What is a knowledge economy?

I really enjoyed reading Carl Gombrich’s blog pondering the future, shape and value of education and universities, spurred on by Deloitte’s report that claims an emerging knowledge economy will become the basis of the future world economy.

What, then, should our millions of graduates study? What kind of education equips them in some way for the rest of their life in this world? What ‘habits of mind’, as a classical scholar might have said, should they possess: what attributes? Where does the ‘inherent vs instrumental value of education’ debate go in this new social reality? And how can universities play a part in these questions?

This reminds us that although in Ancient Rome, the great orator Cicero saw learning as the cultivation of personal qualities…

… the main purpose of such an education for Cicero is to prepare excellent and worthy orators and advocates  – those who will serve in some legal or political capacity – and that therefore a broad and liberal education is deemed also to have a strongly instrumental value.

As Gombrich notes, a broader view of education ought to encompass both: the inherent and the instrumental, as a modern knowledge economy stresses creativity, passion, empathy, the ability to share knowledge and insights, and so on:

For those fortunate enough to work in the knowledge economy there is a diminishing of the historic dichotomy between the inherent value of education and the instrumental. Like other dated dichotomies (the disingenuous contrasting of ‘public’ and ‘private’ in political debate is another) this one is blurring into meaninglessness. We need to educate ourselves as free people precisely because it is the sorts of inherent qualities cultivated by the best education that will fit us best for our working lives. We should educate ourselves in the best that has been thought and said – and in science, and in mathematics, engineering and other things besides – both because it is interesting in itself and because such an education prepares us best for employment in our new economies.

My only reservation about future of the knowledge economy as a major source of employment is how to cultivate knowledge work (that takes time) and service industries (that demand speed) simultaneously, coupled with our changing experience of time and desire for instant gratification.

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