Which course subjects are the most intellectually stimulating?
Which courses are the most intellectually stimulating? If you ask this question to teachers and students of various subjects, you’re bound to get biased answers. After all, those people are in their chosen fields because they found them interesting in the first place. Unless they are doing it because they have to – more on that later.
Every year in the United Kingdom, the National Student Survey asks questions about the perceived quality of teaching, level of course organisation and overall satisfaction. It provides benchmarks for the quality of higher education in the UK and is most often used as a comparison between learning institutions. But what of subjects? Which ones did survey respondents think were the most stimulating, and which the most boring?
It turns out that the most intellectually stimulating subjects (according to UK students) are History and Philosophy, and the least intellectually stimulating subjects are Media & Communications and Business.
Perhaps it is the case that subjects where the mind can wander more freely and whose practical applications are less obvious feel as if they are giving students’ brains more of a workout. Conversely, one could say that in vocational subjects such as Media & Communications or Business, the outcome or application is already known, and what is being learnt is nothing more than a means to get there. Hence the lack of a feeling of your brain being stretched beyond its usual limits (if that is how we are to define ‘intellectually stimulating’).
Another yardstick the survey uses is how enthusiastic the teaching staff are about their subject. Again, History and Philosophy are at the top and Business is at the bottom, with Media & Communications faring better somewhere in the middle range. Languages are another high flyer in both categories, perhaps again because of their open-endedness and lack of objectivity.
This seems to support the view that the humanities are fascinating but fuzzy-edged, and ‘harder’ subjects such as business are more like boxes of tools designed to get a job done.
As famous arts snoot Oscar Wilde said, ‘The man who could call a spade a spade should be compelled to use one. It is the only thing he is fit for.’ The UK student survey shows that when it comes to higher education subjects there is a payoff between fascination and practicality.