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Brussels, 9 October 2014

Improving undergraduate education in Europe: liberal arts and science colleges


This ACA European Policy Seminar is dedicated to Liberal Arts (and Sciences) education in Europe. Liberal Arts Colleges have long been an integral and cherished component of US higher education, even though the underlying concept was originally a European one. About 10 years ago, Europe began to ‘re-import’  liberal arts and science education.

The re-import is meant to substantially improve undergraduate university education.  Small in size and low in student-to-teacher ratio, Liberal Arts Colleges have used the new Bologna degree structure (differentiating into the Bachelor and Master level) to revitalise an important element of the European academic heritage. Different from vocationally-oriented undergraduate education, Liberal Arts Programmes focus on academic skills and values and prepare students for graduate studies leading to careers in both research and in professional fields.

The added value of a Liberal Arts programme is characterised by an emphasis on academic education - or Bildung. This is made up of two dimensions: a cognitive and a moral one.  The acquisition of academic skills such as critical and independent thinking, the ability to collect and analyse data and to critically assess them, the ability to think beyond the data and to master a body of knowledge in a particular domain, is the more cognitive part of undergraduate education. But this is only half of what the Liberal Arts philosophy is about. Moral competencies are the other dimension of a Liberal Arts education. Students and faculty display a high level of civic engagement and global responsibility. They want to make a difference and regard knowledge as a means to inform their idealistic approach. If this concept of Liberal Arts is to be more than rhetoric, it needs to be brought to life every day in teaching, in research and in the organisation of the Colleges.

This seminar will provide an introduction into the philosophy and the main features of Liberal Arts education, amongst them the college system, undergraduate research and (small) size. The seminar will also present and analyse concrete and varied examples of successful Liberal Arts programmes in different European countries. All speakers and facilitators have a long-term first-hand experience of Liberal Arts Education – indeed, they have often been amongst the pioneers of this sort of undergraduate education in Europe.  This ACA European Policy Seminar targets the leadership from higher education institutions, as well as faculty members, and higher education policy makers at the national, regional and European level.


Do you know what Liberal Arts are?

Originally from Europe, Liberal Arts education was based on the seven liberal arts – artes liberales – those focusing on language (grammar, rhetoric and logic) and those with mathematical elements (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and theory of music). The idea behind artes liberales was that education should, above all, lead to a well-rounded and – free – person. The seven liberal arts were the foundation for any further training and specialisation.

Nowadays, Liberal Arts Colleges are an integral and valued component of US higher education, but some time ago, Europe began to ‘re-import’  liberal arts and science education. 

On 9 October ACA will host its 43rd European Policy Seminar, which will focus on Liberal Arts (and Sciences) education in Europe. It will provide an introduction into the philosophy and the main features of Liberal Arts education as well as present and analyse varied examples of successful Liberal Arts programmes in different European countries. Its aim is to also to clarify the concept of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the core idea behind such education. 


Wednesday 8 October



Seminar dinner

Thursday 9 October



Registrations and coffee


Welcome and introduction
Bernd Wächter, Director, ACA (Brussels, Belgium)


Morning session

Rob van der Vaart, Dean, University College Utrecht (Utrecht, The Netherlands)


The European academic heritage in the aftermath of ‘Bologna’
Hans Adriaansens, President, Sirius Leading Experts (The Hague, The Netherlands)


The philosophy of the liberal arts and science programme
Samuel Abraham, Rector, Bisla College (Bratislava, Slovakia)


The college system
Nicholas Eschenbruch, Director of Education, University College Freiburg/University of Freiburg (Freiburg, Germany)


Coffee break


The undergraduate research focus
Henk Meijer, Professor of computer science, University College Roosevelt (Middelburg, The Netherlands)


A transferable model?
Vivian Nyitray, Dean, Prospect Colleges (Chongquing and Taigu, China)


Lunch break


Afternoon session
Three parallel workshops of one hour’s duration, each one of them to be held three times.


Workshop 1: Students and alumni about the liberal arts format: Convergence vs. premature specialisation

Harm Hospers, Dean, University College Maastricht (Maastricht, The Netherlands)


Workshop 2: Students and alumni about the international aspect of liberal arts education and colleges

Antonia Gohr, Director Academic Affairs & International Programs, Jacobs University Bremen (Bremen, Germany)


Workshop 3: Students and alumni about careers in academia and the corporate sector after graduation

Laurent Boetsch, Director of International Education, Washington and Lee University (Lexington, USA)


Wrapping up: a European network of liberal arts and science colleges?
Barbara Oomen, Dean, University College Roosevelt (Middelburg, The Netherlands)


Bernd Wächter and Rob van der Vaart



Bernd Wächter

Bernd Wächter is the Director of the Academic Cooperation Association (ACA). He studied at the universities of Hull (UK), Giessen and Marburg (Germany). His career has been focused on international higher education. He worked for the University of Kassel, the British Council, and the Fachhochschule Darmstadt, before joining The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) as the head of their EU division. He subsequently became the director for Higher Education (Erasmus) in the Brussels Socrates Office. In 1998, he took up his present post as ACA Director.

