University College for Interdisciplinary Learning


Interdisciplinary learning is increasingly important as part of a 21st-century University education. It introduces students to new academic perspectives and ways of thinking that equip them, as graduates, for a rapidly changing future world.

UCIL provides a University-wide platform for delivery of interdisciplinary teaching and learning opportunities to all undergraduates. At the heart of UCIL are units that truly bridge disciplines, with many focused on big issues and societal challenges that can only be addressed by interdisciplinary approaches - for example, the digital revolution, globalisation and climate change. Cross-University teams of academics deliver many of the units. Interdisciplinarity is also achieved by students from different Schools and Faculties studying together, bringing their own subjects’ perspectives to a topic. On the way, students acquire essential employability skills such as team-working, cultural awareness, problem-solving, critical analysis and adaptability.

UCIL’s current unit portfolio also includes units that showcase individual disciplines to the wider student body, drawing on specific disciplinary traditions. These units may exclude students from disciplines closely aligned with the subject of the unit as they would be unfairly advantaged in comparison to students from a different disciplinary background.

UCIL units are available to all undergraduates who have a free choice option within their degree programme. Delivery ranges from face-to-face, through blended learning, to fully online, the latter avoiding timetabling issues that could be a barrier for some students. For 2019-20, three new online units are available - ‘Creating a Sustainable World: 21st Century Challenges and the Sustainable Development Goals’, ‘Trust and Security in a Digital World: From Fake News to Cybercriminals’, and ‘From Antarctica to Outer Space: Surviving and Thriving in Extremes

All UCIL units conform to the highest academic standards and operate in line with University regulations, policies and procedures. The UCIL Academic Board monitors standards and consistency across the unit portfolio. Two UCIL External Examiners provide further oversight.

Proposers for UCIL units are asked to consider the following as part of their proposal:

  • Is the unit truly interdisciplinary, drawing on appropriate teaching and research expertise from across the University?
  • Is the unit innovative in curriculum, assessment design and delivery?
  • Is the unit set at an appropriate, yet challenging, level to make it accessible to undergraduates from any discipline?

Cathy McCrohan


Cathy McCrohan is a biologist who, in addition to her role as Academic Director of UCIL, is Professor of Comparative Neurobiology in the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health. Her research has focused on understanding how the brains of simple animals are built to enable them to make decisions and choices in response to their environment.

Cathy has extensive experience of teaching and curriculum development in disciplines ranging from ecology to medicine and previously held the positions of Associate Dean for Postgraduate Research and Associate Dean for Teaching, Learning & Students in the Faculty of Life Sciences. She is a strong believer in providing students with learning opportunities that take them beyond the confines of their core discipline.

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