What are interdisciplinary degrees – and are they the secret to advancing your career?
Should universities focus on subject-specific knowledge – or offer students a wide range of skills that can be applied in any context?
Zayed University’s contribution to this ongoing educational debate comes in the form of a series of new courses designed to equip students with interdisciplinary skills.
The university has entered into an agreement with the Minerva project, called Zayed X Minerva University, to create “the next generation of problem solvers,” said Noura Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Youth and President of the University. Zayed.
While a university education may offer training in a single subject, Zayed University and Minerva will be offering bachelor’s degrees starting in September that aim to transcend traditional disciplinary boundaries – and will also offer new ways of learning. .
When you organize things in particular disciplines, it creates limits on what people can learn.
Prof. Simon Marginson, University of Oxford
The courses on business transformation, computer systems and social innovation will combine “active learning, experiential activities and professional immersion,” said Ben Nelson, founder of the Minerva project.
With the Social Innovation course, everything from the arts to economics, political science and psychology will be on the program.
The new courses are the latest in many examples of higher education institutions trying to create links between subjects.
What is interdisciplinary learning?
Professor Simon Marginson, professor of higher education at the University of Oxford and director of the Center for Global Higher Education, a partnership of more than a dozen universities, said efforts to develop interdisciplinary studies were going back at least two decades.
They are, he said, a “natural and normal part” of a disciplinary approach because, if there are distinct topics, the question arises as to how they fit together.
“You can’t have interdisciplinary without disciplines,” he said.
“When you organize things in particular disciplines, it creates limits to what people can learn. “
It therefore seems wise, he said, to consider ways of combining disciplines and to explore useful “intersections” between them.
A wide range of skills can be fostered by this approach, such as creativity, teamwork, flexibility, critical thinking and communication.
Countries vary widely depending on whether they require students to specialize or take a larger program. The United States is renowned for its tradition of liberal arts, in which students take courses in a wide variety of disciplines.
Such an approach is designed to prepare them to achieve a series of goals in their career.
In the UK, bachelor’s degrees are often more specialized, and in response to this the London Interdisciplinary School, which offers a three-year course leading to a Bachelor of Arts and Science (BASc), will be launched this year.
It has been described as offering elements of a liberal arts education in the United States, but with a greater emphasis on using multiple topics to examine particular issues, such as crime or environmental issues, offering perhaps parallels with the new courses at Zayed University.
What do employers think?
While interdisciplinary courses can themselves be useful starting points for careers because of the skills students acquire, they are sometimes usefully followed by training in particular fields.
“It is not a substitute for vocational or vocational education,” said Professor Marginson, who has written several books on higher education, including Higher education and the common good.
“If you are going into a profession, you have to acquire this knowledge. To be optimally prepared for work, you may need to take another course in addition to [an interdisciplinary one]. “
So a bachelor’s degree in the United States can often be followed by much more specialized postgraduate training in a field such as engineering, law, or business.
However, instead of having a sequential education model, Prof Marginson said that various subjects can be taught simultaneously, equipping graduates with both pure knowledge and practical skills.
An example might involve combining engineering with business management, giving students both technical knowledge and entrepreneurial skills.
“A lot of people are doing technology and doing business in one way or another,” he said.