Liberal Arts in Humanities - Explained by Julia Tofantšuk

Julia Tofantšuk

Please describe, what is the Liberal Arts in the Humanities programme about?

Different from traditional discipline-based curricula, a Liberal Arts programme combines several areas in the Humanities to provide a general educational base and develop essential intellectual capacities (such as reasoning, critical thinking, general erudition and judgement, analytical skills). This type of education is widely spread in the United States, but is increasingly finding its way into the European system, allowing young people to test and utilise their own interests and abilities, before focussing on a specific discipline and a concrete vocation.

How did the programme come about?

There have been previous attempts to introduce a Liberal Arts educational philosophy into the Tallinn University study programme, which mostly follows the academic tradition of discipline-based studies. As there seems to be an increasing interest among young people to go beyond just one discipline but rather try different areas at BA level, with a precise specialisation at the MA level, a Liberal Arts programme would be the place to provide this opportunity. With the recent structural reform at the School of Humanities, it has become possible to integrate several disciplines and study areas, and employ the academic resources of formerly different units to work together on this truly innovative and exciting approach to study programme development.

Why is the Tallinn University School of Humanities the right place to do this programme?

The School of Humanities is the biggest unit in Tallinn concentrating on the teaching and research of Humanities. We are running a number of curricula at BA, MA and PhD level. The school has competent teaching staff with expertise in the “classical” Humanities disciplines, such as History, Literature, Philosophy, Modern Languages, etc. Moreover, our strength is that we can combine these with competences from, Anthropology, English Studies, Estonian Studies, Asian Studies, Literary and Cultural Studies, and Comparative Cultural Analysis. Our school is interdisciplinary and international, innovative and teamwork-orientated. We welcome both foreign staff and students, so a student coming to study with us will be immersed in a very diverse and exciting environment.

What are some of the ways that this programme is distinctive?

We combine an impressive variety of both classical and contemporary disciplines. We are the only Liberal Arts programme in the Baltic States, and the only Liberal Arts programme in the nearby region that is taught entirely in English. We are proud to be “on the map”: our programme is part of the European Liberal Arts Initiative (ELAI), which is a dynamic growing network.

What kind of courses will be offered to students?

Students will have to pass university-wide courses (Big Questions, Critical Thinking) that are taught to all our BA students at Tallinn University. They must work on an interdisciplinary ELU/LIFE project on a subject of their choice, not necessarily within the Humanities. This will broaden academic horizons even further, and provide an opportunity to collaborate with students from other areas and schools. From the second year of studies, students choose two modules to specialise in, out of the following: Anthropology; Asian Studies; Estonian Studies; Comparative Cultural Analysis; Cultural Studies of English-Speaking Countries; and History. Two modules of one’s choice must be completed in full. In addition, students may choose individual subjects from all the six modules as free electives. The programme ends with a Bachelor exam and the graduate is awarded a BA degree in Humanities.

What kind of students, with what kind of backgrounds, might be interested in this programme?

This programme is for students whose interests are not limited to one of the traditional discipline in Humanities, but who are interested in combining several disciplines within the framework of our study programme. It is for those young people who are curious, open to different ways of thinking and wish to find out things for themselves.

What are the practical skills that students acquire during their studies?

The skills include independent analytical thinking, teamwork skills, problem solving and project work. This is due to the innovative methods used in study, as well as the compulsory ELU/LIFE project, which employs the method of problem-based learning and develops team-work and problem-solving skills that are essential in the modern job market. Among the social competences, the students develop communication skills, intercultural competence and tolerance. Students also improve their language skills, most notably English and acquire at least a modest level of Estonian language. They may also learn at least one new language if not several. In addition, students develop their digital literacy, due to the strong digital tradition in Estonia and Tallinn University, where digital learning environments are widely employed. Finally, digitally-minded students are encouraged to minor in the currently proliferating field of Digital Humanities.

What jobs will students go for after they graduate? Academic prospects?

Our Liberal Arts programme provides a general humanities education and the analytical skills that allow to continue education in a variety of fields, both at Tallinn University and other educational institutions with MA and PhD programmes in the Humanities. In the case of Tallinn University, our graduates are encouraged to continue to the MA level in the following study programmes: Anthropology MA; Estonian Studies MA; History MA; Teacher of History; Teacher of English; Philosophy and Cultural Theory; Literature, Visual Culture and Film. Those who wish to start working after finishing their BA degree, can easily find employment in the fields that require excellent communication skills, analytical capacities, a critical mind, erudition, experience in project work, problem solving and teamwork, as well as digital literacy.

What in your view is most exciting about this programme?

The freedom the students are allowed. They are not bound to only one field but can move between several, which is in tune with interdisciplinary intersections in today’s educational and intellectual world. What is more, with modules taught by colleagues with various disciplinary backgrounds, the students are exposed to a variety of academic traditions, methodologies, outlooks, philosophies, and personalities. The students themselves are of various cultural backgrounds, which provides invaluable first-hand cultural experience, breadth of mind and skills for communicating and collaborating in today’s increasingly multifaceted world.

Questions by: Karolin Mägi