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A Best Practice Guide for implementing Liberal Arts and Sciences at European Higher Education Institutions, offered to you by EPICUR European University Alliance


Increasing Flexibility in Existing Study Programmes

How to achieve more flexibility in an existing study programme?
Liberal Arts and Sciences education is “education that pursues liberty, autonomy, independent thinking, critical thinking, and freedom of thought; and a holistic curriculum that aims to provide multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary education on the one hand but also encourages students to pursue their own academic interests that normally would not be available in the structured and programmatic university curriculum. Overall, liberal arts education nurtures liberated and autonomous individuals.” (Nishimura & Sasao, 2019).
Students pursuing their own academic interests can be encouraged by increasing the flexibility in existing study programmes. More flexibility in an existing study programme may be achieved in several ways:
LAS degree programs are known for allowing considerable student choice and flexibility in charting their degree paths; one simple method to create this flexibility is by allocating more elective credits to students’ total graduation requirements. However, beyond LAS, building time and credit flexibility into degree programs’ curricula allows students to explore their own interests and follow their goals, strengths, and career aspiration, many of which may/do not map neatly to the knowledge targeted in their degree programs.
At many European universities, elective credit allocations represent the best (or, indeed, only) option for students to integrate non-degree courses into their study program. The amount of ECTS students may gain in electives to count towards their study programs, however, varies significantly. Therefore, a suggested first step is for degree programs to aim for an approximately 30 ECTS elective credit allocation (i.e., the equivalent of one semester). This would generally boost student participation in meaningful educational offers outside of their mandatory degree program courses.
Establishing mobility windows will also increase flexibility in curricula. For example, at the University of Amsterdam all Bachelor programs, except for Dentistry and Medicine include a 'mobility window' or Minor space of 30 ECTS which are often part of a student’s fifth semester.  
Integrating internships and study abroad opportunities in a curriculum supports students’ transversal competences by helping students integrate theoretical and practical aspects of their undergraduate education and to apply knowledge and skills in real-world settings. However, meaningful curricular and co/extra-curricular work can be made more attractive and feasible through such windows.  
LAS programs are known to target transversal competences that filter down through the curriculum. And while competence development is an agreed-upon higher education goal in Europe (e.g., Bucharest Communique, 2012), many university stakeholders are not fully versed in competence-oriented approaches. 
Because the development of transversal skills, crossing disciplinary boundaries, and student choice are fundamental to an LAS approach, LAS-inspired courses and pathways (e.g., the European Tracks) may be at odds with traditional more tightly articulated and sequenced study programs. While most university study programs impart both subject-specific and interdisciplinary knowledge and skills, in LAS education, a competence orientation remains consistent thanks to the interdisciplinary, intercultural, problem-based, and applied orientation evident throughout LAS curriculum and course design. 
Employing a consistently competence-first (i.e., not content-first) orientation to curriculum and course design opens up student choices on how to gain these competences, which in turn supports transparent and fair recognition of ECTS. A tool often used to support a competence orientation in study programs is grouping them within mandatory modules while also allowing for more flexible competence attainment (e.g., in non-program electives).
As described in the European Commission ECTS Users' Guide, a module is a "self-contained, formally structured learning experience. It should have a coherent and explicit set of learning outcomes, expressed in terms of competences to be obtained, and appropriate assessment criteria". This means not defining subject-specific competences, but rather emphasizing competences irrespective of field and related to a student's attitudes, values, motivation, and volition. Regardless of your role in delivering education, your students will need much more than content knowledge to be ready to address societies greatest challenges (in Europe and beyond).  
At University College Freiburg, students could use EPICUR courses in their mandatory modules and their senior profile (see figure 1). This was possible due to the competence-based description of the UCF Modules leaving some flexibility in the courses that students can use to fulfill the module requirements. The UCF Modules are described in the  UCF Module Handbook.  An example of the senior profile module  shown below. Besides the competence orientation, the examination flexibility makes it possible for students to use a range of courses to fulfill the module requirements.  
UCF Senior profile module
The integration of courses from cross-disciplinary programmes is already a standard procedure for many study programmes. At the University of Freiburg, all Bachelor and Law students at the University of Freiburg have to complete a minimum of 8 ECTS (varying by programme) from the BOK (Berufsfeldorientierte Kompetenzen, i.e., profession-oriented skills) area to gain employment-related competencies during their university studies.
Achievements successfully completed within the framework of EPICUR can be used for the BOK area of the university of Freiburg’s Zentrum für Schlüsselqualifikationen (ZfS, Cernter for Key Qualifications), provided equivalence can be established. Before taking part in an EPICUR course, students need to contact the ZfS by e-mail with the course title, a module description, and their matriculation number. They then receive a positive or negative assessment of equivalence to the respective BOK area. After successful participation in the EPICUR offer, in the case of a positive assessment in advance, the ZfS issues a recognition recommendation for the students’ respective examination office, which decides if the credits will be recognised in the student's mandatory BOK area.
Such an approach could also be provided for other Liberal Arts and Sciences inspired course offers. The House of Competence (HoC) and the Zentrum für Angewandte Kulturwissenschaft (ZAK) at KIT could enable similar approaches.

Last edited: 26. Oct 2022, 10:21, [sr1149@uni-freiburg.de]