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In a recent article for War on the Rocks, Paula Thornhill was the former dean of the faculty at the U.S. National War College has argued in support of the U.S. system of professional military education isn't fit for the job. In response to criticisms raised within the new National Defense Strategy which described the establishment of defense education as "stagnant," she charged that the system is unable to produce the type of staff officers needed to take effective tactical and command-related decisions. In her critique was a different charge raised by the National Defense Strategy in which she argued that the quest for academic accreditations from professional military educational institutions has led to a decline to their primary goal of training officers for senior positions in the command and staff. According to her, the interplay between the academic accreditation and military systems in staff colleges can lead to result in "generic ineffective strategic studies curricula that do not seem to impart the necessary capabilities that the military requires." The assessments that are academically based used in these courses aren't suited for prepare students to give the more concise, shorter appreciations that are required for personnel work. Furthermore, the highly academically-oriented civilian faculty in professional military institutions could be "the biggest obstacle" to address these issuesdue to their reliance on "academic" assessments which have no relevance to the future of students' employment.

Thornhill's remarks place her within a long list of senior officers that have expressed their disapproval of the curriculum taught in staff colleges as well as the methods employed to deliver these courses. In a recollection of his time at the staff college of the British Army in Camberley in the late 1890s Field Marshal Sir William Robertson -- who served as the chief of staff for the British Army between 1915 and 1918 -- wrote in his autobiography how the moment he arrived at the school and he was confronted by the commandant working on a revision of the current syllabus. The commander was doing this as, prior to that,

A lot of importance appears to have been attached the accumulation of knowledge as well as preparation for exams. The capacity of students when they left the college was primarily assessed through the number of scores they scored in these exams.

According to Robertson, "everyone knows that the most effective performer on paper isn't always -- some might claim that isn't always"the most competent within the realm" and he endorsed the new system that was based on "the investigation of the concrete issues concerning administration and organization, and the ability to solve strategical and tactical issues within the quarters and out in the open."

That is the tension Thornhill has identified between the requirements of the military of staff colleges which includes familiarization with the doctrine of the institution, concepts of campaign planning and procedures, as well as other service procedures and procedures, etc. -and the more fleeting "educational" goals of these institutions is a long-standing tradition. Military officers require continuous improvement of their professional abilities and that staff work plays a essential role and is clear. The most intense times of this type of training are in the staff colleges which offer students a variety of cohorts that receive a long-term training and instruction in these essential competencies. However, for officers to enter senior positions ready to adapt and thrive in the face of changes or uncertainty, then they need to be educated. In a few ways this is accepted by contemporary Western militaries, as well as many of their partners and allies. In the past few years, staff colleges have adapted the elements of their curricula and practices to universities for civilians, to provide the type of educational experiences required to prepare the next generation of leaders. However, in other ways according to Thornhill's report the importance Western military attaches to education is declining.

In this respect, Thornhill's ideas merit a careful examination since they are a reflection of the larger trends within the field of professional military education each side of the Atlantic. She argues that the staff college should focus on "core operations" -the production of staff officers - i.e. the creation of staff officers who are properly prepared to be able to take on their next assignments. If this is at the cost in terms of recognition from higher education industry then this is fine. This recognition isn't an end in itself, but rather the purpose of a college for staff however it could be possible to create an education system that is more geared towards staff work accreditation with no need for inadequate and unfocused strategies-based studies programs to achieve this. This kind of move is underway within the U.K. armed forces, where the initial Army Officer Training Program at Sandhurst is now set to give degrees to new applicants for completion of their military education as well as where there is a brand newly created Army Education Pathway is set to only recognize military activities that is up to the Master's degree.

The arguments are legitimate and trustworthy. Staff members working at the senior or intermediate officer level isn't just the result of training and its educational aspects could be able to meet some requirements for accreditation in the higher education industry. Assessments of students at staff colleges must also be based on the needs of future work in mind -this is this is a reality that is well-known in the higher education sector as a whole. Additionally, the fact the fact that staff colleges serve an essential role in the education of military officers in addition to ensuring that the graduates should to be adequately prepared for their next assignments it is a fact that cannot be denied. If the present system does not yield this result -- something that will be judged only by military professionals themselvesIt is definitely in need of change.

But the full consequences of the argument by Thornhill and the wider tendencies of which they are part of illustrative, pose them serious dangers. The recommendations seem to suggest less of a proportion of the curriculum that is dominated by civilians in the staff colleges, as well as shifting the curriculum to more "military" issues that have directly connected to officers' potential job. The implicit message in this suggestion is a doubt regarding the importance in "education" in preparing officers for their career and the importance that "civilian" professors to provide the education.

