Universities Were Once Guilds

Once someone thinks about the nature of guilds and universities, it becomes pretty clear that universities were once guilds themselves. What is the job of academics? Their job is to research topics and to produce new knowledge. That’s why at the core of a doctoral program is the doctoral thesis: a document, which examines a topic, and adds to the body of knowledge on that topic, as opposed to a master’s thesis, which generally is used to show that the person has mastered already existing information on a topic.

Those Who Can’t, Teach?

There’s a modern saying in education: “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” This isn’t entirely true, but there is a reason why this meme exists. In the case of early universities, professors did not prepare students for jobs that the professors themselves never performed. The professors were researchers themselves. They prepared their students for the exact same job that they had performed for years.

Going Astray

So what happened? Somewhere along the way, universities forgot themselves. They became extensions of high school, or worse: either institutions that produced workers for industry or which acted as incubators for the next generation of elites. Of course, it’s true that elitism was always present in universities. But the split has become far worse. This isn’t to say that there aren’t a fair number of universities which are not still very guild like, as discussed in “Universities: challenges to the last guild in a new information age.”


Now, what’s the solution? Unfortunately any real solution is going to be difficult to implement. It seems that primary and secondary education systems are broken, and that’s causing some of the problems that universities are facing. Revamping K – 12, so that, either by the time students graduate from high school, they are prepared to enter the job market, or so a student can transition to a trade before even graduating from 12th would be a start. This would eliminate the need for universities to do the job.

Further Reading