Blog 🍎 School 6th July 2023

A Beginners Guide to UK Liberal Arts Degrees

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Rebecca Hambery Schools Content Writer

The world of higher education is constantly evolving, which can create decision fatigue in students due to the variety of academic paths to explore. So you can help them make informed decisions they’re happy with, we’re taking a look at Liberal Arts degrees and what benefits they offer students at Queen Mary University. 

One educational course that’s often misunderstood is the liberal arts. A liberal arts education covers a wide range of subjects, including humanities, arts, social sciences, and natural sciences. 

The liberal arts develop critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, and research skills, allowing graduates to explore diverse career options. Whether analysing data in politics, understanding historical contexts, or applying geological knowledge to address environmental issues, liberal arts graduates have the ability to bring a creative mindset to their future jobs and contribute in meaningful ways.

Recently, we partnered with Queen Mary University London to look deeper into the world of Liberal Arts degrees. Queen Mary University is located in London and was established in 1785. They have since gained recognition for their outstanding academic programs and research contributions. In fact, it has been ranked sixteenth in the UK according to the Times Higher Education Rankings in 2023 and one hundred twenty-fifth in the 2023 QS World Rankings, placing it among the top nine percent of universities worldwide. 

Joanne Waller, Regional Manager for Europe, CIS and Turkey at QMUL, and Dr Andrew Smith, Director of Liberal Arts at QMUL, joined us to shed light on how they’re leading the way in making Liberal Arts degrees more accessible to university students in the United Kingdom.

Attendees had the opportunity to participate in a live Q&A and to get a behind-the-scenes peek at the liberal arts scene at one of London’s leading universities, including an exciting preview lecture by Dr Smith.

Explore the diverse subjects within the Liberal Arts curriculum and the growing importance of Liberal Arts Colleges by reading our key takeaways from the webinar.

What are the Liberal Arts?

Liberal Arts degrees give students the opportunity to explore and learn about different subjects with a holistic approach. These degrees encourage reasoning and problem-solving while fostering effective communication and creative thinking. 

As the world changes, there is a growing need for people who can adapt and work well in a multitude of situations. During studies for a Liberal Arts degree, students develop a versatile set of skills that employers value. For example, students can build knowledge of data-gathering and analytics through their coursework and work experiences that help them take in information more effectively. 

The emphasis on independent thinking and research provides students with transferable skills that help them tackle any challenges that come their way and contribute meaningfully to their jobs. 

For example, Inside Higher Ed reported that most data-driven and technology related jobs request more liberal arts skills than the average job, with these jobs being fifty percent more likely to require writing and research skills and forty percent more likely to ask for problem solving. Demand for employees who work well in a rapidly changing world is growing, and it’s important to recognise these degrees’ unique opportunities.


What subjects fall under Liberal Arts?

A broad range of subjects, including humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, mathematics and art, can be covered by a liberal arts degree. And a degree in any of these subjects can lead to a career in marketing, publishing, health work, and more! 

Some countries have more established liberal arts programmes meaning students can benefit from more options. For example, in the United States, students are able to major in a selection of subjects ranging from biology to political science and even move on to a career in business or law.

In the United Kingdom, fewer subjects are available, with the liberal arts covering three main categories: humanities, social sciences, and creative arts. Within humanities, students can study literature, philosophy, and history, exploring human thoughts, culture, and history. Students learn about politics, economics, psychology, sociology, and more in social sciences, helping them understand society, people’s behaviour, and language. 

The creative arts include visual arts, performing arts, and music. Studying the creative arts allows students to express their creativity, develop their artistic skills, and cultivate a unique perspective. Graduates in these fields can pursue diverse career paths, such as becoming professional artists, musicians, actors, and designers or working in arts administration, event management, advertising, media production, or art therapy. 

Where can students study Liberal Arts?

Liberal Arts Colleges were first popularised in the United States and were established in the nineteenth century. Some examples of highly regarded Liberal Arts colleges in the US include Pomona College, Bowdoin College, and Amherst College. 

In Europe, the liberal arts have recently gained popularity, particularly in countries like the Netherlands. Other examples of a liberal arts education in Europe include the American University of Paris and Bard College in Berlin. Queen Mary University London stands out in the United Kingdom because they are among the first to embrace the liberal arts approach. They’ve created their own Liberal Arts programme using a collaborative teaching method. 

You can also find out more by watching the on-demand video here.

Book a demo

Book a free demo to learn more about how BridgeU can help your students explore a wider range of liberal arts institutions.

An exclusive preview of liberal art lectures at QMUL

As well as being a passionate advocate for the arts and humanities, Dr Andrew WM Smith is an expert in French history, culture and politics. During the webinar, he provided a quick sample lecture to give context on what students can expect during a Liberal Arts course.

The importance of the Eiffel Tower

Dr Smith’s lecture took viewers on a journey that began with the creation of the Eiffel Tower and ended with the construction of Wembley Stadium in London. 

The first international exhibition took place in London in 1851 to celebrate technology and culture from around the world. London unveiled the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park for this exhibition. Ambassadors worldwide were amazed, referring to this as a world-historic event. Although others weren’t as impressed, calling these exhibitions a ‘witness to power’ and creating political implications about the display of power.

Four years later, Napoleon the Third opened a Universal Exposition in Paris to rival the one in London, turning this into a cultural competition and, ultimately, creating yearly competitive cultural events around the world. 

Did you know the Eiffel Tower was built for the 1889 universal exhibition to showcase their technology and engineering skills? France launched a competition to create something that would show off technology and skill while representing French culture. Gustave Eiffel won this competition and began construction. It was a huge accomplishment, taking five months to build the foundation, with an extra twenty-one months for assembly helping develop industrial capacity and skill. 

Upon completion, the Eiffel Tower became the only free-standing structure at the time that was bigger than the pyramids and drew in thirty-two million visitors to the Universal Exhibition.

In response to the Eiffel Tower, Sir Edward Watkin, a famous railway engineer, set out to gain popularity by building a taller tower in London. He ultimately failed, resulting in the structure being torn down and Wembley Stadium being assembled. 

Lectures such as this teach students the importance of cultural adaptation and development and allow students to look at things from a different perspective.

Fun fact 

The Universal Exhibition is the reason that incubators for premature babies were created. Stéphane Tarnier invented incubators after observing how eggs are hatched, and the invention was first brought to a fair in Germany and later went on to be demonstrated at the Universal Exhibition in Paris.

How the liberal arts develop innovative thinkers

Students studying general subjects through a creative lens allow them to move on to create new and exciting things. It fosters the development of innovative solutions, fresh approaches to problem-solving, and imaginative concepts that can shape different aspects of society, technology, art, and more. 

You can find a historical example of this by looking at the Mona Lisa, where some experts say that Leonardo da Vinci used the golden ratio, two numbers equal to 1.618. They claim that if you draw a rectangle around the Mona Lisa’s face, the height to width is equal to the golden ratio, making it an aesthetically pleasing piece of work. 

By exploring these disciplines from multiple angles, students learn to think outside the box, challenge conventional thinking, and contribute to the advancement of our world in unexpected ways. This is the type of content students get to learn every day while studying the liberal arts!

Find out more about how BridgeU can help your students explore new perspectives internationally by booking a free demo below.

Book a demo

Book a free demo to learn more about how BridgeU can help your students explore a wider range of liberal arts institutions.

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