Human Sciences Degree Celebrates 50th Anniversary

Anvee Bhutani reports on the interdisciplinary degree reaching fifty years.

Human Sciences, Oxford’s flagship interdisciplinary course of study, celebrated its 50th anniversary this term. An undergraduate degree, it is the only course to pull from all four divisions in Oxford – Humanities, Social Sciences, MPLS (Maths, Physical, Engineering and Life Sciences), and Medicine. 

Human Sciences was set up in the early 1960s by a group of academics from zoology, sociology and anthropology as an attempt to bridge the divide between social and natural sciences. It hoped to offer an integrated approach to problems faced today. Its first cohort began in 1969 and graduated in 1972 and since then it has been picked up by several colleges around the University.

Human Sciences’ 50th Anniversary alumni celebration featured a lecture by Simon Baron-Cohen, a former Human Scientist and now clinical psychologist and fellow at Trinity College Cambridge. Other noteworthy guests included Guardian writer Giles Tremlett and anthropologist Eben Kirksey.

There was a formal dinner held at Wadham College where the University Chancellor, The Rt Hon the Lord Patten of Barnes, made a keynote speech. Lord Barnes was supportive of the efforts of the Human Sciences degree and made a toast to the next 50 years of the degree being taught at Oxford.

In modern times, Human Sciences has struggled to get support from colleges and from other departments and the wider university which is necessary to keep its interdisciplinary nature due to administrative and financial burdens as a result of the course being very decentralised. For instance, Mansfield has recently said they no longer plan to continue offering the course.

However, students, both past and present, seem to be overwhelmingly in support.

Molayo Ogunde, a current Human Sciences finalist at St Hugh’s said, “Growing up, I would have never have imagined going to Oxford and studying a degree called ‘Human Sciences’. But studying Human Sciences has been one of the best decisions I’ve made. Not falling into the pigeon holes of either STEM or Humanities, Human Sciences has been a wonderful way to explore my interests across a range of fields in a way that I find practical for everyday life.”

The degree also opens up diverse opportunities after graduation in fields ranging from public health to the Civil Service to law.

Emily Morbey, a recent Human Sciences student who graduated from Keble College in 2022 told The Oxford Student, “I always say that if I could have designed my dream degree then it would look just like Human Sciences. It really inspired my interest in health inequalities through its interdisciplinary approach which encouraged me to study my master’s in population health sciences at Cambridge. I think my time on the course, especially the frequent interactions with approachable tutors, really developed my confidence in asking critical questions, which now I am learning how to answer.”

Ultimately, the future of Human Sciences rests on the support it can gather around the University and the next few years will be crucial in seeing if it can withstand the test of time.