Over 50 years ago, the famous author and scientist CP Snow warned of the dangerous divide between The Two Cultures, science on the one hand and humanities on the other.
Now with the rise of the digital economy it’s forecast that up to 80 per cent of new jobs will require digital skills. Where does that leave our education system?
I have just been elected as the new rector of Edinburgh University and campaigned on a platform of more interdisciplinary hybrid courses, more practical learning outside the classroom and every student having the opportunity to have an external mentor to help them prepare for entering the modern workplace. After spending over 40 years making films, television programmes and digital content, I am delighted to pass on whatever knowledge I have learned about creative industries to students. I think I’m pushing at an open door with my desire for more connections between arts and technology, science and social science.
Scottish universities offer four-year degrees, not three as in England, so there’s more time and opportunity to take outside subjects as well as main courses. But I think we’re only scratching the surface. Next week Edinburgh University stages its fourth Innovative Learning Week, with dozens of creative learning events including a session on Demystifying Big Data.
The Edinburgh University Students Association, together with the university, is also piloting SLICCs – Student–Led Individually Created Courses – where students can achieve ten extra credits by creating, leading and managing a non-core course themselves. It can be attached to a volunteering project or work placement, thus developing graduate attributes whilst still a student.
It was a Spanish philosopher who said there is so much data in the world that the purpose of education is to understand the main ideas of the time – even if we can’t be a specialist in all of them.
There are many crown jewels in Edinburgh University and we can all be introduced to them, perhaps a short series of online lectures entitled Edinburgh – The Enlightenment Part Two. About one-and-a-half million people around the world have already enjoyed Edinburgh’s MOOCS – Massive Open Online Courses – all available free.
Edinburgh is justly proud of its worldwide reputation in medicine, science, humanities and informatics, its word for computer science.
Now I think the university can also be number one in offering modern interdisciplinary courses which span CP Snow’s Cultural Divide.
It was 50 years ago when I first came to Edinburgh – it changed my life. Now I’m delighted to put something back.
Steve Morrison is the newly elected rector of Edinburgh University.