What Is the Future University? Interdisciplinarity Is the Answer
People got used to structures and labels, as they give a sense of orderliness and control and prevent confusion. Such vision of things has been relevant for a very long period of time, but times are changing, as a result, some phenomena lose their value and should be replaced by something more up-to-date.
Nowadays interdisciplinary approach to science and education increases its power, and this fact affects the academic sphere, in particular, the structure of universities. Any typical higher education institution consists of departments that, on the one hand, provide stability and, on the other one, block the evolution of this institution. You may disagree with this statement and even object it but that’s true. Let’s consider some arguments.
Departments may limit scholars and hinder them to push disciplinary boundaries when their ideas need support from other fields.
Poorly organized interdisciplinary courses lead to the situation when students learn the material as two halves joined together instead of something coherent, thus the quality of learning is deteriorating.
A rivalry between departments is a significant issue that slows down higher education management and an introduction of innovations. A strict system of departments can’t provide appropriate collaboration, on the contrary, it may cause a struggle for funding and resources. In this case obstacles for teaching and research activities take place.
Creating cross-disciplinary (one discipline discussed in terms of another one) and interdisciplinary (disciplines are integrated) courses are the key to profile education with context-specific programs. They open new perspectives both for students and academics. The former has better job opportunities, while the latter can expect better research funding, as the research councils pay special attention to investigations based on the intersection between various disciplines.
For these reasons, the higher education sector feels the need to create and implement new structures that can cope with real problems. The first steps have been already taken in the USA; in particular, many cross-disciplinary and interdisciplinary research centers are established as a part of departments. There the staff is free to move between interdisciplinary centers. Some shifts also take place in the UK, but their number is not enough. One of such institutions is the University of Essex with its Interdisciplinary Studies Centre that allows students to choose modules from across humanities and social sciences subjects and work with staff from different departments.
Restructuration of the traditional university system and interdisciplinary approach can upgrade and greatly improve future university education, as it discovers new horizons, better cooperation between staff and students, promote the links between research activities and teaching. The vector of science and education development is changing its direction from structure to cooperation. That’s why academics and students realize the great importance of flexible boundaries and the benefits they bring.