New program a chip off the Oxford block

As of next year, Western undergraduate students will have the opportunity to enroll in a program inspired by what The Guardian and BBC once dubbed “the degree that runs Britain.”

Oxford University’s PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics) program – which makes up a large proportion of British politicians and even counts former U.S. President Bill Clinton among its students – helped generate a similar PPE program at Western, housed within the Faculty of Social Science.

“There are a lot of problems in the world that involve moral and philosophical thinking, economic thinking and political thinking. It will take someone who is able to notice the differences between those ways of thinking, and combine them in interesting ways, in order to ask new questions and answer old ones,” said Andrew Botterell, Philosophy Chair and part of Western’s PPE steering committee.

“There is a lot of overlap in these fields. Ours is a program that tries to blend courses and insights for students who might be interested in something like business or law, public service or politics.”

Accepting its first cohort in Fall 2018, PPE at Western is a second-year entry program with a common course in its first year and a capstone course for the cohort in the fourth year. Students will be required to complete nine credits from the three disciplines over three years. The program will allow students to pursue one of two module streams – one with a heavier focus on Economics, one with more emphasis on Philosophy and Political Science.

For some time, the Department of Economics has offered its students an opportunity to broaden their studies by incorporating course work from Philosophy and Political Science into its own module. Having worked at Oxford, Social Science Dean Bob Andersen was “keen on trying to do something similar to its PPE here” when he stepped into his role in 2015, said Economics professor Terry Sicular. Formal discussions followed in order to fully integrate the three disciplines into a newly formed program.

“The two sister modules go beyond what we had before; we want to develop a cohort of students who have opportunities to think about things in a more interdisciplinary way,” she explained.

“The original module within Economics didn’t have any integrating courses – you took courses in the three departments but there were no courses that stepped back to ask how we compare and contrast these different approaches. Now, we have a gateway course in the second year to look at how issues from economic policy, to immigration, to poverty policies, to NAFTA, and maybe even cultural policy, are considered by philosophers, economists and political scientists. What questions do they ask? What do we learn from these disciplines? Which are more useful in which situation?”

In their last year, PPE students will take a year-long course together that will allow them to employ the skills they learned from the three disciplines in more advanced and independent work.

“This is a unique program at Western – and there aren’t a lot of integrated, multidisciplinary programs,” Sicular said, adding Western is well-positioned to host such an offering.

The QS World University Rankings placed the Department of Political Science within the Top 10 in Canada and Top 200 in the world, as well as the Department of Philosophy fourth in Canada and in the Top 50 in the world. The Academic Ranking of World Universities, compiled by ShanghaiRanking Consultancy, placed Economics fifth in Canada and in the Top 50 worldwide.

“Students come to these fields interested in difficult issues that arise in society and they want some tools to help them think critically. They want tools that, when they graduate, will help them participate and find solutions for these issues,” Sicular continued.

“There are many ways to find solutions and make contributions to society. People do it by going into public service or politics. Some people go into law or medicine. And some people go into business. But these students will have a foundation, and we hope they will also have tools, with which they can communicate well and work as a team to address and find solutions to these issues and more.”

The PPE program, accepting a cohort of 30 students, will prepare graduates to take on leadership roles in domestic or international politics, law, public policy, economics and business, Sicular said. It is a pathway to professional and graduate programs in public policy, law, journalism, philosophy, political science, economics and business.