Liberal Arts is an internationally recognised approach to studying the humanities which leading UK universities are now investing in. It is the model of education more associated with the US than the UK but fourteen English Higher Education Institutions (spanning the Russell Group, Million+, GuildHE and the former 1994 Group) now offer liberal arts degrees with 3 further institutions planning new courses to begin in 2016.
A Liberal Arts degree is one of the strongest models of undergraduate education across North America, combining breadth with depth and having some course requirements. The UK liberal arts programmes draw inspiration from the US model, but different institutions have different interpretations of what “liberal arts” means, giving students the opportunity to select a course that really suits them both philosophically and structurally. The UK model extends the idea of course requirements, to ensure that the students develop a range of identifiable skills with programmes based around a strong core curriculum ensuring that they are truly interdisciplinary.
Although the UK liberal arts courses are a recent development their popularity is growing. They appeal to students interested principally in the humanities and social sciences, who want a structured degree programme but don’t want to be limited from the outset to traditional disciplinary boundaries. Most attract high achievers and frequently demand A*AA at A-level (or equivalent) as an entry requirement.
Some institutions have extended the idea beyond the humanities and social sciences to encompass natural sciences giving students a truly interdisciplinary perspective across a broad range of subjects. University College London launched their BASc Arts & Science programmes in 2012, allowing students to major in one of four pathways: Culture, Health and Environment, Sciences and Engineering. Those choosing to major in Cultures or Societies must take a minor in one of the other pathways and vice versa. The other 50% of each year consists of compulsory core modules which include a modern language. The University of Birmingham offers a Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences degree offering the flexibility to choose a Major as students progress through the course, alongside a year abroad and an alumni mentoring scheme.
Students (and parents) may be wary of a liberal arts degree because of its unfamiliarity. However the reality is that given the globalized nature of the job market, employers are seeking students with a wide range of interests and skills and taking a liberal arts course will allow individuals to demonstrate these.