This is the UK's most innovative, one-of-a-kind university
London's new university will teach students how to tackle global issues and help them develop skills for the future. Source: Shutterstock

Innovation seems to be the hottest buzzword in education today. Around the world, schools and universities are aiming to be more innovative in learning methods, recruitment, course structure, and even student events.

Employers and students alike often complain that they haven’t been given adequate practical training and knowledge to survive in the real world, despite spending a pretty penny on their education.

Graduates are looking for ‘return on investment’ and ‘value for money’ in their university degrees so they can become valuable employees with steady careers in competitive workplaces.

This means there’s greater focus on developing innovative thinkers in students today, with institutions encouraging more practical and experiential learning and urging students to think outside-the-box to boost their employability.

But one university – the first new university to open in the UK in 40 years – is taking innovation to a whole new level.

The London Interdisciplinary School (LIS) is flipping the traditional education model upside down, taking on a new cross-disciplinary approach to teaching and learning to tackle the world’s most complex problems.

In speaking to the World Economic Forum (WEF), co-founder Ed Fidoe said, “The big shift we’re making is to combine knowledge through disciplines to tackle problems.

“If you start with disciplines, you immediately have walls you have to break through, so we’re starting with the problems and then backfilling the academic learning. We’re trying to turn theory into action.”

Some of the complex issues the school hopes to teach students how to tackle are “designing a tool for companies to track palm oil supply to the ethics of editing mosquito genes using CRISPR technology to eradicate malaria – combining probabilistic thinking with international relations, ecosystems and genome editing.”

As the school will promote learning through real-world challenges, knife crime – which has risen sharply in the UK in recent years – is also on the list of potential topics.

The idea for the school was initially sparked when Fidoe realised that universities tend to foster ‘single-subject culture’, structured around research organised into specific disciplines.

But this could be problematic because the world is increasingly becoming more interconnected and employees often have to work across different disciplines.

He said, “The world is more connected and complex than it’s ever been and it requires people to think in systems rather than narrow silos.

“We do need some people to go into very narrow fields and become experts, so we shouldn’t do away with subjects.

“But students have to understand how this stuff fits together in a system, because it’s increasingly how the world is working, how supply chains are set up and communications systems work. If something happens over here, there are all these consequences somewhere else.”

The school is kicking off by offering a single polymath-based Bachelor of Arts & Sciences (BASc) degree for its first batch of 120 students – which is currently undergoing approval and is planned to start in 2020.

It will involve 10-week paid work placements each year to ensure students are ready for the workplace. According to the website, “As an LIS student, you will be given personalised, paid work placements at some of the UK’s most prestigious employers and exciting start-ups.”

Skills for the future

The degree programme will also incorporate the development of ‘soft skills’ – another trendy concept in universities today.

Reports such as the World Economic Forum’s The Future of Jobs has recently enlightened people on what the future of working looks like.

While new technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation are set to dominate our lives in almost every aspect, ‘human’ skills will still play a vital role.

According to the WEF, “‘human’ skills such as creativity, originality and initiative, critical thinking, persuasion and negotiation will retain or increase their value in the face of increased automation. Attention to detail, resilience, flexibility and complex problem-solving will also be key.”

The degree programme at LIS plans to help students develop this range of skills to meet the needs of the future workplace, combining knowledge on STEM subjects with an understanding of psychology and humanity, art and design.

Fidoe said, “Being able to combine those things is something that machines will find very hard to do but humans need to be able to.”

While all this sounds exciting, Fidoe warned that the challenging new course is not for the “faint-hearted” and they must be bold and willing to go on an adventure as they join this big new project – the London Interdisciplinary School.

How to apply? 

Even the application process sounds innovative. As it states on the website, “We welcome applications from all subject backgrounds, whether you’ve specialised in STEM, the arts or humanities.

“We don’t set a minimum bar for grades. Instead, we’ll review your grades in the context of your educational, family and personal background, to understand what you’ve achieved given your starting point.

“Our Selection Day for shortlisted candidates allows us to go beyond your grades: it’s a chance for you to tell us what motivates and inspires you, and to show us your potential to tackle complex problems with imagination, energy and intelligence. It’s been designed in line with how the world’s leading companies are recruiting their employees today.”

The application process for international students will be the same, but on the FAQ page, it is stated that the university will only accept applications from foreign students once they receive approval for a Tier 4 license.

Interested? According to the website, applications for the 2020 Founding Cohort will open in Autumn 2019. For now, students (both local and international) can register their interest or attend a Discovery Day to find out more.

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