Tertiary Education

Re-thinking Tertiary Education: A network of local libraries and mentors versus centralised universities

Geoffrey Bodkin’s (2014) essay, ‘What I Learned at Cambridge’ has got me thinking about how to deliver a sound tertiary education.  The problem with modern universities, on the whole, is that they have become promoters of political correctness, rather than places of higher learning.  In the words of Bodkin, “… it is easier, cheaper, and more politically correct to line up masses of students to sit in rows, silently listening to a lecturer, regurgitating course notes, than it is to teach students how to think and how to defend what they think” (Bodkin, 2014).

I am wondering if it would be feasible to develop networks of passionate custodians of knowledge, who do not necessarily possess state-mandated certifications, but who do possess personal libraries.  What if young people were directed to connect with these passionate people, and inspired to become discipline learners, under the mentorship and discipleship of this network of knowledge custodians?

In this learning format, students are not made to work their way through pre-determined courses, but are encouraged to develop an area of passion, and be guided to become an expert in the passion that they have determined.  Along with this development of expertise, the mentees should also be given the knowledge of how to market the expertise as it is being developed – the development of entrepreneurial skills.

I envision something like the following:

Passionate owners of personal libraries (mentors) are encouraged to make themselves available through a local network.  They identify their areas of expertise, passion, and knowledge domains, and the flavour of their library.

Young people are encouraged to commence a journey of becoming a disciplined expert in an area that they are highly motivated to learn about.  The young people are initially introduced to one of the library owners, and a fee for service rate is established.

The mentors then begin by framing a question that points the mentees in a direction of inquiry.  There are no prescribed lectures to attend, however, the mentee is able to ask any question of the mentor, access books that might be relevant, access knowledge from the internet, or talk to any of the other mentors in the network.  One week later, the mentee returns to the mentor with a written paper on the things that have been discovered.  The mentor then requires the mentee to verbally defend the information gathered, and then gives feedback on the defense.  The next focus question is given to the mentee, and the mentee progressively builds on his/her knowledge until they become an expert in the specific area of interest that they have been pursuing.  This is done on a week by week basis (mentor and mentee meeting for an hour each week, and mentees being able to gather and learn with as many others as they would like during the rest of the week).

Mentees pay a fee each time they attend a formal session with the mentor, and this will do two things: one, keep the mentor on his/her toes so that the sessions are interesting enough for the mentee to want to come back to them, and two, ensure that the mentee values the learning that they are accumulating.  When schooling is paid for by the public purse, the students often do not value the opportunity that they are given.  When the acquisition of knowledge is costly, then it is much more valued.

Rather than receiving a state-certified graduation certificate, at the end of the process the mentee can be given a statement of their expertise, endorsed by the mentor who has spent the most time with the mentee: “NAME is a person of sound learning and good character, and has mastered the knowledge associated with AREA OF LEARNING” [A variant on the endorsement given upon graduation from Cambridge University (Bodkin, 2014)].  The personal reputation of the mentor is at stake.  If a mentee subsequently proves to be less than an expert in the area studied, then subsequent mentees will not choose to work with that particular mentor.

Mentors and mentess could be linked by internet connection, could have personal sessions in the mentor’s home/workplace (wherever their personal library is located).  This would mean that there is no need for the real estate and infra-structure costs associated with existing universities.  Some fields of study may need to continue in the research universities, in such fields as engineering and medicine, but many areas of study do not need such costly institutions.  Students need to be given the liberty to pursue their passion, not be required to regurgitate the lecture notes of a tenured professor.

Jobs will continue to require standardized certification as entry requirements.  However, jobs come and go.  Such an idea is not about training young people for jobs, it is about enabling them to become experts in something, and then marketing that expertise in a way that will enable them to earn a living as an entrepreneur on the cutting edge of whatever it is that they are passionate about.

There is much more that could be written about this idea, and I would be very interested in engaging in discussion with others who have concerns about the influence that modern universities have upon the morals and dumbed-down thinking of our young people.


Bodkin, G. (2014). What I Learned at Cambridge. Western Conservatory of the Arts and Sciences. Accessed: Sat 08/11/2014 16:14, from: http://westernconservatory.com/search/node/Cambridge


11 thoughts on “Re-thinking Tertiary Education: A network of local libraries and mentors versus centralised universities

  1. ronald slyderink says:

    I would support any move to encourage teaching from people who have the expertise and passion to impart worthwhile knowledge and skills at any level acting like a mentor or coach. It has potential and offers advantages over main stream teaching within the confines of ‘school’. But there are caveats and conditions to its success I believe.

