As another cohort of students prepares to head off to university, a new framework, developed by the Oxford Character Project in partnership with the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues at the University of Birmingham, argues that universities need to embrace character education in order to help students to flourish.
Character Education in Universities: A Framework for Flourishing aims to help universities to articulate and structure their mission to further the flourishing of students and the holistic character development that is central to it. The Framework was developed over the last year in consultation with senior university administrators and academic specialists in higher education from universities in the UK, USA, Europe and Asia.
Listen to graduation speeches or scroll through university websites and mission statements, and it is clear that today’s universities, in all of their diversity, are eager to encourage students in directions that help them lead flourishing lives as citizens, professionals and human beings—lives that significantly contribute to the public good and provide an authentic sense of purpose and meaning.
The idea of universities as cut off from society and the equation of 'academic' with irrelevant is long out of date. Today's universities are committed to a holistic, socially engaged vision of higher education. Terms such as ‘fulfilling potential’, ‘flourishing’, ‘thriving’ and ‘wellbeing’, applied both to students and to university communities, feature prominently in policy documents and mission statements. Universities are increasingly talking about developing ‘graduate attributes’ and ‘21st-century skills’ - qualities necessary to navigate the fourth industrial revolution and contribute to a rapidly changing society.
Universities recognise that the education they provide shapes the lives of their students and many already name specific character qualities they are eager to develop under the heading of 'graduate outcomes'. They are concerned with building autonomous, resilient, clear-thinking, and ethically minded people by introducing them to new possibilities in thinking about ways to live. What some universities lack, and what this Framework seeks to provide, is a philosophically rigorous and practically actionable conceptual framework.
The Framework is not a blueprint for teaching character in universities but a flexible and relevant guide to help higher education institutions in seeking to articulate their approach to character development.