Avoiding early specialisation at university
One of the key features of many of today’s universities is that often they admit students into a wide array of highly specialised subjects. Students are expected to leave secondary school with their career choices clearly mapped out, and this is then reflected in their higher education roadmaps. But is this a good idea?
One of the ideas mooted in the recent paper, Entry to Higher Education in Ireland in the 21st Century, prepared by Professor Áine Hyland for Ireland’s National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, is that universities should consider ‘reform [of] the configuration of first year courses to eliminate denominated courses and adopt a policy of generic first year courses unless there are compelling reasons not to do so (e.g. General Arts; General Science; General Technology; General Health Sciences).’ This would overcome students’ lack of insight into specialised areas of study and allow them to make choices when they are more mature and have developed more sophisticated study skills.
Given the proliferation of university degree programmes, and the tendency to keep introducing new programmes on top of old ones, this is a proposal worthy of consideration, and not just in Ireland. It may be time to push back career decisions to a somewhat later stage, not least because at that later stage students are more capable of forming a judgement of their own, with less reliance on parents and counsellors. The idea is worthy of reflection.