    It is true like you say from my experience at least that University education is not so much about open creative searching and questioning but more about conforming to restrictive protocols and even biases. I often felt hampered and restricted with the insistence of co-listing and referring to authors of similar persuasion of any point made. What if your ideas were not covered or discussed because they were original or at least a modest extension of what is known? A lot of time was spent just finding ‘experts’ to support each other. It often comes down to what/whose perspective and values are being discussed, why not just be honest and open and clarify one’s bias and yes give substance and reasons for the position taken.

    What is of concern of course is the subtle infiltration (perhaps it is more tolerated now that ever before) of ungodly anti God, ignoring God within the discipline, so accountability and morality goes out the board and questions of right and wrong within the whole gamut of life and living is made vague and basically ignored. There cannot be any wisdom if we do not relate to and honour the one who gives wisdom and understanding. Any subject or discipline, no matter how ‘pure’, that ignores or reduces God is built on sand and nothing substantial will come out of it. So although we may have tutors and mentors at schools or outside of schools the outcome will be similarly inferior and destructive if we do not make Christ Lord of the teaching learning enterprise.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks Ron for your comments. This highlights the lack of scholarship in the area of the sufficiency of Scripture: Sola Scriptura! The Bible must be the foundation and launching off point for all study. Without the constraints of Scripture, then our thinking is dragged into all kinds of areas that God never intended us to go.

    Biblical thinking is not limiting. “Of ALL the trees in the garden you may freely eat, but of the (ONE) tree in the midst of the garden you may not eat. For in the day that you eat thereof, you will surely die.” 9,999,999 trees (metaphorically), with only one exclusion: the capacity to determine for ourselves what is right and what is wrong. And what does sin do? It focuses on the one and calls God a stingy old miser. Humbug!!!!!!!

    Give me the 9,999,999, and let God have the one all to Himself. This will make it safe for me to eat abundantly from the 9,999,999. Amen!


  3. ronald slyderink says:

    Like that Lance. God is not stingy, he allows us the freedom to do much good, but …not all things are beneficial, all things that are good are In Christ. He is all and in all and all that is good has its source in him. God wants our fellowship for his glory and our wellbeing…actually he is our life! God richly bless you brother.


  4. With one small change, Bodkin’s comment can read:

    “it is easier, cheaper, and more politically correct to line up masses of [people] to sit in rows, silently listening to a [pastor] “, and you have the modern church.


  5. ronald slyderink says:

    A fair assessment Ian. What can we do? I suggest we put our hearts, minds and hands together and practice love like Jesus loves us. In other words being the body of Christ.


  6. Tyler Schofield says:

    A great idea Lance. I do think there is a lot of merit in trying to unite passionate mentees and mentors. The tailored questions and interactions would be labour intensive but very helpful.
    The weekly challenge and intermittent review reminded me of the Problem Based Learning introduced into Australian medicals schools (and later some of the Ivy League) by the Uni of Newcastle in the late 90’s. Rather than pure lecture format, a small cluster of med students would be given challenges each week in the form of the history and basic information about a person presenting with an illness. Generally the illnesses involved related to body systems and diseases which they lacked based knowledge. The students would have to go away, study pathophysiology and other disciplines which could be related. Each time they would return, their knowledge and further questions would elicit further information and guide the next stage of enquiry. It required a patient expert mentor, motivated mentees and access to written information through a specialist library. But it allowed these students to develop some specific knowledge, but compared with didactic lectures, it also developed the capacity and skills to work with new or difficult problems systematically.
    I do think the model works well for Chrisitian discipleship. The idea of a large and richly varied network of people passionate about a myriad of subjects would be an wonderful resource. Clearly the quality of mentees’ experiences would be shaped by the capacity of the mentor to provoke critical thinking and to be intentionally covered breadth / depth in the area over time.

    Living now in an area where unemployment is profuse and so many capable people are unable to secure work; I would worry that a young person may be put at a disadvantage. Not because of a lack of skills, but because of the community expectation of official qualifications. Degrees in Australia do come with a generally understood standard and community understanding of competency. In medicine, various universities over time become known for the quality, or lack of, in their graduates.
    I know that you mentioned medicine and engineering as disciplines that may require more specialist universities… Are there areas that you think are better or less well suited to this model Lance? I’ve enjoyed pondering your thoughts in this proposed model. Thanks for your efforts and thoughtfulness.


    • Tyler, thank you so much for your very thoughtful and informative feedback. Your example of a recent application of the idea suggested is very encouraging. The idea can work, and has worked in a specific contemporary situation. I will ponder that some more.

