Building on existing critiques of contemporary arrangements in higher education, this paper focuses on the claim that the human capital model undermines the civic or public role of universities, restricts student engagement with learning and damages the capacity for critical thinking and empathy. Interviews with students studying either Business or Sociology at universities in Britain and Singapore reveal very different orientations to higher education, personal success and civic responsibility. Those studying Sociology emphasised the importance of developing empathy and critical thinking, and were more able to identify civic and non-economic benefits of their time at university, compared to those studying Business, who focussed on gaining individual competitive advantage and enhancing their job prospects. The paper concludes by considering the significance of these differences to argue that appealing more broadly to a fuller range of student motivations is necessary to counter wider trends of instrumentalism and individualism.
Published: October 2018