s higher education institutions.