A Degree in the Liberal Arts tradition

General introduction

September 2000 witnessed an exciting new development in St Mary's University College. After a 100-year history in the education and training of teachers, the College commenced a new degree in the Liberal Arts. Its graduates will go to all walks of life and will carry the values, standards and excellence that we have nurtured during our first 100 years with them to the benefit of themselves and the many diverse groups that they will work with. The Liberal Arts degree has now established itself as a popular and successful academic programme, with its graduates attaining good results and proceeding to a wide range of career opportunities.


This innovative degree is designed to promote the growth of the whole person and to encourage strong ethical values, personal integrity, and a sense of responsibility towards the needs of society. It will give a breath of knowledge that comes from learning how the modern world works and from developing the skills to succeed in new and challenging situations.

What is a Liberal Arts degree?

A Liberal Arts degree offers a student the opportunity to engage with the basic principles of the main areas of knowledge which are necessary in the contemporary world. By definition, it aims to form an educated person, well-rounded in his or her knowledge, equipped with the skills for living in a fast-changing society, and yet grounded in a clear sense of values. A Liberal Arts degree does not try to prepare a person for a specific discipline or profession as with degrees in teaching, medicine, law, engineering, and so on. Students will investigate a range of areas such as politics, commerce, philosophy, history, culture, and engage in debate on issues arising from them.


In designing a degree in the Liberal Arts, St Mary's has examined the centuries-old traditions of liberal education found in many European universities and contemporary experiments in Liberal Arts education taking place in American institutions. Drawing on those experiences, the College developed its BA in the Liberal Arts so that it will offer students the following opportunities:


• to develop intellectually so that you can turn your analytic and expressive skills to advantage in whatever career or pursuit you follow;


• to be in possession of a sophisticated understanding of the world of business, commerce and politics, an awareness of the social and moral issues which face the world today and a personal commitment to serve others and to build a better world;


• to be well suited and qualified for employment in a range of fields, commercial, social, community and overseas development;


• to develop your intellect by making a deep study of your preferred subject;


• to have opportunities to spend time studying in other European or North American countries;


• to have opportunities to experience at first-hand the world of work through placements with businesses, organisations, and community enterprises in our co-operative education programme;


• to develop the ability to think clearly and critically about wide areas of life, politics and culture;


• to have the opportunity to reflect on the values of your culture and the values by which you live;


• to take a major step on a journey of self-directed life-long learning which will free you to think clearly and creatively, to be an eager seeker after truth and understanding, to be ready to explore inherited cultures and values and to render competent and compassionate service in your personal and professional life.


What will the Liberal Arts degree qualify me to do?


On completion of the BA (Liberal Arts), students will be qualified in a wide range of areas relating to employment and work - areas which are actively sought by employers.


• You will know more about our world, becoming familiar with important aspects of industry and commerce, management and the wider business environment.


• You will have developed a wide range of critical thinking skills of inquiry, analysis, and creativity. 


• You will be smarter in the use of sources of information, found in a wide range of media forms.


• You will be highly skilled in the various aspects of communication: researching and analysing information, writing reports, using ICT, making presentations, and public speaking.


• You will have good interpersonal skills and will be able to negotiate difficult issues with others.


It is our aim that such students will also graduate as mature, well-rounded individuals who have a sense of mission. Equipped with a wide knowledge of how society works, these graduates will discover opportunities and roles in which they can serve the needs of society and contribute to a brighter future for their contemporaries. They will be enthusiastic about continuing their own education. In developing the essential skills for management and interpersonal engagement, they will be able to offer leadership to their communities. In this way they will continue the St Mary's tradition of service and dedication to the causes of peace, justice and reconciliation.


What are the components of the degree?


There are three elements to this degree: Human Development Studies, International Studies, and Subject Studies. Each gives expression to a distinct dimension of the learning experiences which comprise study in the Liberal Arts tradition.


Human Development Studies (HDS). In this element the student develops those skills characteristic of the educated person including intellectual skills, communication skills and skills of leadership and application in the workplace. The focus of study is on the human condition, with particular reference to the world of work and learning. Students will engage with contemporary political thought - especially justice issues and conflict studies - ethical questions and economic matters. The aim of HDS is to ground the student with a sense of understanding and with values for principled living in the contemporary world.


International Studies (IS). This element enables students to engage in a focused study of a complex topic which will require application of knowledge, methods and insights from a range of disciplines. Thus the student is introduced to a broad range of academic fields that complement and support one another. The topic chosen for study is the phenomenon of ‘Ireland in Europe’. Using a wide range of Humanities and Social Science perspectives, Europe will be explored as a context for Ireland’s cultural and economic development.


Subject Studies. It has been a traditional feature of Higher Education that students delve deeply into a chosen discipline not only to increase their knowledge within that particular field but to develop their intellectual skills for study, synthesis and communication. Each student will chose an academic subject and pursue studies in that area at undergraduate level. The College presently offers students a selection of six subjects: Business Studies, English, History, Irish, Physical Education and Religious Studies.


The combination of the three elements offers students a course of learning that is characterised by depth, breadth and an underpinning of skills and values. The learning experiences are not limited to the lecture theatres and seminar rooms, but extend to the workplace through opportunities for work-based learning in each academic year. It is this combination which distinguishes the degree, giving it vitality and relevance, and making it an innovative venture in higher education.