College teams up with St. Andrews

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December 2, 2008

12:39 AM

The College of William and Mary is in the process of developing a joint-degree program with St. Andrews University.

Plans for the program will allow the first students to be accepted for the 2010-2011 academic year. The decision was publicly announced at a Board of Visitors meeting last month.

In the tentative program, accepted students would spend two years on campus at the College and two at the famed Scotland university, culminating in a single degree bearing the seals of both schools. Similar programs at other universities in the past have given separate degrees from the institutions involved.

Under the current plan, students would spend their first year at their home university and the second year across the ocean. The remaining two years would be split between the two schools, though the order would be up to the student.

Reves Center Director Laurie Koloski said this method would allow students to feel a sense of belonging at both institutions, and avoid a sense of reclusion from either community. The advantages, she said, are boundless.

“What better way is there to prepare students to live, thrive and lead in a global society than to carry out a degree in a truly international program?” Koloski said.

The joint-degree system is still emerging and developing in undergraduate studies, though many graduate schools offer similar programs. Currently the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and the National
University of Singapore offer the only international joint-degree in the United States.
Koloski said the College was approached by St. Andrews in 2006 to initiate a similar program.

Faculty within the departments of English, economics, history and international relations have been working with their counterparts at St. Andrews to develop joint curricula to tap into resources at both schools. Through conference calls, e-mails and school visits, professors and deans have looked for where there might be overlap, and where each school has its own merits.

History chair Philip Daileader said the program would be advantageous to students who wished to delve into programs not very well covered in their own country due to lack of general interest or training. For instance, almost half of the history faculty at St. Andrews is trained in the medieval era, while Daileader said he is the sole professor at the College with medieval era credentials. Similarly, British students wishing to pursue American studies or history focusing on colonial times might be lured to the College.

Current plans keep the program relatively small, with five to six students in each academic major accepted per year, allowing for approximately 80 to 100 students on each side of the Atlantic. Numbers would have the potential to grow, Koloski said, as more academic departments worked to develop joint-curricula.

Koloski said one challenge encountered has been the successful merging of two seemingly irreconcilable educational systems.

The British academic system currently follows an “honors” curriculum, in which college applicants apply to their schools with majors already decided, allowing for a much more focused course of study. As a result, nearly half of all courses taken in British universities pertain to the student’s major. This came into conflict with the College’s liberal arts emphasis, in which about a quarter of classes taken are major-relevant.

“We’re very aware of that tension,” College Provost Geoff Feiss said. “At the end of the day we have the [College] faculty guarding the essential character of the American liberal arts curriculum, and the St. Andrews faculty guarding the essential character of the British honors system.”

The result, Feiss said, would likely be a course load designed to be more generalized than British students are accustomed to, but more focused than the typical American course load.

He said because of the nature of the program, much more time would need to be spent in logistics planning. Tuition and fees, for instance, would need to be negotiated by both schools to ensure a system that is economically self-supporting and sustainable. He also said the cost would have to be the same for both schools.

While Koloski said support from the College community for the joint-degree has been overwhelmingly positive, English Department Chair Jack Martin said he wants to ensure the program is appropriate for his department. With in-state tuition unlikely to be an option, he says the program may not be cost-effective.

“We haven’t ruled it out, we just want to make sure this is worth the students’ tuition,” he said. “What’s the difference between studying Shakespeare here versus at St. Andrews?”

The Virginia Institute for Marine Science is also considering a partnership with St. Andrews’s Marine Mammal Program, though talks to date have been limited and largely speculative. VIMS Director and Dean of the School of Marine Science John Wells said St. Andrews’ program would complement VIMS, as the school focuses primarily on non-mammalian life.

“[The partnership] allows both students and faculty to give a greater depth and breadth [to research], making the whole program better than the sum of its parts,” Wells said.

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