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The importance of developing Virtues and Character in Higher Education Institutions within the UK
Whilst we live in an era where education is undergoing perpetual transformation, there is great focus on ensuring opportunities are created to improve personalities of young people. As Character Education remains high on the political agenda in the United Kingdom (UK), the Department of Education have invested £9.5 million with an aim to cultivate well-rounded, confident, resilient young people (Curren, 2017). This emphasis on personality development has taken off well in schools within the UK, however the question rises to why are we not developing the same efforts within the Higher Education (HE) sector? Our Higher Education institutions (HEI) have experienced numerous challenges that have oscillated from growths in tuition fees (Coughlan, 2018), nationally combating the wide spread mental health crisis, to the onset of student retention. Least to say, the graduate market is yarning for recruits who pose motivation, self-confidence,- resilience, persistence, to employ young people who pose initiative, proactive attitude and be able to use constructive criticism in a positive way(Lewis, 2018). As the UK government attention rests on Brexit, the gold posts shift towards the National Collaborative Outreach Project (NCOP) with intensions to increase the numbers of young people from underrepresented groups to access Higher Education (Office of Students, 2018). Conversely, developing ‘Resilience and Grit’ became even more essential since if only those from underrepresented groups were as chipper as those born into great privileges, they too may find it easier to access great jobs, financial gain. In essence, this elevates questions to whether could Character Education be the answer to boost social mobility and create the next generations virtuous and flourishing pioneering practitioners?
Currently, professionals within the field of HE may all be insightful upon on the following three leanings; 1) To what scope can professionals be expected to shape or provide experiences of being virtuous? (However, the bigger question remains, can we be expected to shape virtuous when one’s self may not pose those virtuous?) 2) What are the ways forward to develop strategies that pose virtue and character development opportunities within University life cycle? 3) How do we prompt a positive outlook in students without gliding over the point that things will be tough for some because of their inherit background? It is clear that the transparency of Character development has been overshadowed by barriers and hindrances within HE, and we have once again elapsed the most crucial element of education we could inhabit within our graduates. This essay will centre efforts to tackle the overarching barriers that pose on HEI and have eclipsed on what once was a prevalent influence to deliver (Character Education). A critical review will be establish some key barriers and will construct a correlation of the importance of developing Virtuous and Character within graduates of tomorrow. Furthermore, this paper will seek to remedy these problems by analysing the literature of Aristotle’s concepts of Virtue Ethics and the ground breaking efforts of the Jubilee of Character and Virtues within schools to provide clarity to what we ought to do moving towards a more intellectual fashion industry.
“ … in order to catch the spirit of what is now afoot in the intellectual fashion industry, that we are entering the era of the flourishing child. ” (Kristjansson 2015, p.11)
It would be fair to suggest that within today’s society, the next generation of revolutionary experts are facing many challenges ahead of their journey within HE. Thus, words from Kristjansson illuminate the path we ought to be on route towards. But how do we cultivate a virtuous and flourishing society for tomorrow?
The Greek Philosopher and Father of virtue ethics, Aristotle poses a refreshing stance on Human flourishing being the conventional goal of life, one that proposes to fulfil ones potential as a human individual (Kristjansson, 2015). However, some theorists are quick to express that flourishing is not only a goal but the ultimate goal of life as it reveals the purpose of ‘happiness’(eudaimonia – Greek translation).. The sweet pleasure of eudaimonia can be depicted as one accomplishes from achievement and satisfaction. Therefore, a virtuous character can be cultivated, and the life of a virtuous human being is a life that is well sustained life, and a well sustained life in accordance to (hexis) moral virtues, are established through proper habits (Karuzis, 2015). Whilst moral virtues determine a yearning for eudemonia, those who may not experience ‘proper habits’ in order to reach eudaimonia may perhaps be perceived to coasting towards their end goal. An example of this understanding may be echoed as Looked after Children (LAC) who access University may not have the same means as those who resonate from prosperous upbringings. Those from prosperous upbringings may have access to more tangible assets such as; supportive family structure and ties to a virtuous network within society. This inordinate example determines individuals are in need of moral luck or pre-conditions in order to reach eudaimonia (Kristjansson, 2015).
