Improving undergraduate education in Europe: liberal arts and science colleges

Brussels, 9 October 2014


This ACA European Policy Seminar is dedicated to Liberal Arts (and Sciences) education in Europe. Liberal Arts Colleges have long been an integral and cherished component of US higher education, even though the underlying concept was originally a European one. About 10 years ago, Europe began to ‘re-import’  liberal arts and science education.

The re-import is meant to substantially improve undergraduate university education.  Small in size and low in student-to-teacher ratio, Liberal Arts Colleges have used the new Bologna degree structure (differentiating into the Bachelor and Master level) to revitalise an important element of the European academic heritage. Different from vocationally-oriented undergraduate education, Liberal Arts Programmes focus on academic skills and values and prepare students for graduate studies leading to careers in both research and in professional fields.

The added value of a Liberal Arts programme is characterised by an emphasis on academic education - or Bildung. This is made up of two dimensions: a cognitive and a moral one.  The acquisition of academic skills such as critical and independent thinking, the ability to collect and analyse data and to critically assess them, the ability to think beyond the data and to master a body of knowledge in a particular domain, is the more cognitive part of undergraduate education. But this is only half of what the Liberal Arts philosophy is about. Moral competencies are the other dimension of a Liberal Arts education. Students and faculty display a high level of civic engagement and global responsibility. They want to make a difference and regard knowledge as a means to inform their idealistic approach. If this concept of Liberal Arts is to be more than rhetoric, it needs to be brought to life every day in teaching, in research and in the organisation of the Colleges.

This seminar will provide an introduction into the philosophy and the main features of Liberal Arts education, amongst them the college system, undergraduate research and (small) size. The seminar will also present and analyse concrete and varied examples of successful Liberal Arts programmes in different European countries. All speakers and facilitators have a long-term first-hand experience of Liberal Arts Education – indeed, they have often been amongst the pioneers of this sort of undergraduate education in Europe.  This ACA European Policy Seminar targets the leadership from higher education institutions, as well as faculty members, and higher education policy makers at the national, regional and European level.

43rd in the series “European Policy Seminars” of the Academic Cooperation Association