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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


Initial Considerations

What are some initial considerations and steps to follow when setting up a university LAS program?
The institutional goals when setting up a LAS program are manyfold. Nevertheless, the aim of your university and also other stakeholders should be clearly defined and transparent. You should also know to what extent these goals limit the freedom you have in designing your program and if it is actually possible to combine all goals.
Questions to ask:
Regarding goals:
  • What does your institution gain from setting up a LAS program?
  • What factors led to the decision for your institution to establish a LAS Bachelor degree program?
  • Do you want to fill a specific niche?
  • Do you want to attract more students and, if so, is there a specific group you want to target?
  • Are you hoping that these students will continue with a Master’s degree at your university after they graduate?
  • Do you want to have an experimenting space for new didactical approaches?
  • Are there departments that are expected to take part in your program?
  • What does your university expect?
  • What are your stakeholders expecting?
  • Are all of these expectations realistic and combinable?
Regarding institutional setting:
  • In which area (e.g., faculty, department, college, or similar organizational unit) of your university is the LAS program situated?
  • Which stakeholders were involved in making that decision?
Main reasons to set up an LAS program
(as suggested by ECOLAS BLASTER):
  • A reaction to the strong monodisciplinary orientation of degree programs that characterizes most universities in Europe combined with a desire to innovate Higher Education from within the Universities.
  • The desire of students to follow a broad program that trains them in academic skills and provides them with a solid basis for both a career and postgraduate study.
  • The need for differentiation to counteract the massification of Higher Education
  • The increasing demand by the labor market for employees who are able to apply problem solving skills, who can master new knowledge quickly and who can communicate in a variety of settings including a culturally diverse environment.
What are the characteristics of your institutional setting?
When considering to establish a LAS programme, it is important to decide what the aims of the university are with such a programme. The institutional gain for your university should be clearly defined:
  • Does it want to fill a specific niche?
  • Does it want to experiment with new didactical approaches?
  • Does it want to attract more students and, if so, is there a specific group they want to target?
  • Is it hoping that these students will continue with a Master’s degree at your university after they graduate?
  • Are there departments that are expected to take part in the programme?
  • Or is there a combination of aims that need to be taken into account?
Before you go into the design of the program, ensure that you know what the expectations of the University are, to what extent that limits the freedom you have in designing the program and if it is actually possible to combine all of these expectations. Conversely, make sure that the stakeholders know what they can realistically expect from a LAS program.
Before starting with these initial considerations, make sure you are familiar with LAS learning aims and th LAS philosophy. LAS is not a corpus of knowledge; it is an approach to learning and can be used in a variety of ways. The criticism that is often heard within European Universities which have a monodisciplinary tradition is that LAS lacks rigour, depth and coherence, that in LAS ‘anything goes’. When hearing about a broad bachelor program, concerns are expressed that students will not gain enough depth, that there is not enough coherence in the programme. To the unfamiliar an LAS program in which students compose their own curriculum can be seen as a grab-bag out of which students pick and mix the courses they find interesting without making sure they develop (research) skills or work towards deeper knowledge in one or more disciplines.
Those who work in LAS programs know that this is not the case; our programs are thought out very carefully Most LAS programmes give the students the freedom and responsibility to create their own path, as this allows students to follow personal interests and to learn to take decisions: in some programmes, as at UCM or in the Studium Individuale at Leuphana, this is more pronounced than in other. But almost all programmes have requirements in place to make sure that students graduate with a meaningful set of courses that prepares them for further study or the workplace. The integrity and coherence of the programme and the vision that underpins it, is essential and this should include a strong commitment to liberal education.
With the increasing popularity of LAS programs in Europe, there is another tendency to call all broad bachelor programs LAS. For those who do not fully understand the principles of the LAS programmes, this is an understandable misinterpretation, although some aspects between a LAS programme and a broad bachelor in for example Social Sciences may be similar. A broad bachelor programme which combines various disciplines within the social sciences but does not include sciences or humanities is very interesting and worthwhile, but it is not LAS. Although different discussions, they both focus on the structure and aims of the LAS programme. It is therefore important to benchmark your program against general learning outcomes for LAS programs.
As you are working on a new programme, you may find that you want to structure your programme in a different way than your university offers. Often universities use semesters or trimesters and all programmes operate in the same rhythm of teaching and examining. If you want to include for example project weeks, short intensive courses that last only a couple of weeks, or different assessment schemes, you will have to take the regulations of your university into account. Find support for your innovative plans and try to find the freedom to try something new. If this is not possible, you will have to find a creative way to adjust your plans.
Initial considerations of EPICUR Partners:
Reasons for setting up an LAS programme:
A number of factors influenced the decision of the Executive Boards of VU Amsterdam and the University of Amsterdam to found a University College in Amsterdam:
  • The globalisation of our society and the need, in a globally competitive environment, to nurture, develop and attract talent internationally.
  • The need to widen choice in Dutch higher education and create more avenues for excellence
  • The increasing demand for study programmes that are intellectually challenging and call for broad academic, cultural and social interests.
  • The need for more opportunities for students to major in science and science-related fields in a liberal arts and sciences context.
  • Developments in bilingual and international education at Dutch secondary schools.
  • The multicultural character of Amsterdam and the presence of many international companies and institutions, offering the perfect environment for connecting excellence and diversity in an academic context.
