From education to employment

East London Higher education provider first in 50 years given degree awarding powers


The @weareLIS leadership team – Ed Fidoe, co-founder of @school21@carlgomb founder of UCL’s BASc Programme @UCL and @Kotten1, creator of @Bookatable say that a new approach to higher learning is needed if students are to be able to navigate a world fraught with complex challenges, from the climate emergency to the mental health crisis.

A new institution challenging traditional universities by taking an interdisciplinary approach has been given the power to award degrees.

The London Interdisciplinary School (LIS), whose curriculum cuts across disciplines, was created with the aim of giving students the skills to tackle complex global and local problems, as well as to thrive in an evolving world of work.

LIS has been granted degree-awarding powers by the higher education regulator in England, the Office for Students (OfS). This is a historic achievement with major implications for the HE sector. Applications to join LIS’ 2021 founding cohort, for which there are only 100 spots available, are now open.

 will be the first new provider to secure degree awarding powers without emerging from an earlier institution or being validated by another provider for over 50 years. The most recent precedents are Warwick (1965) and the Open University (1969 – when it was wholly distant learning). 

The LIS leadership – Ed Fidoe, co-founder of School 21, Chris Persson, creator of Bookatable, and Carl Gombrich, founder of UCL’s BASc programme – say that a new approach to higher learning is needed if students are to be able to navigate a world fraught with complex challenges, from the climate emergency to the mental health crisis.

LIS’ diverse faculty, joining from world-class institutions such as Harvard, Oxford, and LSE, includes epidemiologists, mathematicians, artists, complexity scientists and others from a wide range of academic backgrounds, reflects LIS’ interdisciplinary approach and are focused on teaching, rather than research. 

Students apply directly to LIS, offering an additional choice outside of UCAS. LIS’ contextual application process, recently highlighted in a report commissioned by the OfS, also goes against the grain by interviewing every applicant and assessing their potential in the context of their personal background. 

Ed Fidoe said: “We always knew that if we wanted to create a truly innovative degree then we needed to control curriculum design, appoint LIS faculty and award our own degrees.

“We have been working towards this goal since the government White Paper of May 2016. The regulator set the standard very high and we are incredibly proud to be the first in half a century to open our doors with the powers to award our own degrees.

“Our interdisciplinary degree is not going to be for everybody. It’s going to be challenging. But it will also be rewarding and the students that join our 2021 founding cohort will forever be an important part of the LIS journey.”

In being given the ability to award degrees, LIS has become the first for half a century to secure these powers without prior sponsorship by another institution. 

Students will also have access to a broad professional network and the chance to gain experience working in different sectors alongside their studies. Each year, students will be able to complete paid internships with a wide range of organisations from top graduate employers to ethical start-ups.

Mary Curnock-Cook, former Chief Executive of UCAS: “NDAPs for LIS is a landmark for higher education but even more for our future students who will learn in the crucible of interdisciplinarity which is powerful both academically and as a preparation for the new dynamics of working life. This is a superb and rigorous innovation in HE.”

Adam Balon, Co-founder of Innocent Drinks and JamJar Investments: “LIS will build a pool of people who are unfazed by complex problems. Those are exactly the sort of people we loved to hire at Innocent. What’s more, at Jamjar, they are one of the key qualities we look for in the entrepreneurial teams we back. I can think of no better grounding for the way the world is today and indeed will be tomorrow.”

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