Universities play an essential role in societies around the world, hosting a free exchange of views that is essential to the health of democratic public life, advancing the limits of human understanding, and educating students in higher level knowledge and technical skills. However, if universities are to educate students to thrive personally and professionally in the complex and connected world of the twenty-first century they need to develop a range of attributes beyond the narrow bounds of their academic discipline. Such ‘graduate attributes’ or ‘twenty-first century skills’ include qualities of character that will help students to develop as wise thinkers, citizens, and leaders who will further the public good.
In recent years there has been a surge of interest in character education at the school level. What is the role of universities in educating the character of students? Does character education have a place in universities, given students are free individuals beyond the threshold of adulthood? And even if they recognise their responsibility to be intentional in the way they shape the character of students (for all institutions shape character one way or another) how should diverse modern institutions effectively set about this task? Our work seeks to engage these questions and play a part in a movement for character education at the university level globally.
Cultivating virtue in the university
In 2017 we drew together academics and administrators from around the world to consider what it might mean to cultivate virtue in the university today. We engaged academic perspectives from education, history, literature, philosophy, psychology, sociology, and theology and discussed practical approaches to character education that would be suitable and effective in higher education contexts. Ideas from this conference were refined into an edited book to be published by Oxford University Press in 2022.
Framework for character education in universities
In 2020 we joined with the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues at the University of Birmingham to develop a framework for character education in universities. We consulted senior university administrators and academic specialists in higher education from universities in the USA, UK, Europe, and Asia, and we produced a framework to bring clarity to the idea of flourishing in higher education and the importance of holistic character development. We are currently working to host further consultation events and develop additional resources for university educators.