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The global significance of liberal arts

By Professor Christina Slade, Vice-Chancellor at Bath Spa University

Posted by Rebecca Paddick | November 29, 2015 | International

Having been fortunate enough throughout my career to work in educational institutions across the world, I am passionate about the need for a global approach to study and research. 

Academics have long sought each other out and worked together to address global issues and the sharing of knowledge and expertise is critical to our research endeavours if we are to have a true impact on society. Sometimes geographical distinctiveness means we can look at a challenge from a differing perspective which can allow a greater clarity of thought and increased impact.

I believe that this is especially critical to research within the liberal arts, and this is why I led the establishment of the Global Academy of Liberal Arts (GALA) last year.

With its countryside campuses and relatively modest student numbers, Bath Spa University is not an obvious candidate to lead the charge for liberal arts. However, we, along with many of the US liberal arts colleges, as well as other higher education institutions from across the world, share a commitment to a broader ethical education of our students. GALA is a network of those institutions.

The US liberal arts institutions provide a broad education in the arts, humanities, social sciences and sciences to students who often go on to specialise. In contrast, the UK does not have that model. However, we do have a tradition of well recognised degrees in the arts and creative subjects and they are critical to the UK’s culture and economy.

The rise of specialisation in the UK has created students who are well prepared in their specific area of study. Liberal arts in UK universities can play a part in broadening perspectives. The real opportunity is to allow students to develop their own understanding across disciplinary boundaries rather than confine them to a single honours degree as is normal in the UK.

"The US liberal arts institutions provide a broad education in the arts, humanities, social sciences and sciences to students who often go on to specialise. In contrast, the UK does not have that model. However, we do have a tradition of well recognised degrees in the arts and creative subjects and they are critical to the UK’s culture and economy"

GALA, the first collaboration of its kind, fosters a global community of creative people to support the learning of our students by introducing them to global networks and international perspectives on the economic potential of creative and cultural industries.

I hosted the inaugural meeting of GALA at Bath Spa University in June 2014 and welcomed Professor Elizabeth Coleman, Director of the Elizabeth Coleman Centre for the Advancement of Public Action at Bennington College, USA to give our first lecture. She spoke about the responsibilities and potential legacy of liberal arts education.

The second annual conference was hosted by Communications University China, Beijing this year and we had the chance to talk about the activities already undertaken as part of the group, which include student and staff exchange visits, study abroad programmes, international work placements, peer mentoring and collaborative interdisciplinary research.

By collaborating with established liberal arts providers across the arts and creative subjects, GALA’s partners can create extraordinary opportunities both for students and staff, in research, joint teaching and collaboration. To take just one example, Bath Spa University and Claremont Graduate University have established an exchange programme for students examining heritage management or historical sites and museums, in both Los Angeles and Bath. Students have been able to travel and work in Bath and Los Angeles and see approaches from the Roman Baths and Georgian preservation at the Royal Crescent in Bath, through to the different concerns of the Getty Museum, the partners of Claremont.

ABOVE: Professor Christina Slade, Vice-Chancellor at Bath Spa University

We are proud to now have 17 GALA member intuitions in 12 countries including America, Australia, Canada, China, Italy, Mexico, Poland Russia, Sweden, Taiwan, The Netherlands and the UK. Importantly, these members all share a commitment to raising students’ global awareness. We all aim to provide activities within liberal arts that span international, interdisciplinary and inter-generational perspectives to broaden the experience of students and staff. 

For many countries, including the UK, the cultural and creative industries are a major export, generating vital income and boosting economic growth. International networks generate innovative thinking and impactful research outcomes.

In the UK alone, the creative industries generate £76.9 billion a year for the UK economy; they employ 2.62 million people in the UK and, according to government figures, they account for £17.9 billion of exported services around the world.

Such international networks should develop students who are socially engaged global citizens. They will be advocates of creativity and liberal arts all over the world. Without access to international perspectives and truly global networks, students from our universities will not be able to compete in an increasingly globalised and shifting world.

W: www.bathspa.ac.uk

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