Click here for the article of The Times Higher Education, 7th January.
Many in the humanities feel that their disciplines and relevance are under attack. Matthew Reisz asks if 'the best that has been thought and said' still has a place in today's universities.
Whatever is happening in America, the liberal-arts model is being taken up enthusiastically elsewhere. Santiago Iniguez de Onzono is rector of the IE University in Segovia, which offers English-language courses in architecture, biology and communications as well as MBAs and other management qualifications clearly designed to create business leaders.
"We believe the American system is very strong," he says. "Specialisation begins too early in Europe, and it doesn't allow for the development of the person through a well-rounded education. Business people need to learn more about history, anthropology and so on because their decisions affect the lives of many others."
All IE students are now required to take a ten-class "world awareness seminar", supplemented by a wide range of elective courses. It can only help that these include a mixture of classical and contemporary culture: "watching a film by Michael Moore might be more relevant than learning about Gothic cathedrals", observes the rector.
It is also possible to integrate culture with core competencies. IE brings in actors from the Globe Theatre, for example, to teach Shakespeare alongside practical breathing techniques and communication skills.
In broad terms, IE's policy represents a conscious educational philosophy rather than a direct market-driven response to the demands of students and recruiters. "We see students as the raw material rather than as clients," explains Iniguez, "and decide to a large degree what is best for them. Lots of MBA students might prefer an extra unit in finance rather the humanities. Yet it can often help financial managers, who tend to be very action-oriented, to become more reflective by taking a course in design.
"It took a long time for corporate recruiters to value business ethics as a necessary skill, so we are trying to anticipate other things they will need in the future (such as well-rounded individuals with broad cultural awareness). In Europe, we have developed universities that are too specialised. We need to bring the benefits of a general education and the liberal-arts tradition."
Some of IE's corporate partners are beginning to get the message, claims Arantza de Areilza, dean of the School of Arts and Humanities. "They feel that it is essential for students to gain a global mindset and language skills," she says, "and they don't just want 24- or 25-year-olds with very specialist training. They are looking for a critical spirit, sensitivity to other cultures, writing skills and strong analytical skills.
"We also created specially tailored courses for the top management at (media companies) Telecinco and PubliEspana that touch on issues of migration and the impact of new technologies on our daily lives. We need to extend the view of our students beyond what more traditional technical studies teach." The humanities can answer some of these needs.