University of Leicester’s new flexible degree aimed at the ‘broadly talented’

Major/minor course designed to improve graduates’ employment prospects

September 23, 2015
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Changing pattern: the Pathways scheme would suit students who ‘want to do physics and history or chemistry and English’

A growing number of students undertake several work placements and internships over the course of their degree to increase their chances of securing a graduate-level job. But an initiative at the University of Leicester aims to make it easier for undergraduates to learn the range of skills that employers are looking for during their studies.

The institution has announced a new major/minor course, as an alternative to the existing single or joint honours courses, in which students can tailor their degree to reflect their strengths and interests.

Students picking the new “Pathways” programme will be able to spend 75 per cent of their time studying their principal subject and 25 per cent on a secondary element, which can be either one of the university’s existing subjects or one of several new minor areas, such as global studies, management of innovation or ethics.

The first set of new courses, which include 20 major and more than 40 minor options, will be available to students applying for programmes starting in 2016. Further majors and minors will be introduced for the 2017-18 academic year.

The move follows research by the university carried out at the end of 2014 that revealed a big appetite among current students and prospective applicants for more flexibility in degree options. The survey of 2,400 current Leicester undergraduates found that 50 per cent would probably or definitely have chosen a major/minor degree had it been available, rising to 65 per cent of those on social science courses and 72 per cent of international students.

Mark Peel, pro vice-chancellor for student experience at the institution, said that employers have also been “enthusiastic” about the new option, because it allows breadth of study while also enabling students to “flag up areas for focus for their career”.

He added that the course is not aimed at students who are indecisive, but rather those who are “broadly skilled and broadly talented”.

“We’re finding that a lot of students who are talking to us about the pathways approach on open days are not saying they might do this or that, but are coming with a very passionate dedication to two subjects,” he said.

“What our research with schools found is that bright students in particular often have combinations of interests that our university structures don’t predict and they tend to cross our faculty and college boundaries. A lot of students want to do physics and history or chemistry and English.”

While many institutions in the UK offer students some flexibility in the make-up of their course, Professor Peel said that Leicester’s initiative is more “open” and is, in part, inspired by the US and Australian systems.

“A number of universities do provide a degree of flexibility around course structure but they are not always completely public,” he said. “We want to put it out there as a particular type of structure that suits a particular type of student, who is perhaps not served at the moment by the single or joint degrees. Students want to signal to employers and undergraduate recruiters particular vocational skills and interests.”

He added that the new Pathways programme will not provide “a grab bag of modules” for students who want to “taste something and move on”, but rather a “coherent study of a subject over three years”.

However, there will be an option for students to switch from a major/minor course to a single or joint honours degree during their programme, where possible, he said.

Paul Boyle, vice-chancellor at Leicester, added: “The whole idea is to make the curriculum much more sensitive to the real-life needs of undergraduates. [Students] are increasingly realising that employers are looking for a range of skills.”

In numbers

72 per cent of international students surveyed said that they would probably/definitely have chosen a major/minor degree if it had been available

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Print headline: Major/minor route offers made-to-measure degree

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