  • As a joint programme, AUC greatly enhances the cooperation between the two Amsterdam-based research universities. Both Executive Boards are convinced that AUC has a positive effect on the existing programmes of their universities, as AUC's innovative approaches to undergraduate education are shared widely to the benefit of all students.
Institutional setting:
Amsterdam University College (AUC) is a cooperation of two science faculties of the University of Amsterdam (UvA) and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU): the UvA Faculty of Science and the VU Faculty of Science.
The top governance of AUC is formed by the Deans (decanen) of these science faculties, and the AUC Dean reports to them. As AUC’s top governing body, the Deans of the science faculties report to the Executive Boards of the VU and UvA.
The Deans of the science faculties are jointly responsible for AUC’s strategic management, its education policy and its implementation, its policies with regard to buildings, finances, and human resources, and its quality assurance system. They are also responsible for adopting AUC’s Academic Standards and Procedures and monitoring their implementation. They appoint the Board of Studies, the Board of Examiners and the International Advisory Board, and adopt AUC’s budget and year plan.
Reasons for setting up an LAS programme:
University College Freiburg was founded in 2012 at the University of Freiburg. It serves as a central and interfaculty platform for promoting and administering international, interdisciplinary teaching activities. Complementing the faculties' work in this field, UCF serves as a laboratory for innovative approaches to instructional design and teaching, and houses high profile projects, notably the Bachelor Program in Liberal Arts and Sciences.
As the three main parts of its mission, UCF facilitates interdisciplinarity, internationalization, and didactic-methodological innovation in higher education. It provides a platform for projects that support and complement existing initiatives within the university or break new ground in areas from which the whole university can benefit. It is thus part of the university's self-understanding as an internationally competitive research and teaching institution
The four-year, English-taught Bachelor program in Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS) is UCF's major offering. It emphasizes a broad interdisciplinary education, while at the same time providing for individualized academic concentrations on a high academic level. In order to provide a framework and didactic guidance for interdisciplinary higher education, the University of Freiburg has established two new chairs: Epistemology and Theory of Science and Science and Technology Studies. Together with UCF Teaching Staff and Teaching Fellows from within and beyond the university, these professorships are the backbone of the first Liberal Arts and Sciences study program in Germany.
Institutional setting:
The Freiburg LAS program is situated at an interfaculty unit, University College Freiburg. The conceptualization was initiated at the central university Rectorate. The concrete institutional plans were developed in a professorial LAS/UCF working group with members from all faculties, with support by central university administration. The formal decisions were taken centrally by the university Senate and Rectorate.
The organizational structure of University College Freiburg reflects the following goals:
  • autonomy as a distinctive institution and integration into the University of Freiburg and its faculties
  • shared responsibilities and stakeholder participation
UCF is a central institution at Freiburg University under the Vice-President for Academic Affairs. The Directorate is responsible for strategic decision-making and integration into the University. It is composed of the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, the Director of Outreach, the Professorship in Science and Technology Studies, Professorship in Epistemology and Theory of Science and LAS Dean of Studies, Managing Director, an elected UCF Teaching Staff delegate, and an LAS student.
Advisory Board:
The UCF Advisory Board advises the Directorate and provides strategic guidance for the development of the college and its programs. It consists of representatives from civil society, business, politics, and from our students' future work areas.
LAS Board of Studies:
The Liberal Arts and Sciences program falls under the responsibility of an interfaculty Board of Studies headed by the Dean of Studies, Prof. Dr. Frieder Vogelmann. Teaching in the LAS program is in part covered by lecturers and professors at UCF. Further courses are offered by LAS Teaching Fellows from the University and beyond.
Two professorships provide the necessary academic and reflexive framework for UCF and the LAS program. They play a central role in teaching and leadership at UCF and conduct research in their respective fields of expertise:
  • Professorship in Epistemology and Theory of Science (Prof. Dr. Frieder Vogelmann)
  • Professorship in Science and Technology Studies (Prof. Dr. Veronika Lipphardt)
Institutional setting:
Given the fact that the program’s founders come from AMU’s Faculty of History, the AMU-LAS-Bachelor has been assigned to the field of history. In the future, attempts will be made to increase the number of disciplines to which the program is assigned. It seems, however, that it cannot yet function as a fully interdisciplinary program under the current legal framework.
The AMU-LAS-Bachelor’s institutional home is the Centre for Liberal Arts and Sciences. Paragraph 80 of the AMU Statute defines University Centres as follows:
  1. A university centre is an organizational unit created for the implementation of interdisciplinary research projects, national or international, and to popularize their results in various forms.
  2. The university centre brings together interested research groups made up of employees from various organizational units of the University or research centres from the country or abroad.
The Centre for Liberal Arts and Sciences was established by decree of AMU’s Rector in September 2020.
The tasks of the Centre include creating a platform for cooperation related to the Liberal Arts and Sciences program in the field of coordination of activities education, exchange of experiences, planning further forms of its development and promotion.
The Centre is managed by its director, who – if necessary – can appoint a secretary (par. 3). The Director of the Centre can establish a council (different from the Program Council of the program) counting 3-5 members (par. 4).
The Centre is a separate, extra-faculty structure. However, given the fact that the AMU-LAS-Bachelor has been assigned to the Faculty of History, the Centre retains a strong connection with that faculty:
  • The LAS Centre is physically located in the building of the Faculty, Collegium Historicum. Most AMU-LAS-Bachelor classes take place there.
  • AMU-LAS-Bachelor students and the Faculty of History share the same Office for Student Services.
  • The Vice-Dean of the Faculty makes all the administrative decisions related to AMU-LAS-Bachelor students.
  • The AMU-LAS-Bachelor is presented as an element of the faculty’s educational offer.

Last edited: 28. Oct 2022, 12:14, [sr1149@uni-freiburg.de]