In the history of European universities, the earlier prestigious universities licensed by the Holy Roman Empire based their programmes of study on an eclectic menu that involved students covering several branches of learning, mostly in the humanities. As knowledge became more specialised and disciplines began to operate more within strict boundaries this tradition was eroded and eventually disappeared.
However, when I was a student in Trinity College Dublin in the mid-1970s, the college still had a programme called ‘General Studies’ for which students could register and which followed the above traditional model. While the course was popular, the perception at the time was that it was selected typically by weaker students and that it lacked discipline-specific academic rigour. Despite strong student opposition it was eventually abolished.
Of course since the late 1970s our understanding of knowledge has shifted, and the growth of interdisciplinarity might suggest to some at least that a reconsideration of the case for General Studies (in any university) would make sense – though perhaps with more content from science and technology. The argument might be that we often force students to specialise before they are ready to make this kind of choice and before they are properly educated in what one might call general knowledge. It may be that the time is right for us to have another look at General Studies.