Universitarian Contingencies: When Downsizing is Equal to Downgrading

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Lekan Oyegoke


The institutionalisation of knowledge, marked by durability and excellence, goes back some ten
centuries to the Middle Ages. Its durability has been ensured by two factors, namely, society’s
respect for knowledge and, for its part, the institution’s regard for university tradition emanating
from within its campuses. The stability of the institution created an environment in which knowledge
could gestate and hatch excellence in all disciplines and the disciplines could shape perspectives and
positively influence the course of history. This is all a description of the university, as an institution
configured by knowledge, excellence and its own unique tradition, the three important elements
responsible for the enduring prestige enjoyed by knowledge institutions the likes of the University of
Cambridge and the University of Oxford. In Western societies, as far as universities are concerned,
changing emphasis in the attitude to specific knowledge disciplines is usually nuanced and reasoned,
not hasty and impulsive. Despite the ascendancy of STEM in academic and public discourse, the
Department of English or Department of History, for example, still thrives in mainstream and other
universities. It has not been shut down because of some signal inability to generate IGR (internally
generated revenue) for its self-sustenance. The fact is rather that the humanities disciplines are
still enjoying respect and patronage. By contrast, in Africa, the attitude to the advent of STEM in
discourse and policy execution has tended to be sentimental and precipitate. This essay attempts a
speculative examination of a few policy challenges that might be posed by the issue of STEM versus
STEAM in the life of a university.

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