Planning for a career

As rector of the university he had founded in Dublin, Newman used the pages of the Catholic University Gazette to provide up-to-date information on the employment opportunities that were opening up as a result of changes taking place in British society in the 1850s. The rise of a meritocracy was reflected in new legislation which opened up positions to all educated subjects of the Crown, as exemplified by the India Act (1853) which opened up to competition appointments to the India civil service. The Gazette reproduced details of the new exam regulations, and when it was announced that the East India Company’s administrative training college at Haileybury was to have its monopoly on employment in India broken up, the implications for Newman’s University were spelt out. The practical effect of the selection procedures, Newman predicted, would be that places would fall mainly into the hands of university graduates, since the commissioners would favour those who had received a liberal education.

Just as Macaulay’s Report (1854) laid down rules for the India civil service exams, which were adopted in full, the recommendations of the Northcote–Trevelyan Report (1854) were taken up by the Civil Service Commission which was set up in 1855 to oversee open recruitment and end patronage for the home civil service. Both changes gave a new significance to the academic work of the university. Newman spoke about his intention to prepare students for the military academies and the home and India civil service as one of four ‘immediate objects’ for his university.

On one occasion Newman commented, ‘The love of learning does not seem a sufficient inducement in this day, if it is not coupled with the prospect of a livelihood.’ He asked the University Secretary to find out the professional aspirations of students entering the University so that he could dovetail academic provision with career aspirations.

Obsession about a career

Undoubtedly career aspirations are at the forefront of the thinking of many students today and of those who aspire to higher education.

Over the thirty-year period 1975–2005, the number of freshmen in the United States expecting their university years to bring better job prospects quadrupled from 20% to 80%, while during the same period the number who anticipated that it would help them develop a philosophy of life dropped from 80% to 20%. (D. L. Kirp, ‘This little student went to market’, 2005)

If alive today Newman would have countered this unhealthy tendency with a reminder of the true effect of a university education.

The obsession of students with their career is seen by one university commentator as paramount to a modern article of faith: ‘That a life is a career is for them an article of faith’ (A. T. Kronman, Education’s end: why our colleges and universities have given up on the meaning of life, 2007).

Share This: