Why study Global Liberal Arts at SOAS?

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SOAS Blogs sits down with Dr Angus Lockyer, Convenor of BA Global Liberal Arts, to learn more about this broad and  rapidly growing field of study.

What can you tell us about the programme?

When we’re 18, most of us are interested in lots of different things – and few of us know what we want to do with the rest of our lives. This is a programme that accommodates that.

Global Liberal Arts (GLA) allows you to go deep into a particular area of interest but also maintain the breadth you need to understand it fully. It’s for people who are curious about many things and prepared to take charge of their own learning. What the programme gives you is the structure in which to do that.

In essence it’s for people who know they’re interested in more than one thing and who want to explore the world as whole.

“Learning a language actually exercises a different part of your brain and builds up a different intellectual muscle.”

How is it structured?

We have a clear structure to the curriculum but within it there’s a great deal of freedom and flexibility.

The programme contains four different tracks. And what you do is every year you take one module from each track – four in total.

One of these is Skills and Methods – basic things you need to know how to be able to do in order to think critically about problems and to manage projects, so that you can do an independent research project in your final year.

The other three tracks are GlobalRegional and Language.

In the first year Global offers a broad introduction to Global Studies – ‘Here’s what the world looks like; here’s how it got that way; these are the big problems’.  Having identified the issues you’re interested in, in the second and third years you can take modules from a wide range of departments, which deal with issues from a global perspective.

With the Regional track you can focus all three years on one particular region, if you wish, or you can focus on different regions each year. Either way, you’re focussing in and beginning to study a place in some depth. This will give you the local knowledge you’ll need for your dissertation, perhaps about the music scene in Seoul, local politics in Delhi, gender in the Gulf, or entrepreneurs in Lagos.

Because we encourage you to explore in depth and breadth, you might end up surprising yourself. I had one student who came in thinking she was interested in South Asia because of her family history. She ended up writing her dissertation on jazz in Japan. That’s what SOAS is. We have so much here. You can study a huge part of the world and discover what fascinates you – what you are passionate about understanding.

Finally the Language track – everyone at SOAS believes language is very important. We teach more languages than anywhere else in the UK. We acknowledge that some are very difficult, so there are opt outs in years 2 and 3 if necessary. But the reason to say you should attempt a language is because learning a language actually exercises a different part of your brain and builds up a different intellectual muscle.

People who have learned a language also tend to get better results in job markets. Not because it’s an applicable skill necessarily – you may learn Chinese and never use it again in your career – but you’ve learnt how to learn in a way that’s very attractive to employers.

What’s the end goal?

At the end of three years you should be writing a dissertation and working on a research project about a place or question you’re really interested in using methods from various bits and pieces of the puzzle that you’ve identified by going through the 3 year programme.

How long has the programme been around?

It’s a very new programme, this will be the second year of intake. It’s an evolving programme and if you join us now you will be involved in the ongoing design of the programme – ‘What else do we need to add? What else will be cool to do?’

It’s a rapidly growing field – I think there are over 40 other programmes now in the UK.

What careers can you go into?

Our sense of employability is really good. Outside of technical careers – engineering or medicine – you can go onto almost anything with a degree in GLA.

What we’re hearing from the really good employers is ‘We don’t want students who’ve done Business Studies – we can teach them that. What we want is students who can think critically, who know how to learn, because when they arrive we will need them to be able to do 3, 4, 5 things – not just 1 – and what they’re doing will change’.

Even in Silicon Valley, they don’t just want people who know how to programme. They want people who can be part of teams and work across fields.

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