Aim of a University Education


"The Aim of a University Education"-----by John Henry Newman

  If then a practical end must be assigned to a university course, I say it is that of training good members of society. Its art is the social life, and its end is fitness for the world.

  It neither confines its views to particular professions on the one hand, nor creates heroes or inspires genius on the other. Workers indeed of genius fall under no art; heroic minds come under no rule; a university is not a birthplace of poets or of immortal authors, of founders of schools, or leaders of colonies, or conquerors of nations.

  It does not promise a generation of Aristotles or Newtons, of Napoleons or Washingtons, of Raphaels or Shakespears, though such miracles of nature it has before now contained within its precincts. Nor is it content on the other hand with forming the critic or the experimentalist, the economist or the engineer, although such too it includes with its scope.

  But a university training is the great ordinary means to a great but ordinary end; it aims at raising the intellectual tone of society, at cultivating the public mind, at purifying the national taste, at giving enlargement and sobriety to the idea of the age, at facilitating the exercise of political power, and refining the intercourse of private life.

  It is the education which gives a man a clear, conscious views of his own opinions and judgments, a truth in developing them, an eloquence in expressing them, and a force in urging them. It teaches him to see things as they are, to go right to the point, to disentangle a skein of thought, to detect what is sophistical, and to discard what is irrelevant. It prepares him to fill any post with credit, and to master any subject with facility.

  It shows him how to accommodate himself to others, how to throw himself into their stat of mind, how to bring before them his own, how to influence them, how to come to an understanding with them, how to bear with them.

  He is at home in any society; he has common ground with every class; he knows when to speak and when to be silent; he is also to converse; he is able to listen; he can ask a question pertinently, and gain a lesson seasonably, where he has nothing to impart himself; he is ever ready, yet never in the way; he is a pleasant companion, and a comrade you can depend upon; he knows when to be serious and when to trifle, and he has a sure tact which enables him to trifle with gracefulness and to be serious with effect. He has the repose of a mind which lives in itself, while it lives in the world, and which serves him in public, and supports him in retirement, without which good fortune is but vulgar, and with which failure and disappointment have a charm.

  The art which tends to make a man all this, is in the object which it pursues as useful as the art of wealth or the art of health, though it is less susceptible of method, and less tangible, less certain, less complete in the its result.