Open Seminar: Re-thinking professional formation: Re-designing and Re-deploying new ‘formation scripts’ in Higher Education?

Presenters in this seminar are Molly Sutphen (SF/USA), Ciaran Sugrue (Dublin/Ireland) and Tomas Englund (Örebro Universitet). Co-presenters are Tone D. Solbrekke (HEIK/UiO) and Thomas de Lange (HEIK/UiO)

Background and theme for the seminar

The mission of higher education is constantly evolving. For some, it is not changing rapidly enough, while for others it has strayed too far from its original mission.  Currently the language of markets, consumers, and economics is altering traditional ideas of higher education as serving the public good (Slaughter & Rhoades , 2004; Gumport, 2002). In both the U.S. and Europe, there is an expectation that higher education, particularly professional schools, should privilege market forces and prioritise preparation for the world of work, a focus that is frequently criticised for being overly instrumentalist in its orientation (Olsen and Maassen, 2007, p. 4).

In Europe, the Bologna process and the ambition for a European Area of Higher Education highlight these priorities. They are evident also in the European Union’s curricular frameworks designed to enhance mobility, employability and competitiveness.  Another trend in Europe is a strong drive towards “one size fits all” when it comes to the composition of educational programmes and the significance of, and attention to, particular fields of knowledge, traditions or occupational field is downplayed. Consequently, the distinctiveness of particular programmes is sacrificed increasingly on the altar of homogenisation, external prescription and pre-specification of learning outcomes  (Ensor 2004). 

These global trends mark significant changes within contemporary social imaginaries (Taylor 2004). Consequently, we recognise the legitimacy of asking if professions and professional schools are complicit in the erosion of more traditional trust in professions and the integrity of professionals? Indeed, such global scripts seek to transform higher education into conveyor belts for the production of workers for the ‘knowledge economy’ with increasingly less attention being paid to participation in the ‘knowledge society’ (Hargreaves, 2003).  Despite this shift in emphasis, professions do continue to have a professional mandate that entails a social contract, even if there is less than unanimity regarding what such formation scripts may entail.  Generally, there continues to be an unwritten ‘contract’ with society whereby professionals are entrusted and obliged to use their expert knowledge to provide professional services identified as worthy and necessary for the well-being of citizens and society. For its part, society supports professional education (Freidson 2001; Scott 2005).

Educators and government agencies devote a great deal of effort to making sure that professionals are ready for practice and continuously update the knowledge and skilled know-how needed in their field. Throughout their career, professionals are also expected to have integrity, a sense of purpose and meaning, and to engage in their work for the good of society. Furthermore, they are expected to collaborate with others in the best interests of those they serve and to uphold the telos of their profession.

Amidst this complex array of competing and conflicting interests, the question of what is necessary for the preparation of professionals or what should constitute their formation stands out. Professionals have a dual role to play in the sense of their responsibility to uphold valued and valuable traditions while continuously holding them up to critical scrutiny as an ongoing enlightenment project for the betterment of society.  These responsibilities are frequently also assumed to apply to graduates of higher education, though this is a topic that warrants further exploration, explication and elaboration. In contrast to higher education more broadly, a growing number of professional schools have engaged with, or in some instances have become pre-occupied with the challenge of articulating a a coherent (professional)‘identity’ . What are the individual and collective qualities suitable for the societal and workplace realities in our increasingly globalised, competitive yet interdependent world?

The purpose of this workshop is to address the issue of ‘formation’ in the following manner:

  1. To articulate concepts that are assumed to be essential components of formation scripts in higher education—such as—critical thinking, practical reasoning, while seeking  also to lay bare the possible contributions of Bildung and Liberal education.
  2. To question the veracity of  this assumption and the content of presentations with a view to further refinement of the concept of formation and its constituent elements, and
  3. To identify an appropriate research design/ and possible intervention study that would be undertaken trans-nationally within different disciplinary milieus, sufficient to attract EU funding

Apart from short succinct presentations in relation to the first purpose indicated above, much of the time will be devoted to a combination of question/ answer for clarification, followed by small group and plenary discussions to advance the purposes of nos 2 & 3.


In order to assure capacity in the room and get the paper distributed beforehand, we kindly ask you to register your attendance at



  • Ensor, P. (2004). Contesting Discourses in Higher Education Curriculum Restructuring in South Africa. Higher Education, 48, pp. 339-359.
  • Freidson, E. (2001). Professionalism: The Third Logic. Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Gumport, P. (2002). ‘Universities and Knowledge: Restructuring the City of Intellect’. In S. Brint (Ed.) The Future of The City of Intellect. pp. 47-81.Stanford: Stanford University Press
  • Hargreaves, A. (2003). Teaching in the Knowledge Society. Buckingham: Open University Press.
  • Meyer, J.W. (2000) Globalization: Sources and Effects on National States and Societies, International Sociology, 15, pp. 233–248.
  • Olsen, J.P. & Maassen P. (2007) European Debates on the Knowledge Institution: The Modernization of the University at the European Level. In P. Maassen & J.P. Olsen (eds) Unviersity Dynamics and European Integration. Dordrecht: Springer, p. 3-22.
  • Slaughter, S & Rhoades, G (2004). Academic Capitalism and the New Economy. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press.
  • Taylor, C (2004)  Modern social imaginaries. Durham : Duke University Press


Published Oct. 11, 2012 4:42 PM - Last modified Apr. 16, 2015 3:28 PM