Specialization at Universities

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    Abstract

    THE numbers of university undergraduates, in the technical faculties especially, are to-day greater than ever before, and yet apprehension as to the true worth of university training was never so widespread as at the present time ; for modern scholarship has made such strides, particularly in the field of science, that no one subject can be adequately studied without undue specialization and consequent neglect of other points of view. This danger of specialization was the theme of Mr. Oliver Stanley's recent address, on being installed as chancellor of the University of Liverpool, when he said that too many men and women to-day leave a university complete masters of a subject but still incomplete individuals, unable to act as evangelists of that broader culture, that more general philosophy which should be the university's gift to the people. These words were echoed by Mr. Winston Churchill when, on the same occasion, he received the honorary degree of doctor of laws. Indeed, Mr. Churchill went further and, to a certain extent, accused science of being the usurper of culture. Few men of science would seriously dispute that "... We need a lot of engineers but we do not need a world of modern engineers. . . . Science must be the servant and never the master of mankind" ; but Mr. Churchill's further statement, "I would venture to say that no amount of technical knowledge can replace the value of the humanities or the study of history", is one that is open to challenge. The study of science need not preclude a deep appreciation of the humanities ; rather it is the high degree of specialization within the syllabus which is the excuse for not teaching a general appreciation of scientific principles. Many physics graduates have very little knowledge of the processes of life, just as, say, the majority of botanists are probably unaware of even the elementary facts of the quantum theory or relativity ; and both know very little of either the history or philosophy of science. It is on this last point that, no doubt, science is lacking as a medium for educating (in the widest sense of the word) the student. If the teaching of science itself were less specialized and more cultural, then perhaps a scientific course would be more readily recognized as being as good an education as, say, a classical one, for training the undergraduate to become a leader of thought and action.

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    Specialization at Universities. Nature 163, 831 (1949) doi:10.1038/163831c0

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