Education as well as Training and the military

It's a phrase repeated so frequently that it can be nearly meaningless. Modern militaries are confronted with a more complex security landscape. Technologies such as artificial intelligence offer the potential to alter the nature of warfare in unpredictable ways. changes in climate and demography could spark the emergence of new conflict. Terrorists could make use of advanced technology to carry out attacks without warning as well Russia and China seem determined to challenge Western concepts about the global system. It doesn't matter if these challenges are new in their scope it is not a matter of debate to assert that military officials should be prepared to face uncertaintyespecially as they climb the ranks to positions with the responsibility of strategic decision-making. It is the best method to develop and foster this essential skill that by pursuing the humanities, the arts and social sciencesor, in other words an education that is liberal. This can be observed in the plethora of research which show the advantages students of the liberal arts enjoy in the fields of financebusinesstechnology, and politics..

Therefore, it would appear to be the wrong time to begin eliminating of the "college" from staff and war colleges, which is a perfect chance to be taking the opposite approach. In line with Jennifer Mittelstadt has argued, in order for war colleges designed to fulfill their educational objectives it is essential that they make further efforts to replicate higher education institutions, and not attempting to stay away from their methods. In this way, they can satisfy Thornhill's righteous criticism of the "generic and ineffective strategic studies curriculum" that prevail in certain schools by permitting civilian academics to teach on a wider range of complex subjects. If the goal of an educational staff colleges is to encourage the ability to think critically, make judgements and communication skills, as well as analysis in addition to research skills, these skills can be developed while doing more than Thucydides Clausewitz, Thucydides, or Colin Gray, or by exploring these topics in fresh and exciting methods.

It could be that business courses management, management, or artificial intelligence are an element of this forward-thinking curriculum. These subjects (which are frequently cited as essential to modern military) have, in the end provide important knowledge. If they are added but it is crucial that their inclusion does not cause the same confusion between the purpose of education and training which has resulted in general, boring curriculums in the past. If military organizations believe that knowing about certain subjects is crucial for an officer's development and advancement, then this information must be given priority in the military instruction and education of staff classes. This should not be an integral part of the military's educational program which aim to help develop transferable capabilities.

It is not meant to suggest that the specific learning offered in staff colleges isn't "education" and, therefore, is not of any benefit in acquiring these abilities. It is rather to draw attention to a fundamental fact that teaching a conceptually limited program designed to impart vast amounts of information in an extremely short amount of time that is often found in staff colleges is not able to provide the same benefits to students that "civilian" methods of higher education. Also, having the training of staff offered by retired or serving officers that are certified by a higher-education institution isn't going to make the content of the course any more valuable in terms of education, or even come close to recapturing the advantages that accrue from the study time at an academic institution.

In order to achieve the goals of education and training in the case of officers (and other ranks, which are typically under-served in terms of education opportunities) and other ranks, greater investments in time and money is required. The constraints on both these essential resources are the source of numerous current issues in the military education system: NATO countries have cut their budgets for professional military education by at least 30 % between 2013 and 2008. And the budget has also increased the burden for U.S. professional military education institutions in recent times -particularly due to reductions to The National Defense University in 2012.

This is why colleges for staff are required to mix educational and training objectives within the same course by combining military issues with academic studies. This is only the same as it's a compromise. Innovative methods of providing education like online learning provide some flexibility in how the military can instruct their troops. But, they cannot eliminate the essential necessity of time. Online courses are useless if the instructors do not have the time in their busy schedules to complete the course in a meaningful manner.

In the larger view of military spending, education is very affordableparticularly when compared with extravagant plans to purchase equipment, like those PS178 billion the United Kingdom intends to invest in this sector before 2026 (bearing in mind that the annual operating expenses of a school with 30 students is around PS700 millions). While resourcing is a factor in the equation, it's difficult to come up with compelling arguments to provide officers as well as other ranks with better education options than what is available in the present.

Civilians, Staff College, and Military Education

This raises the issue of how best to go about creating these opportunities for education. One of Thornhill's suggestions was "rebalance faculties to include highly-performing officer of the field ... in addition to in addition to retired principals who can teach in an adjunct or full-time capacity." In the same way she believes that cutting down the number of faculty members who are civilians could help the staff college be more able to provide its main point: providing staff officers with training.

