The idea of a university: defined and illustrated is endlessly cited, typically by those who take a high view of a university education and see Newman as the most inspiring advocate of a liberal education.
The ten public lectures that Newman composed in 1852 are rightly considered masterpieces, for they have inspired debate on the nature and purpose of a university education like no other work in the English language – or indeed in any language. The leading Newman expert Ian Ker describes the Idea as the one educational classic.
The Idea has been described by a well-known historian of university education as ‘unquestionably the single most important treatise in the English language on the nature and meaning of higher education’; in it Newman transforms a legalistic description of the university into a thrilling, emotion-laden, higher order conception of education. (S. Rothblatt, ‘An Oxonian “idea” of a university: J. H. Newman and “well-being” ’, The history of the University of Oxford, vol. vi, ed. M. G. Brock & M. C. Curthoys (Oxford, 1997)).