Humboldtian model of higher education

The Humboldtian model of higher education (German: Humboldtsches Bildungsideal, literally: Humboldtian education ideal) or just Humboldt's Ideal is a concept of academic education that emerged in the early 19th century and whose core idea is a holistic combination of research and studies. Sometimes called simply the Humboldtian model, it integrates the arts and sciences with research to achieve both comprehensive general learning and cultural knowledge. Several elements of the Humboldtian model heavily influenced and subsequently became part of the concept of the research university. The Humboldtian model goes back to Wilhelm von Humboldt, who in the time of the Prussian reforms relied on a growing, educated middle class to promote his claims about general education.

The Humboldt University of Berlin in August 2015

Humboldt's educational model went beyond vocational training in Germany. In a letter to the Prussian king, he wrote:

There are undeniably certain kinds of knowledge that must be of a general nature and, more importantly, a certain cultivation of the mind and character that nobody can afford to be without. People obviously cannot be good craftworkers, merchants, soldiers or businessmen unless, regardless of their occupation, they are good, upstanding and – according to their condition – well-informed human beings and citizens. If this basis is laid through schooling, vocational skills are easily acquired later on, and a person is always free to move from one occupation to another, as so often happens in life.[1]

The philosopher and former State Minister for Culture of the Federal Republic of Germany, Julian Nida-Rümelin has criticized discrepancies between Humboldt's ideals and the contemporary European education policy, which narrowly understands education as preparation for the labor market, arguing instead that one needs to decide between McKinsey and Humboldt's ideals.[2]

The concept of holistic academic education was an idea of Wilhelm von Humboldt, a Prussian philosopher, government functionary and diplomat. As a privy councilor in the Interior Ministry, he reformed the Prussian education system according to humanist principles. He founded the University of Berlin, now the Humboldt University of Berlin, appointing distinguished scholars to both teach and conduct research there.[3] Several scholars have labeled him the most influential education official in German history. Humboldt sought to create an educational system based on unbiased knowledge and analysis, combining research and teaching while allowing students to choose their own course of study. The University of Berlin was later named after him and his brother, the naturalist Alexander von Humboldt.


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