Life itself, the universe and everything that's relevant

Warwick considers including general education modules in curriculum. Hannah Fearn reports

October 29, 2009

A major overhaul of the curriculum is being considered at the University of Warwick, with a senior academic proposing a "general education" for students designed to prepare them for "life itself".

Nigel Thrift, vice-chancellor of Warwick, is considering proposals drawn up by Steve Fuller, professor of sociology at the university, for a broader undergraduate curriculum.

Under the plans, students would take two general education modules alongside two specialist modules in the first year of a three-year bachelors degree. The general modules would be grouped according to themes, which have been designed to be "timeless" in their value to students.

The modules would be taught by academics from across the university, including the professional schools.

Professor Fuller said: "What I'm trying to do with general education is to take the traditional idea that there is a common core of knowledge that everyone should have, but make that relevant to the 21st century."

His proposal, set out in a briefing paper, claims that a general education "extends beyond vocational training to training for life itself, especially a life in which one is expected to change jobs every year".

Under the new curriculum, students would be expected to work with a range of digital media, including computer simulations and audio-video productions.

"Digital-based media now need to be channelled into the mainstream of academic knowledge production and distribution," the paper says.

Professor Fuller added: "It's becoming the most important way in which knowledge is transmitted and produced in society today."

In a move that distinguishes the plans from other schemes under discussion in the sector, students would be able to pursue topics arising in general education modules as a final-year dissertation subject.

They would also be given the option to change their specialist subject at the end of the first year, in light of their general education experience.

Professor Thrift said Warwick had been working on reforms for two years, "in order to create more flexibility for cross-cutting and interdisciplinary modules".

Professor Fuller predicted that his proposals, which are just one option being considered, would prove controversial within the university and the wider academic community.

"The proposals I'm making fall between two camps," he said. "The very traditional people won't like the fact that digital stuff is being introduced at all, and the people who want to see universities become more vocationally orientated will want to know why there is a common core."

Warwick's plans to reform its curriculum follow a similar exercise at the University of Aberdeen.

But at the Scottish institution, students have been offered more choice of what they study rather than being encouraged to graduate with a common body of knowledge.

Professor Fuller said Aberdeen's agenda was "consumer driven", adding that, in his view, "university is not just about that".

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