University Curriculum in Flux
Over the last 800-900 years, the idea of an advanced education has undergone a great deal of dramatic evolution. From the 11th century, when universities began in the larger cities of Italy, France and England; to the modern “electronic” and distance programs of the contemporary world. The differences, in fact, are so vast; it would be unlikely that a Medieval scholar would even recognize the modern curriculum or campus. From focus, course offerings, prerequisites, mode and style of learning, to campus activities, expectations and grades — all remain fluid and ever responsive to modern socio-cultural trends.
Universities in the Medieval and Renaissance eras were based on religious organizations and curriculum. They arose out of a burgeoning need for a more professionalized clergy, and in an era in which literacy was a gift not a given, a male who could interpret the Bible and Papal Doctrine for the masses. Education was a luxury, and only those wealthy or lucky could partake. Of course, this required fluency in both their native tongue and Latin, as well as a strong sense of religiosity (Cobban, intro).
One early difference in the university establishment was the method at which instructors were found and paid: in Italy, the students hired and paid the teachers, so professors were more consultants; in France all instructions was regulated and paid for by the Church; and in England, the Crown and Parliament paid for education, allowing a greater secularization in both England and Italy that was clearly not the case in France. The Italian system, however, placed the instructor at an adversarial disadvantage, and typically was focused upon law. Therefore, for much of the Medieval and Renaissance period, until more northern cities established university systems, a Paris education was considered the most rigorous and professional (De Ridder-Symonens).
The ten major differences between the Medieval/Renaissance University and matriculation into college, in fact, were: gender, availability, language, curriculum focus, study/work expectation, finances, instruction/tutorial, testing/exams, overall function in society, and post-graduation expectations. These are outlined in Table 1.
Males only, students and faculty
Male dominated until late 19th, early 20th century
For only the very wealthy or those with a patron or scholarship
Post-World War II available to the masses
Most courses taught in Latin; classical languages emphasized for educated classes
With the exception of foreign languages; typically taught in the vernacular of the locale
Religion or Law’ Bachelor’s took six years, and 12 additional for MA or PhD; students often started at 14, though, so were middle aged when graduated.
Multidimensional; including cross-disciplinary and societal-based studies (e.g. gender studies, etc.)
School was full time, students expected to live on stipend and spend time studying, attending lectures, reading, and discussing ideas. Classes began at dawn, 5-6am; lased at least 10 hours per day.
For many, past-High School education is a right of passage toward adulthood; rarely do American students not work and go to school; those that attend Oxford, etc. have different expectations. Coursework divided into quarters or semesters by hours assigned per course.
Based very individually — but no public or formalized financial aid.
Post-World War II, GI Bill, student loans, grants, and other government and non-government subsidized and unsubsidized loans. Most recently, accounts set up during infancy to pay for college.
Instruction based on classics; typically courses offered based on books, not on subject or theme and not elective. Once a book, say
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