Liberal Arts Education and the Future University, Aarhus Conference Video 2017

Aarhus conference

From November 6th to 8th 2017 the Centre for Higher Education Futures (CHEF) and the Centre for Teaching Development and Digital Media (CUDiM) at Aarhus University hosted the very first ‘Philosophy of Higher Education Conference’ (#PHEC17). With a very broad interest in the ‘Purpose of the Future University’ the conference attracted 90 scholars from 17 countries. The conference’s organisers Sarah Robinson, Søren S.E. Bengtsen, Amanda Fulford and Wesley Shumar facilitated fruitful discussions on the university as an institution in the 21st century and made sure that everyone enjoyed the warm welcoming spirit of Aarhus, second-largest city in Denmark and full of hyggelige cafés.

We - Daniel Kontowski and Tim Hoff from ELAI, together with Teun Dekker (v-dean University College Maastricht) - were lucky to find ourselves invited to this conference to host a panel on liberal (arts) education and its possibilities of shaping the future university. We presented our ELAI database to prove pluralism and discuss different models of liberal arts in Europe. We then elaborated on the role reflective judgement, essential for liberal arts education, plays in strengthening democracy. Finally, we hinted at tensions between liberal and neoliberal education and suggested future paths to evaluating whether liberal arts education can indeed provide an alternative.

In the spirit of open access and making our panel available to a broader audience, we have recorded our presentations and uploaded them. They are now available on Youtube:


The panel was officially called “symposium”, and very rightly so. Those who could not be with us at this time might be interested in some of the questions raised from the audience:

  1. Can liberal education mean an opportunity to choose (some of) the classes attended by a student - or is its essence somewhere else, and where exactly?
  2. Is the provisional definition of liberal arts education that we have used in the introduction a normative one, or purely descriptive - and if the latter, why do we consider using this label so relevant?
  3. Do you see the slippery slope of personalisation → individualisation → privatisation → commodification?
  4. Can we think of education as intrinsically important / good today - or maybe as Maaschelein and Simons in their work on schools, as an intergenerational gift?
  5. Should we try to justify liberal arts through political aims, as Dekker proposes, and operate on a substantive definition of democracy and particular model of a democratic citizen?
  6. Is liberal arts education about utilizing reason / cognitive skills - and then should everybody that is not interested / practising this kind of education is in the last instance be considered a slave?
  7. Anti-employability argument forgets that career can be fulfilling, and be rightly called a vocation?
  8. Should maybe our matrix of options for why liberal arts programmes use neoliberal employability agenda be expanded to include: conceptual confusion, opportunism, thinly veiled internalised employability agenda, and practicality (jumping through relevant hoops by good people, getting away with something valuable given the conditions)?

Thank you very much everyone who participated in this productive discussion. The conversation on liberal arts education in European context will obviously be continued.

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