Getting a university degree has never seemed more important: college graduates earn more money, live longer, and are happier. But college degrees are expensive (especially in the US), narrowly focused (especially in the UK), and often fail to build the skills employers want (true in most countries).
A new university in the UK wants to change that.
The London Interdisciplinary School (LIS), which will launch in 2021 with a target of 100 students, will scrap traditional academic subjects and offer a three-year bachelor of arts and sciences degree designed to tackle real-world issues. The curriculum is built around interdisciplinary problems—knife crime, childhood obesity, palm oil in supply chains, plastic pollution—as well as quantitative and qualitative research skills. Employers like the Met Police, Innocent, and Virgin will provide project ideas and offer five-week work experience for students.
The idea is similar to a US liberal arts degree (a rarity in the UK) but also more explicitly focused on "interdisciplinarity," or drawing on multiple subjects—economics, psychology, sociology, statistics—to solve complex problems like childhood obesity. In other words, the problem, not the subject, sits at the center of the curriculum. The skills students develop, the founders hope, will more closely align with what an AI-infused, automated world demands: collaboration between people and machines, critical thinking, speaking and writing skills, and data management, to name just a few things.
Students will tackle problems through various disciplines: knife crime, for example, by understanding cultural and socioeconomic factors in different neighborhoods, data science, statistics, publicly available data, an economics or psychology lens.
In the UK, students apply through a central clearinghouse, and exam results are paramount. At LIS, students will instead apply directly and all will be invited to a "selection day" which will include a face-to-face interview so that LIS can understand a student's background, motivations, and passions. Interviews will be conducted by a panel to minimize bias. Conditional offers will be granted based on personal background, circumstances and, also, grades.