Two years after the introduction of compulsory breadth units for most undergraduate degrees, controversy still surrounds the justification of having to complete and pay for these units. This appears to be the consequence of the confusing announcement of the units, and lack of information given to students.
Breadth units concentrate on real-world issues that are appropriate for all students regardless of the discipline they are studying in, such as sustainability, leadership, and ethics. They provide students with vital life and employability skills, ensuring they graduate with UTAS’ generic graduate attributes: knowledge, communication skills, problem-solving skills, global perspective, and social responsibility. This will better prepare them for after graduation.
President of the TUU, Clark Cooley says, “breadth units provide a great opportunity for new undergraduate students to develop a deeper understanding of the wider world and the challenges we face…the benefit of studying these units provide students with important, university scale learning, of vital life and career skills while still providing students with options around what areas they want to study.”
In 2017, there are a total of 29 breadth units being offered, with the possibility that more will be added later. They are available in both semesters, with some available in summer, winter, and spring as well. Not quite the 50 units that the university planned to have available by this year, but a marked improvement from the initial eight in 2015.
They do not offer the same variety that student electives do but they focus more on practical things and less on theory. Some examples are: Developing your Creative and Entrepreneurial Potential; Resilience in the Face of Emergencies; Social Entrepreneurship in the Digital Age and Human Rights and Global Justice.
Breadth units are more beneficial for first and second year students, which is when the two units are generally scheduled to be studied. However, some degrees (such as combined degrees) are structured in a way which does not allow for the students to complete the units until later.
Arts and Science student Alex Mole says that the value of “doing breadth units depends on the degree.” She believes that students in the faculties of Science, Engineering and Technology, and Health are likely to benefit the most as “their course units are often compulsory and quite specific in their content…(and) science-language is different to real world-language”.
Arts and Fine Arts student Luke Visentin says the idea behind students completing breadth units is logical as “ideally a university education will…include ideas which are directly relevant and applicable to a student’s life (but the) freedom to pursue the courses of my choice is important to me and I would prefer extra elective units rather than breadth units.”
Business and Computing student Spiros Daglas says that he is looking forward to studying his breadth units “because I will have the opportunity to learn about things that aren’t included my regular degree. Hopefully the breadth units will strengthen my overall understanding.” He says that breadth units encourage students to develop worldly and open-minded qualities that will ensure they become successful graduates.
The incorporation of breadth units into the more prescribed, professional degrees currently remains unresolved. This means they are yet to become a part of courses such as Medicine, Education, Law, Pharmacy, as well as most Nursing and AMC courses.
So far there have been no forums, information sessions or other initiatives to gauge wider student interest or opinions regarding the breadth units. No one has asked what types of breadth units students would like the opportunity to study.