Simon Fraser opts for breadth of study

August 13, 2004

Vancouver's Simon Fraser University is to make maths students master Milton and literature students learn linear algebra in a reform that will stress breadth of study over specialisation.

From the 2006 academic year, all undergraduates will have to complete at least two courses in writing during their degree, chosen from topics such as "theory and practice of writing" or "history and principles of rhetoric", and two in quantitative reasoning, from a list that includes actuarial maths, particle physics and symbolic logic. Students will also be required to take eight further classes in disciplines outside their major subject, with at least two in the natural sciences, two in social sciences and two humanities.

"The purpose is to improve students' abilities to communicate effectively, to improve their reasoning abilities and to expose them to the ideas and forms of inquiry of an array of disciplines," said Dennis Krebs, who headed the task force implementing the curriculum.

The requirements will eat up 30 per cent of every undergraduate's course load, which is the norm in most top-tier US colleges.

Schools in Canada generally cut a middle path between the narrow specialisation of British degree programmes and the imposed breadth of many US colleges. Toronto University and McGill University in Montreal require classes outside students' specialty, but these account for only a tenth of the degree.

Opponents to the changes, which will cost Simon Fraser C$1 million (Pounds 412,000) to implement, fear that students will lose interest in courses they are forced to take, and will lose the freedom to explore interests outside their specialty.

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