It’s well known that the nature of higher education is undergoing some significant changes in the UK right now – not necessarily for the better, some might argue. But what’s not so well known is that scholarship, research and teaching in UK universities has also changed somewhat significantly in recent years – and for the better.
The nature of this change is a rich and widespread engagement with interdisciplinary research. I’m trained as a bible scholar, and I’m a specialist in ancient religions, but my research and teaching is in no way confined to these areas: I regularly employ approaches and findings from anthropology, sociology, cultural theory, archaeology, literary theory and politics to inform and enrich my own research.
And I’m not alone. The vast majority of my colleagues at Exeter and elsewhere no longer work within the narrow boundaries of traditional disciplines, but debate with and learn from scholars and specialists in other fields. And this has had a tremendous impact on teaching, because students are benefitting intellectually from the broad and diverse contexts of their lecturers’ research.
Here at Exeter, we’ve decided to build on this exciting new shift in universities by creating an undergraduate degree programme that harvests and integrates the very best of interdisciplinary research and teaching to offer students one of the most exciting, challenging and intellectually rewarding degrees in the UK: the Liberal Arts programme.
For the past year or so, I’ve been working with a brilliant group of students and academics to create this carefully constructed interdisciplinary programme. It’s designed to equip students with a diverse range of intellectual and critical skills drawn from the humanities and social sciences by exploring the issues and debates underpinning global structures today – culturally, socially, politically and economically.
Students will also develop their language skills and will have the chance to study abroad at another university. As they progress through the programme, they will specialise in a particular area or discipline (their nominated ‘major’), and they can even extend their studies for a further year by opting to take the programme’s integrated Masters qualification.
As academic director of Liberal Arts, I’m thrilled about this new degree programme – it sets students and lecturers at the interface of cutting-edge interdisciplinary research and the very best in innovative, inspiring teaching. University education will never be quite the same again!
I’ll be blogging more about key aspects of the programme in the coming weeks, including its particular benefits in rendering students more employable, so watch this space. But in the meantime, you can read more about it here.