University of Leicester offers flexible degrees

Posted by ap507 at Jul 22, 2015 11:07 AM |
‘Pathways’ programme aims to provide the most flexible curriculum in the UK

Issued by the University of Leicester Press Office on 22 July 2015

  • New programme to be launched at summer Open Days starting from Thursday 23 July

The University of Leicester is pioneering its ‘Pathways’ programme which it believes will provide the most flexible curriculum in the UK, with students able to choose Single, Joint or Major/Minor courses in which they tailor their learning to reflect their strengths and interests and achieve their optimum level of specialisation.

The new degree options will be available to students applying for places at the University of Leicester starting in 2016.

While many undergraduates will continue to prefer a Single or Joint course, those choosing a Major/Minor course will have the flexibility to combine a wide range of subjects, including new areas such as Global Studies.

They will be able to spend 75 per cent of their time studying their principal subject and 25 per cent on the minor element.

Many existing subjects will be available as majors and minors, with more coming on stream in later years. It means, for example, that undergraduates taking arts, humanities or social science majors will be able to choose a minor in Natural Sciences, which includes study of key aspects of the scientific understanding of the evolution of the universe from the “Big Bang” through to the evolution of life on Earth, or a minor in Statistics, while others could combine a major in Mathematics with minors in areas related to humanities, social sciences or business.

While some minors, such as Mathematical Studies, will have entry requirements based on A-level grades, many minors can be taken without specific entry requirements, providing an opportunity for students to continue with a subject enjoyed at school or to try something new, such as Creative Writing, Film Studies, Ancient History or International Relations. 

The move follows research by the University carried out at the end of 2014 which revealed a big appetite among current students, prospective applicants and school leavers for more flexibility in degree options.

A survey of 2,400 current University of Leicester undergraduates revealed that 50 per cent of respondents would probably or definitely have chosen a major/minor degree if it had been available, rising to 65 per cent of those on social science courses and 72 per cent of international students. One in eight students said they would choose a language as a minor, and future students now have the opportunity to do a range of majors—in Management Studies, Accounting and Finance or Media Studies, for instance—with French, Spanish or Italian as a minor (either advanced, if they have an A-level, or beginners).

“Bright people have diverse interests,” said Professor Mark Peel, Leicester’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Student Experience. “Lots of science students have a talent for the arts or already study a language. Students interested in literature or history are also interested in science. Other students whose major interests might lie in politics or media studies would like to develop their skills in aspects of business, management or marketing. Many students combine very different kinds of subjects at school. At the moment, these students are often encouraged to concentrate on one subject for three or four years, with their other interests relegated to a hobby.

“There are some students who absolutely know what they want to do and for whom a single honours degree is the ideal level of specialisation. There are other students for whom the joint degree is a great alternative. But another group, for whom we are not really catering at the moment, are relatively sure about their chief interest or career direction but don’t want to abandon everything else. They want to retain or try out other things they are interested in and have them included in the title of their degree.”

The University’s consultation with school leavers, teachers and parents has revealed that most are very positive about more flexibility in degree offerings.

“Teachers and parents often regard more flexibility with a sense of relief,” said Professor Peel, who is soon to take up the role of Provost at the University. “A Major/Minor degree allows students to keep up different paths into the future and to keep their options open for longer. It’s a great choice where a student is not quite sure about the subject area in which they will be most successful, especially as we will work with students during the first year and allow them, where possible, to shift the balance of their subjects for the second and third years of their studies.”

Graduate recruiters also find the major/minor model attractive, he added. While they continue to have a strong faith in single and joint degrees, they also welcome a degree that shows a graduate is flexible and able to think across subject boundaries.

A number of the minor subjects on offer to students will have a strong focus on employability, including Management Studies, Social Research, Marketing, Human Resources Management and Management of Innovation, Science and Technology. Minors are also available in Enterprise, and Corporate Social Responsibility and Ethics.

“These minor options allow students to focus on developing the ‘soft skills’ that employers tell us they want,” Professor Peel said. “Students will be able to design a degree that will flag to an employer the kinds of contributions they want to make and the interests they want to pursue.”

He added: “Recruiters are increasingly looking for graduates who can multi-task and work in a multi-disciplinary team, as well as those with a specific specialisation. They are interested in broad-based knowledge and skills and in graduates who can claim a number of different talents. You may have a student who is really good at accounting and finance and wants to work in a top-notch firm, but is also deeply passionate about English literature. If they can follow that passion, they will be even more successful in their degree and their firm is going to get value out of that down the track, in their intellectual flexibility and in the insights and ideas they will bring to their career that others cannot.”

The first set of new courses, which include 20 major and over 40 minor options from the humanities, social sciences and sciences, will begin in September 2016. The new opportunities will be outlined to potential students at open days this month (July). Further majors and minors will be introduced for the 2017-18 academic year.

A number of universities in the UK have introduced or are planning more flexibility in their degree courses. David Willetts, the former universities minister, has backed the development, arguing that a more flexible system is needed to meet student demand for greater breadth of study.

What distinguishes Leicester’s new “Pathways” programme, is that it is a flexible and coherent approach, argues Professor Peel. Some institutions have tried to inject choice by giving students lots of optional elements, which can result in degrees made up of “random collections of modules”, he said. Others provide a range of pre-determined combinations. At Leicester, however, students decide on the best combination for them, and each major and minor pathway will have a coherent framework, including core modules and strong guidance and support for students undertaking minors as well as majors. “This is a very common approach in international university education”, he added, “so there are good models to follow to ensure that students at Leicester have the best possible education and experience, whether they are taking a Single, Joint or Major/Minor degree.”

“The ability to do such a broad range of degrees is a win-win for students and will allow University of Leicester graduates to create courses that work for them and signal their individual strengths.”


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