14 changes in the European Liberal Arts Landscape (Autumn 2018)

14 changes in the European Liberal Arts Landscape (Autumn 2018)

As the new academic year starts we were keen to get some clarity on the state of the liberal arts initiatives across Europe. The most volatile was the UK, where 4 new degrees and 2 smaller activities have joined the more than 20 programmes and institutions already in operation. Continental Europe added two new programmes, both with a strong Catholic profile. Two UK programmes suspended enrollment, and two others scheduled to open in 2018 were delayed or cancelled. ELAI database and map are now up to date. In this post we also cover two more ambivalent developments and provide a link to a relevant funding opportunity.

Newcomers to ELAI database

1) Central Lancashire
The three-year Bachelor degree in Liberal Arts at the University of Central Lancashire (Preston) offers three compulsory modules (Introduction to Liberal Arts, Extended Essay, Personal Development and employability) and significant leeway in selecting modules from the humanities and social sciences. It also offers an extended four-year course: either as a foundational entry for less-prepared candidates, or to accommodate a year of study abroad. Established in 1828 as ‘The Institution For The Diffusion Of Useful Knowledge’, University of Central Lancashire adds to a handful of universities in the North of Britain that consider liberal arts a relevant addition to their palette of course offerings. Keith Vernon, who serves as a course leader, wrote an article on the historical pattern of English students going away from home to attend university.

2) Nottingham
The three-year Bachelor degree in Liberal Arts at University of Nottingham requires six compulsory modules (starting with an introduction to Liberal Arts dealing with interdisciplinary thinking, and ending with a ‘Synoptic Module’ where students work on a team project with students from Natural Science). Two thirds of the courses are optional and language modules. The course seeks ‘ambitious students interested in acquiring a comprehensive education while developing skills valued across a range of sectors’ who ‘will receive bespoke training in small groups, with a focus on cross-cultural problem solving for an interconnected world’. The course published a ‘Guide to being interdisciplinary’ and run a blog on the liberal arts. Ross Wilson, Director of Liberal Arts, explained his vision of liberal arts in an early 2018 blog post here. You can also follow their development on Instagram and Twitter.

3) Belfast
Queen’s University Belfast started a new four-year MLibArts programme targeting undergraduate applicants to lead through a Masters qualification in liberal arts in one continuous programme. The programme offers a number of core courses students have to take each year as well as further optional modules. After one year in the programme, students nominate a pathway of their study from the following list: Anthropology, Drama, Economics, English, French, Film, History, International Studies, Irish, Music, Philosophy, Politics, Portuguese, Spanish and Theology. MLibArts at QUB prides itself with international cooperations as well as industry links and an early on career development

4) Wales
University of Wales Trinity Saint David launched a new liberal arts B.A. for students ‘who wish to sample a range of Humanities subjects’. It’s a broad programme of study within the humanities, that includes two years of ‘Basic Studies’ where students take module from different schools within that Faculty of Humanities and Performing Arts. Throughout their studies students take field trips and a range of research visits. In their third year of liberal arts at UWTSD, students specialise in their own area of interest.

5) Winchester / Contemporary Conversations
University of Winchester, known for punching well beyond its weight in the UK liberals arts scene, has quietly started a third initiative related to the idea of liberal education. ‘Contemporary Conversations’, introduced in 2018-19 as an experimental module (compulsory for first year students from four degrees from four university faculties, and obligatory for another four), that in the future could become an element of a core curriculum for all students at the university. It has been designed by Thomas Nørgaard, Director of Liberal Education at Winchester.

The module is comprised of lectures or panel discussions, as well as over a dozen discussion sections that allow students - united by their fresh experience of the university, but artificially divided between many disciplinary perspectives - come together and reflect on the course readings (viewings and listenings). Contemporary conversations deals with questions that have claim on all humans, in line with value studies philosophy, and this year they are grouped in four broad categories: freedom, nature, justice, and love.

Co-teaching, by university staff and invited guests, is a rule; assessment is comprised of response papers students write every week. The point of the course is to expose the power of values in how we live our lives and incite participants to engage in a conversation about things that matter. Interested students can attend, previously popular, value studies modules in the next semesters.

New Catholic liberal arts Bachelor degrees

Two new Catholic, residential, private liberal arts degrees have been added to the European liberal arts landscape, marking next steps in this direction for the respective institutions.

