Newman regarded the promotion of original research as the responsibility not of universities but of academies such as the Royal Society, while at the time he upheld the idea that learning and intellectual scholarship was the distinctive vocation of the academic.
When he reminds academics that teaching rather than research is the central function of a university, he anticipates the situation described by the gentleman scholar G. M. Young, that by the 1860s and 1870s England had marched ‘through the gateway of the Competitive Examination […] out into the Waste Land of Experts each knowing so much about so little that he can neither be contradicted nor is worth contradicting’. (Victorian England: portrait of an age)
Specialisation and obsession with research and publication are not only present today but more accentuated than ever – which is why Newman’s advice is so prescient and of such pressing interest.
Michael Oakeshott has articulated Newman’s sentiments better than most in the face of the contemporary research ideology:
‘A university will have ceased to exist when its learning has degenerated into what is now called research, when its teaching has become mere instruction and occupies the whole of an undergraduate’s time, and when those who come to be taught come, not in search of their intellectual fortune but with a vitality so unroused or so exhausted that they wish only to be provided with a serviceable moral and intellectual outfit; when they come with no understanding of manners of conversation but desire only a qualification for earning a living or a certificate to let them in on the exploitation of the world.’ (‘Idea of a University’, 1950)
Nevertheless, Newman felt that research had a crucial part to play in the life of a university.