The innovate efforts of the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues (2005, p.1 emphasis on flourishing being at the core of Character Education and how developing acquisitions and strengthen our virtues; the trains that one may define as; courage, justice, honesty and gratitude, can be seen as paramount for a striving society. Virtues that may be determined by way of; moral, civic, performance and intellectual virtues all facilitate in harmony amongst the meta-virtue Phronesis. Phronesis can be grasped as practical wisdom or intellectual virtue that a person owns in accordance to virtues and distinguish the true mode of action is in any given societal circumstance (Huttunen and Kakkori, 2007). For example, given a student does not share ones notes with a fellow pupil, this act could be perceived as making a conscious judgement between doing something generous and understanding the precautions of being miserly (action accompanied by reason). Preserving phronesis reprobates into a simple aptitude of what Aristotle called Cleverness (Kristjansson, 2007) and when one grasps cleverness, one is capable to indorse any kind of goal and has the competence to accomplish it. Nevertheless, there is a consistence resonation with Aristotle’s belief, as Thomas Aquinas determined Practical wisdom to be crucial for human prosperity (Broadhead and Gregson, 2018).
Whilst this essay could continue to critique the workings of
Higher Education for some remains as a global opportunity (erasmas, placement opportunities) in accomplishing the preferred degree qualification that ranges from undergraduate, doctorates to vocational qualifications, and clinical practices in ones chosen field of profession. Some authors have speculated the very such matter and have regurgitated the role of Higher Education in developing character was affirmed in each of the University Grants Committee Reports (1948, 1952, 1964) but somehow was rarely invoked (Quinlan, 2011). Interestingly the correlation is with the discoveries around moral and social aims of HE have been overshadowed by emphasis on instrumental and economical goals (Barnett and Goats, 2005). However, with the prominences of;, Mental Health, Teaching Excellence Framework, Student Experience and Employability, the need for need for Virtue and Character Development will be established.
Mental Health remains a national crisis amongst the UK population. With the National Union of Students (2015) reporting, eight out of ten students experiences/d mental health issues and with an distressing ninety-five suicides (within a twelve month period) being committed within a lead up to July 2017, (Office for National Statistics 2018), universities are bracing themselves to combat the issue.
More recent developments in the HE sector has led us to believe that universities have a growing obstacle upon students that transition to an unexpected institution (Admissions-clearing period). With nearly 67,000 students accessing Higher Education through the Universities and College’s Admissions Service (UCAS, 2017) in 2017, leads us to believe
- UCAS, (2017) End of Cycle 2017 Data Resource. https://www.ucas.com/file/137766/download?token=OE2Eoo0H (Accessed 29/12/2018)
- National Union of Students. (2015) Mental Health Poll. http://appg-students.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Mental-Health-Poll-November-15-Summary.pdf. (Accessed 28/12/2018).
- Lewis, A. (2018) Personal qualities count in today’s graduate market. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/jul/09/personal-qualities-count-todays-graduate-market (Accessed 27/12/2018).
- Coughlan, S. (2018) The challenges facing Universities in 2018. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-42413636 (Accessed 27/12/2018)
- Curren, R. (2017) ‘Why Character Education’ The Journal of Philosophy, 2017, (24), pp. 2
- Karuzis, J (2015) On proper Action and Virtue: An Essay on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. Journal of Ethics, Religion and Philosophy. 2, (1), pp, 19
- Brett, N. (2018) Future Gradates will need creativity and empathy – not just technical skills. https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/dec/20/future-graduates-will-need-creativity-and-empathy-not-just-technical-skills (Accessed 27/12/2018)
- Office of Students, (2018) National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP) https://www.officeforstudents.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/promoting-equal-opportunities/national-collaborative-outreach-programme-ncop/. (Accessed 26/12/2018)
- Kristjansson, K. (2015) Aristotelian Character Education. England, Routledge.
- Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, (2014) Framework for Character Education in Schools. https://www.jubileecentre.ac.uk/userfiles/jubileecentre/pdf/character-education/Framework%20for%20Character%20Education.pdf. (Accessed 23/12/2018)
- Huttunen, R. and Kakkori, L. (2007) Aristotle and Pedagogical Ethics. The Journal of Canadian Philosophy of Education Society. 16, (1), pp. 18.
- Kristjansson, K. (2007) Aristotle, Emotions and Education. England, Ashgate.
- Broadhead, S. and Gregson, M. (2018) Practical Wisdom and Democratic Education. Leeds, Palgrave Macmillan.
- Quinlan, K. M. (2011)
- Office for National Statistics (2018) Estimating suicide among higher education students, England and Wales: Experimental Statistics. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/articles/estimatingsuicideamonghighereducationstudentsenglandandwalesexperimentalstatistics/2018-06-25. (Accessed 26/12/2018)
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