6) BA Liberal Arts with French is now being offered by the Chavagnes Studium, a private Catholic institution in the Vendée region. The intensive Bachelor offers an equivalent of a four year curriculum in just two years, with teaching offered jointly by Chavagnes Studium and Catholic University of the Vendée. Second year students would also spend some time in Poland taking courses in philosophy at the Catholic University of Lublin. The bilingual curriculum spans five areas: literature, history, philosophy and theology, mathematics and sciences, as well as French and Latin. The course targets Catholic students seeking ‘solid intellectual formation’, including those who would later enter into teaching and priesthood.

7) The Bachelor in Liberal Arts has been introduced by International Theological Institute in Trumau near Vienna. The three year course challenges students to ‘know reality and seek God’ by pursuing courses from philosophy, theology, literature, rhetoric, history, law, economy, natural science, music, arts, and not small amount of ancient languages. It’s modeled after a great-books curriculum which can be found here. The course seeks to form the whole of the human person, and is offered entirely in English.

Suspended, delayed, and cancelled courses

8) After just two years, University of Derby is sunsetting its Liberal Arts Programme. Admissions for first year students were suspended in the summer, but second and third year students would be allowed to complete their studies. If nothing changes, the programme would cease operation in 2020.

9) University of the West of England’s Liberal Arts Programme apparently has been silently closed.

10) And there were/are even more to come: Both London South Bank University (liberal arts BA) and Bath Spa University (liberal arts MA) have courses to come which did not create enough demand to start this year but might remain on offer for 2019.

Other notable developments

11) Winchester / Postgraduate Liberal Arts Lecture Series
While most developments in the European Liberal Arts target Bachelor-level students, a new lecture series for postgraduate students have been created. “Bees Brexit and some fascism”, a weekly Monday evening lecture throughout fall semester, created by Nigel Tubbs from Liberal Arts at Winchester, offers a thought provoking reflection of the things that matter that would be “interesting and enjoyable in their own right”. The lecture series do not track attendance or require student to prepare essays, but allows them to focus on an intellectual stimulation beyond any disciplinary perspective. It also hopes to offer chances for otherwise often isolated postgraduate students to meet each other afterwards.

12) The curious case of an Open University degree
Open University has a BA (Hons) Arts and Humanities on offer. In the only online degree that can count among liberal arts programmes, the three year curriculum has one mandatory course (The arts, past and present), and one optional course (Voices, Texts, and Material culture); together they make up the full first year of instruction. Modules in the remaining two years students choose according to their preferred major from the arts and humanities areas, or can follow the ‘broad route’ picking 2 courses per year from about a dozen offered at each stage.

Despite many attempts, we have not received a clear response as to when the course was introduced (likely before 2018, though we only learned about it now), who is the programme leader, and whether it is actually running in 2018-19 or was only offered. Only part of those problems can be ascribed to the specifics of distance learning. Due to limited information, we are unable to include it at ELAI database for the time being.

13) ‘Liberal Arts’ name without Liberal Arts Course
We have also been alerted by some readers about a new development that further confuses the ‘Liberal Arts’ Label. It is likely very recent. University of Greenwich has now a Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences; University of Westminster has a College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, while Bath Spa University has a College of Liberal Arts. The first two do not offer or, to the best of our knowledge, intend to offer a Liberal Arts degree programme at all. Bath Spa, which is a home base for Global Academy of Liberal Arts, currently has no students enrolled in their Liberal Arts degree. Because they do not offer programmes inspired by liberal arts philosophy that actually affect students, ELAI database would not list them at that time, but we will keep an eye on the development of this new trend.

As to why this happens, some might associate it with American type of university organisation, others see this as evidence of the increased prestige and recognition of the ‘liberal arts’ label in the UK, and still others might choose to interpret it as nothing more than a result of mergers at the faculty level, certainly requires scrutiny in the future. One thing we know for sure: googling liberal arts programmes would become more arduous.

14) ECOLAS has just announced the 4th round of Julie J. Kidd Travel Research fellowships, very much in line with previous editions. Applications from teachers at liberal arts institutions from across Europe are accepted until November 26. 2018. More information and the application form can be found here.

We appreciate your feedback: if you have spotted an error or an omission, please let us know at our email [info [at] liberal-arts.eu]. ELAI would publish a similar update about continental developments soon.

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