The UNIQ summer schools programme is now in its 4th year. This year 850 students from state schools and colleges throughout the UK will attend a week-long academic course at Oxford. In line with the university’s strategy the programme targets highly able students from groups that do not typically apply to the University. Applicants can choose from 30 different courses, most of which represent one of the university’s undergraduate courses.
A development for 2013 is the introduction of the Humanities course. Students on this course will have the chance to attend lectures and seminars delivered by academics from several different disciplines. Tutors Eleanor Thompson and Michael Mayo comment of their new UNIQ1 course in humanities:
Having enjoyed tutoring on the English Literature and History UNIQ courses in previous years, we are delighted to be planning and delivering the new UNIQ Humanities Course.
The course promises to:
assist students in making the right choice of degree course
promote interdisciplinary approaches to the humanities
showcase the many and wonderful benefits of a humanities degree
Making the right choice of degree course is a vitally important step towards making a successful application to university. We have previously tutored on single-subject UNIQ courses, but there are a wide range of humanities courses on offer for undergraduates at Oxford University: from Fine Art and History of Art, through to Classics, Modern Languages, History, and English Literature. Our course will give the students the chance to sample a range of these disciplines, allowing them to make a more informed choice of degree subject. Students with little or no family experience of higher education tend to apply to a narrow range of highly competitive subjects, such as Medicine and Law. Our course will introduce students to some of the smaller, less familiar degree courses offered by the University, giving them the courage to take on an entirely new discipline at undergraduate level.
The UNIQ courses give the students an opportunity to pursue a subject of interest in greater depth, whilst introducing them to ideas and concepts beyond their A-Level syllabuses. In tutoring on the History: Race and Protest in Modern America and Britain UNIQ course, Eleanor learned the benefit of organising the week’s lectures, seminars, and tutorials around a central, unifying intellectual problem. As a result, we are putting together a programme exploring the emergence of modernism in early twentieth century Britain. Students will hear lectures and participate in seminars on the impact of the First World War on British society, before considering its importance in the emergence of modernism in literature and the visual arts, as well as the continuing influence of classicism in the culture of the day. In this way, the students will be encouraged to navigate between History, English Literature, History of Art and Classics and to experiment with interdisciplinary approaches to the humanities. At the same time, the course is organised around a few ‘essential questions,’ a strategy used by researchers at all levels of academia; these open and challenging questions will help cultivate deeper connections among the disciplines and direct students’ work in coherent and authentic directions.
It is particularly important to showcase the many and wonderful opportunities in the humanities, given the challenges faced by these subjects under the new fees regime. In the first full admissions cycle since fees were increased to a maximum of £9,000 per year, the number of applications to study humanities in British universities fell further than in other subject areas.2 There is a risk that students will increasingly opt for degree courses with more clearly defined career paths. Our course will demonstrate to the students how opting for degree courses in the humanities will equip them with the high standards of research, critical analysis, and written and verbal communication demanded by employers. On the UNIQ English course last year, Mike introduced a writing clinic for all students, meant to introduce students to the process of writing an excellent tutorial essay. Judging from feedback from tutors, the essays produced last year were radically clearer, more sophisticated, and successful than those from previous years. Because we’re introducing the writing clinic into the Humanities course, these students, too, will benefit from directed instruction in composition, a skill essential to successful admission to Oxford and continued success once they’re here. Thus, the skills they will develop over the course of their week will serve them well in making their applications to university, completing their A Levels and making the transition to undergraduate study.
Humanities faculties and departments at the University of Oxford are well positioned to adapt to changing student attitudes under the new fees regime. Our course will introduce students to the pleasures and privileges of the Oxford tutorial system, which combines centrally organised lectures and seminars with weekly or twice-weekly tutorials and seminars. Students will enjoy lectures from scholars with a world-class reputation in their field, whilst establishing regular and direct contact with their tutors and peers throughout the week, as well as access to the extraordinary resources of the Bodleian Libraries.
Michael Mayo and Eleanor Thompson