Looking back, looking forward. Liberal Arts in Europe in 2018

Liberal Arts in Europe in 2018

This website was launched in August 2017 offering a database of liberal arts education institutions throughout the continent, a publicly accessible source of basic organisational data. ELAI website has attracted over 3.100 unique visitors during the first five months since launch, while the related Google map has been accessed over 2.300 times. An ebook on student experience of liberal arts education, conceived after first Liberal Education Student Conference and co-edited by Jakob Dirksen, Daniel Kontowski and David Kretz, appeared on ELAI in October, and has attracted 800 visitors who viewed, downloaded, or ordered paper copies of the book. The book has already been reviewed by Howard Gardner (on his blog) and Davydd Greenwood (on Academography). We have published 12 blog posts covering events of interest to the European liberal arts community in the hope of raising public awareness of liberal arts education, forging new connections between institutions and generations, and providing a helpful resource to those interested in learning about or participating in liberal education developments. We have slowly been building our Facebook presence, and even published a recording of a symposium we held in Aarhus together with Teun Dekker on Youtube - Teun is an alumnus of University College Utrecht, vice-dean and newly appointed professor of liberal arts and sciences at University College Maastricht.

But 2017 was marked by an increased interest in European liberal education initiatives beyond ELAI, including the following:

Continuing developments

  • Some of the students who attended 1st LESC have their academic articles on liberal arts published in a special issue of Educational Philosophy and Theory (introduction here, links to papers in the sidebar, print forthcoming), edited by Jakob Tonda Dirksen and Nigel Tubbs.
  • Closely connected, the second edition of Liberal Education Student Conference brought a few dozens of young liberal artisans to Freiburg in May 2017 to discuss big challenges of today’s world and what liberal education can offer in their context.
  • University of Winchester hosted the second edition of the bi-annual European Liberal Arts Conference, co-organised with University of Navarra (host of 2019 edition), Amsterdam University College (host of 2015 edition), and US-based Association of Core Texts and Courses.
  • The oldest operating organisation of liberal arts education, ECOLAS, has concluded its multi-year, Erasmus+-funded BLASTER project, with a series of workshops in Warwick, Middelburg, Lüneburg and the Hague - the last one featuring a keynote by Hans Adriaansens, celebrated as a founding father of liberal arts in the Netherlands, which can be read here - and awarded the third batch of Julie Johnson Kidd Travel Research fellowships.
  • Finally, let’s not forget that some older institutions have celebrated their anniversaries:


  • A new network with the provisional title LA+S is being developed among most of the UK programmes, although for now it has remained under the radar;
  • The Erasmus+-funded CREATES project kicked off in Lüneburg - is has also been conceived in 2017;
  • The University of Hamburg has organised the November Expert Days on Liberal Arts (#NEXD17);
  • American Universities Abroad”, an edited book on branch campuses and international partnerships of US colleges and universities, has been published including contributions by Samuel Abraham, Jonathan Becker and Susan Gillespie, Thimios Zaharopoulos, David G. Horner, as well as Kara A. Godwin and Richard A. Detweiler.

What to expect in 2018?

Where 2017 was marked by many discrete events attracting a few dedicated misfits, 2018 would certainly witness scaling up the influence of liberal arts education developments across the continent. Below is a short but hopefully helpful list of relevant forthcoming events and other things of interest.


  1. Russia - “Mapping the liberal arts”, a workshop organised at Liberal Arts College at the Russian Presidential Academy for National Economy and Public Administration in Moscow invites expressions of interest. The workshop would take place in Moscow on 23-24.03.2018, and targets primarily faculty and administration from Global Academy of Liberal Arts (GALA) member institutions (though some external participants might be considered). The only cost to be covered by participants is travel. Email Ms. Anna Artamonova by January 30th if you would like to attend, stating your name, position and institution.
  2. Germany - "1st Liberal Education Student Symposium" - If you are tired of academic conferences, and prefer nature to city dwellings, a symposium in a Schwarzwald hut might be for you. Organised by University College Freiburg in an actual nearby mountain cabin on 13-15.04.2018, this first Liberal Education Student Symposium (LESS) will focus on liberal education and politics, and seeks 25-40 students from throughout Europe that are interested in this occasion for intimate discussion including philosophy, theory and practice of liberal arts education and its political connotations. More details on the concept and organisation details can be found here, and organisers can be contacted on Facebook or through email. A form to register for the event would follow shortly, as the deadline is February 15th.
  3. Netherlands - "3rd Liberal Education Student Conference" - The third edition of LESC is happening in Utrecht, 10-13.05.2018, appropriately for the 20th anniversary year of the first University College in the country. Hoping to attract over 140 students from liberal arts colleges and programmes throughout Europe, and in the spirit of well organised country, preparations are well ahead with a concept paper, preliminary programme, and call for proposals already uploaded well ahead of March 1st submission date. Apart from a short paper, participants would “go Dutch” and pay a nominal fee for food and a place to sleep (not exceeding 25 EUR). Organisers are promptly responding to emails, and also put a movie version of call for papers on Facebook (bikes, canals and beer featured)!

Research papers

  • “Selling the liberal arts degree in England: unique students, generic skills and mass higher education”, by Kathryn Telling, would be published in “Sociology”, and is based on content analysis of UCAS descriptions of liberal arts courses in the UK, making fascinating connections between institutional prestige and discourses used for “selling” the liberal education idea to prospective students.
  • “Emerging alternative designs for higher education: Liberal arts initiatives in Europe” by Daniel Kontowski would be published as a chapter of “University Futures” book, edited by Susan Wright and Rebecca Lund, at Berghahn Books.

New ELAI-listed programs

  • International Theological Institute in Trumau (Austria), a private Catholic university already offering one year Studium Generale program in English, would start a full Bachelor in Liberal Arts degree. According to Dr Vincent DeMeo, the degree would build upon Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian traditions to create a "school of life where our humanity blossoms and where life vocations and found and fostered". Taught in English, the degree includes courses in mathematics, natural science, music, literature, classical languages, history, law and government, philosophy, and Catholic theology for a "profound formation of the whole human person: intellectual, social-political, and spiritual" for both wisdom and virtue. 
  • University of Winchester would pilot its new core curriculum component before 2018-19 rollout to all first year students. Details are not yet public.


Other notable developments

  • University Colleges Deans of the Netherlands has commissioned a survey of Liberal arts graduates throughout the country, and received over 2200 responses. The survey was first of such kind in Europe, and the results are expected in March 2018.
  • LAS21 project led by Howard Gardner at Harvard is expected to disseminate first results of massive scale interviews with various liberal arts education stakeholders throughout the US, focusing on perceptions of liberal arts education today.

If you think we have forgot about your event, please do message us and we would gladly include it.

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