This is the complete opposing argument of many distinguished and long-running list of academics from the civilian world located in U.S. staff colleges, including Joan Johnson Freese and, more recently, Jennifer Mittelstadt. Both of them as well as many others, have suggested that military education benefits from more involvement of civilians, and presented convincing proof of ways that "civilianization" could improve the quality of education. In this context it is important to consider the differences between the U.S. and U.K. system. The former system is where it's typical to have 50 % of "academic" faculty (distinct from military teachers) are retired police officers. In the second the ratio is less than five percent. Thus, Thornhill can hardly hold "civilians" accountable for her perception of inadequate academic practices in U.S. college staff as a large portion of faculty members in these institutions is not professionals, they are not as inclined to have exposure to different methods of learning.

In general, the suggestion to limit the involvement of civilians at staff colleges raises serious concerns about how modern military forces are able to devote their full attention to issues like critical questions as well as original thought in the field of diversity and inclusion and the pursuit of innovation. The research about the cognitive spectrum highlights the positive connection with the existence of different perspectives and arguments as well as effective strategic decision-making. Why would modern military organizations not wish to encourage such an array of opinions and debate by excluding civilians from their educational programs? What is the reason it makes sense to include professionals as civilian educators in a way that limits their ability to influence the curriculum? If it's about the educational goals, all it does is limit the scope for truly intellectual debate and thoughtsomething that senior leaders constantly emphasize as essential. Through opening the curriculum to new subjects and methodologies -- whether art history or subaltern studies, the classics or anything elseit is possible that we will benefit significantly more than is possible and even more valuable to us.

Moving Forward

The field of military education is a tangled area that is with many demands and competing goals. A single-size solution is unlikely to satisfy everyone. However, a few things are worth mentioning. In a time where militaries insist that uncertainty is the primary element of their operations in the future education in the most literal definitionis never more crucial for modern militaries as it is now. This is why debates about the best way to provide that education is both healthy and beneficial and everyone who are involved in the field of professional military education should be looking for possibilities for improvement and, if required to change.

In this discussion, the voices of those from uniforms play a crucial part, especially in defining the skills required for the positions of staff and command. However, civilians are a vital part of the equation, providing expert educational advice in the form of alternative views, top-quality research and teaching. One way that military education professionalization might change in the near futureand I think we to think about itby allowing civilian educators to take on more of a part, and not being restricted by a strict syllabus.

The Thornhill's enhanced program of staff training may be needed to develop personnel officers for the future However, they are not the only option. training in high-quality secondary education. It cannot be provided by officers who are serving or retried or, at the very least, not without the individuals who are undergoing long-term Re-training outside that are provided by military establishments. A PhD is not enough to make an excellent teacher even if it's obtained after a successful military career. Furthermore, a position within an organization that is hierarchical and has an established corporate identity and operating method allows individuals to think in specific ways. Certain former military officers could become outstanding scholars, great teachers and think in completely different ways from their peers. In fact, many have the qualities of John Hattendorf, Craig Symonds as well as James Goldrick to name but some. However, this pool of students is a small number which is certainly lower than the amount of veterans from the military who are able to fill the teaching positions within U.S. professional military schools. Chances of finding top-quality educators who are able to give constructive, yet critical perspectives is therefore greatly increased when looking at the civilian market and forming faculties that are largely composed of people who have dedicated their lives to research and teaching.

Online degree programs are not the only option. which are typically considered to be an alternative method of providing training for personnel in the field and military personnel of providing educational opportunities at a reduced cost. They require professional expertise to develop and manage -- possibly more than their traditional counterparts due to the difficulties in teaching that arise from the fact that you never see your students in the classroom in. Furthermore, the move to online education doesn't eliminate the importance of allowing students to finish their studies. these programs will not achieve their full potential if implemented in conjunction with working full-time. Innovative educational knowledge from the higher education industry is essential to provide an effective online education, and maximising the effectiveness of these programs still takes a substantial amount of time and effort for students to study in.

If modern militaries value the educational goals their leaders promote, what's required is more investment in the development of officers in the broadest sense and a greater confidence of their children to interact with and benefit from the education outside of a strict military-related education. Opportunities for this type of education can be offered at the staff colleges, at other higher education institutions or through online learning or a combination of all of the above.

What is more important than the way in which the education is provided is the acceptance of the importance of this education for the professional in the modern military and that the current the current financial uncertainty and economic hardship only boost the benefits from investing in a group of well-rounded, forward-thinking officers. Reducing the amount of college for staff or reducing the involvement of civilians in staff colleges, is directly counterproductive towards this goal.

David G. Morgan-Owen is a professor of history and Defence Studies in King's College London, where he is employed by the UK Joint Services Command and Staff College. The opinions presented in this article do not represent those that are held by or the Defence Studies Department, or of King's College London.

ImageDescription: U.S. Army Photo by Dan Neal