A wise person, according to the psychologist Barry Schwartz, is like a jazz musician. Both refer to the notes on the page "but dance around them, inventing combinations that are appropriate to the situation and people at hand".
They know "when and how to make the exception to every rule" and "when and how to improvise", Schwartz explained in a 2009 talk for the ideas network, TED. The wise person can handle real-world problems - those complex, ill-defined challenges whose contexts and parameters shift constantly.
His riff was picked up by another Schwartz - Steven, the vice-chancellor of Macquarie University in Australia. In his 2010 vice-chancellor's lecture, he said the sector had to "wise up" and "restore wisdom to universities".
Professor Schwartz lamented that universities "were once about character building but now...are about money". In this "age of money", he continued, courses are increasingly vocational, designed to train graduates for their first job: in law, accounting and pharmacy, "but also golf-course management, contemporary circus performance, hairdressing salon management...
"Politicians and universities often refer to skills shortages. Apparently we need more circus performers and salon managers. But no one seems to worry about a shortage of philosophers, historians and ethicists."
The UK government's higher education reforms place English universities more squarely than ever in the "age of money", with a market and a bottom line to mind.
With evidence already emerging that a drive to introduce more vocationalism into the curriculum is pushing out arts, humanities and social science degrees ahead of the total removal of public funding from such courses, Schwartz's warnings have proved prescient.
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