      In reference to the statement that you are living in a area where unemployment is profuse, and people are not able to secure work, therefore the idea may have disadvantages. I would like to respond by suggesting that this is “School” thinking. Schooling trains us to be institutionalized, and it is a ploy to keep the masses controlled. However, in previous eras Christians were entrepreneurial, and the issue was not, where can I get some work, but rather, how can I work in a way that others are willing to pay me for my efforts. We need to be preaching up a storm about God’s ultimate purposes in time and on earth, and the fact that God has uniquely gifted each one of us to participate in His Kingdom purposes. That includes the proliferation of successful enterprises, family businesses, and other initiatives. The church, from tithes and offerings, could raise capital that will enable the funding of small ventures. This, of course, would be an interest-free loan. The church should be running courses on God’s perspectives on economics, business, family trusteeship, entrepreneurship, etc. You are in a very wonderful position, because you are amongst those who know that they are poor. And if you were able to gather together small groups, and mentor them in creative thinking, problem-solving, entrepreneurship, business management from a Biblical perspective, the importance of a trustee family perspective, etc., then over time you can see God transform your locality into a hum of productive activity.

      The tithe is critical. It is the alternative economic foundation for building God’s Kingdom work in the local area. Tithe must never be spent on church buildings. One tenth is for the work of the church-focused ministries, nine-tenths is for the work of the community/Kingdom-focused ministries. Offerings are for buildings, and if you don’t have the resources, then do church from home or rented facilities. If you are interested, I have written a fair bit in these matters.

      Very much value your feedback.


  7. Team Robertson says:

    Dear Mr. Box, what a concept. Since being back in the States, just a bit over a year now, we are hearing heaps of people, mostly from the “homeschooling” community but others as well, so frustrated with the uni system. We have listened as Godly home educating parents tells us as they sent their son/daughter off to uni, the child was so disappointed in many things, but mostly how they were not learning how to think, but being taught material for the soul purpose of test taking. Of course there is always the exception and we have engaged in some interesting conversations with parents whose children are doing college plus or other options to carve out a more interesting education.

    We have time yet, but we are rethinking it all. With the amount of time and money going to uni requires, the present system just seems wasteful at best and not God honoring, even in self-identified Christian universities.

    We love the idea of our son being able to engage with Godly men regarding the scriptures, life, role as men in this world and gaining training in a trade so he will be able to support his family one day, LORD willing. There are some things at the secondary level happening here in the home educating community. One is getting men, much like you described, who have a “library” of knowledge to share with the next generation young men. So for example, Aedan is enrolled in a course this spring that will allow him to get basic training in carpentry and woodworking skills. He will be with a group of young men and lead by a master carpenter who loves The Master Carpenter, to learn some basics. Of course it is always best that Dad provides that role, but in our case, Papa just doesn’t have that skill set so he is willing to partner with a fellow brother who does to help in the training of our son.

    On the uni level and beyond as you suggest sounds wonderful, but lots of work to be done to have it work in practical ways. Pray. We will for you. You have lots of exciting ideas and we love reading about them all and knowing how much you love young people and want them to be as passionate about the LORD as you are. May that be our focus and He will do the rest.

    We also agree what you were sharing regarding $ and the church. So much waste on making comfortable places for us to worship, yet our brothers and sisters around the world need our resources for life. Check out what the Samuels family are doing in China with their education! http://newdaycreations.com/foster/program/north-n.html They are home educators in the true sense of the definition and have now 2 young adult children who are on fire for the LORD. They also have 3 more still at home that they are engaging in real kingdom work in China.

    We love Mr. Box and ask the LORD regularly to bless you and your family, your efforts to further the kingdom.


  8. Thank you Team Robertson and sharing what the Samuels are doing. Jesus’ model of working with his disciples to make them ‘fishers of men’, is still the best model of educating and training to follow. It is applicable to all vocations because we are all called to serve and love. Therefore besides the transmission and assimilation of knowledge and skills in a particular discipline behind that or rather in front of that is the object of growing in Christ, to work in his Kingdom to share his life. Lance has given us a renewed emphasis of Christ loving professionals to share Christ through their expertise apart from ungodly schools and curriculum to bring Christ to where he belongs – King and Lord ruling our lives and living for him no matter what we do.


  9. Patrick Bennett says:

    And is this not approximately how today’s universities started? Eager young with an appetite for understanding clustering round Socrates, Duns Scotus or whomever, getting discussions, lectures, mind stretching.

    Nature abhors a vacuum, and by the same token any human conglomerate will eventually be burdened with structures, administrators, cliques – and we have to go slash/burn and clear a new patch of jungle.


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