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GERMANY: New approach to liberal studies

Next October, the European College of Liberal Arts in Berlin will begin offering a four-year degree leading to a bachelor of arts in value studies. Said to be the first of its kind worldwide, the college says the degree represents a new European approach to liberal education.

The college is a private, non-profit institution of higher education which has operated an "international summer university" since 2000 and one-year programmes since 2002. It is supported by a philanthropic grant from the Christian A. Johnson Endeavour Foundation in New York and the funding enables it to offer a needs-blind admissions policy and a faculty student ratio of 1:7.

The college says students and staff are from "all over the world" and they work together in English. Students live and study on a small residential campus on eight renovated former GDR embassies in Berlin. Among other institutions, it co-operates with Bennington College in Vermont, Bard College in New York, and Bucerius Law School in Hamburg.

"In Europe, it is common for general education to take place in high school while the years in higher education are dedicated to single-minded vocational or disciplinary training," the college says in a release.

"It is not clear, however, that this system serves us well. In an age when technological progress is miles ahead of our general conceptual abilities, and when our global institution-building is far too crude for us to meet the political, economic and cultural challenges we are confronted with, it is time to improve our level of general education".

The college says it operates without departments and is "dedicated to the integrated study of values". The new degree is aimed at students who want to combine their pursuit of special interests with a demanding studium generale working with academics from different backgrounds on moral, political, epistemic, religious, and aesthetic questions.

Further details can be found on the college website: www.ecla.de

I congratulate the Euroepan College of Liberal arts on this initiative. I was aware that it was in the making for several years. But I challenge the view that it is a new European approach to liberal arts education. In The Netherlands, already for some 10 years, University College Utrecht, and for five years Maastricht University College and the Rooseveld Academy in Middelburg, offer three-year liberal arts education leading to bachelors of arts or sciences. Tilburg University has a slightly different concept but is also liberal arts focussed, and in September 2009 the two universities in Amsterdam, the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdsam and the Universiteit van Amsterdam, will also start a three-year Amsterdam University College. Leiden University has plans for a college to be established in The Hague. All these colleges are (semi) residential, international in sudent and faculty body, and striving to provide an enviroment for excellence. They score extremely high in student satisfaction, performance and graduation. Elsewhere in Europe and also, for instance, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, there are similar developments.

Hans de Wit

On behalf of the College, I would like to offer a small corrective to Mr De Witt's comment. ECLA is not claiming of course that the teaching of liberal arts, or the creation of an interdisciplinary, international liberal arts college is a novelty. What is new about ECLA's liberal arts programme is that it organizes its curriculum and teaching philosophy around the concept of value. ECLA's new BA in Value Studies, in particular, is a liberal arts programme that involves a fundamental rethinking of what it means to
pursue a liberal education at the University level. Our full press release, as well as a detailed description of the BA programme is available at www.ecla.de

Peter Hajnal

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