Aberdeen overhaul aims to increase breadth of study

Curriculum aspires to produce the flexible students demanded by industry. Hannah Fearn reports

October 1, 2009

The University of Aberdeen has unveiled an overhaul of its curriculum in a bid to produce "intellectually flexible" graduates who will be coveted by employers.

After a long consultation, the institution has set out details of the new curriculum, which, when introduced next year, will allow undergraduates to study a wider range of subjects.

In a move that echoes similar reforms at the universities of Harvard, Hong Kong, Melbourne and Yale, Aberdeen will introduce three "enhanced-study" options, making up 25 per cent of students' work in the first two years and 12.5 per cent in years three and four.

Undergraduates will select from a list of courses tackling such issues as the emergence of a digital society, science and the media, the health and wealth of nations, and sustainability. For the first time, they will also be able to undertake in-depth study in an area outside their core discipline, such as languages or business.

The shake-up follows a 12-month consultation during which the changes were discussed with employers, parents, politicians, students and schools. The university has pledged to spend £15 million on recruiting leading academics from around the world.

Sir Duncan Rice, vice-chancellor of Aberdeen, said the overhaul was "the single most important intellectual step that the university has embarked upon in its modern history".

Bryan MacGregor, vice-principal for curriculum reform at the university, added: "What we're doing is creating choice. Students can either choose something very close to their discipline, or something completely different."

He said Aberdeen would provide the kind of higher education that employers want.

"They consistently told us that they needed people not with bucketfuls of knowledge but with an understanding of the structures of their disciplines as well as their context.

"We were told that people need to be flexible: they will have to work with teams from other disciplines, so the more perspective they have, the better."

Business groups in Scotland welcomed the change.

"Graduates face unprecedented challenges in the global economy over the next few years, but also great opportunities. There is no doubt that breadth of skills and personal attributes will be of huge importance," said Iain M. McMillan, director of the Confederation of British Industry Scotland.

Professor MacGregor said other universities across the UK would be watching closely. "I would expect, given what is happening internationally, that many universities will at least want to investigate whether it is appropriate for them."

hannah.fearn@tsleducation.com.

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