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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


Principles of LAS Education

What principles inform an LAS educational approach?
While Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS) is often associated with the eponymous interdisciplinary study programmes, usually leading to a Bachelor’s degree, that have emerged in Europe over the last 25 years, it is largely the didactic approach and the distinct set of competences inherent to LAS programmes that defines the nature of LAS. It is an interdisciplinary and international approach to education that
  • fosters critical thinking
  • promotes collaborative, problem-based approaches
  • builds intercultural competence
  • encourages civic engagement and application of knowledge beyond the classroom
  • develops life-long learners ready to tackle Europe's biggest societal challenges
The LAS didactic approach is not strictly tied to LAS degree programmes (as offered by EPICUR partners Amsterdam University College, Adam Mickiewicz University, or University College Freiburg), but finds expression in various contexts and forms in higher education. 
Expert definitions
In the panels below, LAS educational experts offer definitions and salient features of LAS educational approaches and programs.
Becker (2004) defines LAS education as
"a system of higher education designed to foster in students the desire and capacity to learn, think critically and openly, and communicate proficiently, and to prepare them to function as engaged citizens. It is distinguished by a flexible curriculum that demands breadth as well as depth of study, encourages inter-disciplinarity, and enables student choice. It is realized through a student-centered pedagogy that is interactive and requires students to engage directly with texts within and outside of the classroom (p. 4)"
A typical LAS learning environment, according to Boetsch et al. (2017),
"is most successful when structured on a small scale to allow frequent interaction between and among students and faculty. While small class sizes and low student/faculty ratios are ideal for creating such an environment, it is also possible to structure large classes in such a way as to implement some of these interactive aspects. (p. 7)"
Van Damme (2016) highlights the interdisciplinarity of LAS Programs: 
"A common, defining feature of liberal arts and sciences programs is their integration of various disciplines into a coherent curriculum, often combining natural and life sciences, social sciences, and humanities and the arts into interesting and innovative combinations, with large numbers of elective courses open to students to construct their own curriculum. "
LAS and life-long learning
One important goal of Liberal Arts and Sciences is to provide the skills and to promote the enthusiasm in students to pursue learning beyond the classroom, what is often referred to as 'lifelong learning'. Many of the pedagogical tools employed in teaching within a Liberal Arts and Sciences environment reach beyond disciplinary content to instruct students on how to learn and to keep on learning. This particular capacity, while important for the workplace where the accumulation and application of new knowledge is essential for advancement also contributes to the enhancement of the quality of life, part of the active citizenship for which the Liberal Arts and Sciences prepare students (Boetsch, 2017, p. 7) .
In practice, this means designing curricula and courses to instill a passion to learn and multiply knowledge. Due to its breadth + depth approach that reaches across subject areas, an LAS approach naturally fosters curiosity, openness to different perspectives, and problem-based learning approaches that “[do] not begin from a disciplinary stance, but look first at the nature of the material/problem/issue” (Monk & Fisher, 2017, p. 23 in ECOLAS Learning & Teaching guide). In following this approach, LAS students learn to incorporate a broad perspective, identify information gaps, and conduct further research when needed well beyond the end of their university studies. 

Last edited: 26. Oct 2022, 09:41, [sr1149@uni-freiburg.de]