Bernd Wächter has published and lectured widely on international higher education. He is the editor of the ACA Papers on International Cooperation in Education. He has been the team leader of ACA’s research projects and speaks frequently at major governmental and stakeholder conferences, in Europe and beyond, on the issue of mobility and internationalisation.  

Bernd Wächter has two children. He is married to Thora Magnusdottir, a delightful lady from Iceland.

Rob van der Vaart

Rob van der Vaart is the Dean of University College Utrecht, the international Liberal Arts and Sciences College of Utrecht University. He is also Honours Dean and Vice Rector for Learning and Teaching of the same university.

Rob was trained as a human geographer and has been part of the Faculty of Geosciences of Utrecht University for most of his career, most recently as Chair for regional and cultural geography. PhD projects completed under his supervision are mainly in the fields of cultural geography and geographical education. His teaching, at University College Utrecht, focuses on globalization studies and on societal transformations and their effects in European cities.

Hans Adriaansens

Hans P.M. Adriaansens (1946) is professor (em) of social sciences at Utrecht Univer-sity, The Netherlands, and Dean Emeritus at Roosevelt Academy in Middelburg, an international honors college of Utrecht University. He did his doctoral work at Til-burg University, taught at several American universities and colleges (NIU, Smith College) and became lecturer and full professor at Tilburg University (19780-1987) and Utrecht University (1987-2011) He was chairman of the Dutch Sociological and Anthropological Association (NSAV, 1984-1987), member of the Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR, 1988-1998), and chairman of the Council for Social Development (RMO, 1998-2006). In 1997 he founded University College Utrecht (UCU), which he led as dean until 2003. In 2003 he founded University College Roosevelt in Middelburg, a second honors college of Utrecht University, officially opened by Queen Beatrix in 2004. He is co-founder of Ecolas (European Colleges of Liberal Arts and Sciences). Besides his academic activities he has filled numerous administrative and supervisory positions. He served as member of the Board of Trus-tees of the Hogeschool Utrecht, the Hogeschool Zeeland and was member of various ministerial committees on the organization of higher education. He currently serves as President of the (leading experts of the) Sirius Organization for Excellence in Dutch Higher Education and is chairman and/or member of various audit- and review committees of the Dutch/Flemish Accreditation Organization (NVAO). He is in the Board of Advisors of two new university colleges in China (Prospect Colleges in Chongqing and Taigu).His publications are about sociological theory, the develop-ment of welfare states and the organization of higher education.

Samuel Abraham

Samuel Abrahám, PhD is Associate Professor at BISLA, Slovakia. He was born in Czechoslovakia from where he emigrated in 1980 to Canada. He studied political science at the University of Toronto and completed his PhD in political theory and comparative politics at Carleton University in Ottawa. In 1990 he helped to establish the first political science department at Comenius University in Bratislava where he taught for 19 years. In 1995 he founded and since then edits the journal Kritika & Kontext. In 1996 he founded the Society for Higher Learning (VVS) – an institution that for ten years provided supplementary education to gifted university students in Slovakia.  Since 2006 he has been the rector of liberal arts college Bratislava International School of Liberal Arts ( He is also director of the Bratislava Institute of Humanism which organizes various cultural events, political debates and also publishes Amenca, the first Roma student journal. He is also co-founder of ECOLAS – European Consortium of Liberal Arts and Sciences. He has published numerous books and articles in Slovakia and abroad and is a frequent political commentator on radio and TV. His recent publication is A Crisis of European Identity: In the Mirror of Central Europe and Slovakia (2012).

Nicholas Eschenbruch

Nicholas Eschenbruch is the founding Director of Education of University College Freiburg (UCF). He studied at Freiburg, Istanbul and Oxford, and did his doctoral work at the Humboldt University Berlin, with a research stint in Durham/UK. He taught and did research in the fields of Medical Anthropology, Medical Sociology and History of Science at Freiburg and Augsburg Universities. His publications deal with hospice work, palliative care, ethnographic method and the contemporary history of therapeutic substances. He also has intensive training in group facilitation, coaching and instructional design. In 2011, he was the first person to be hired at UCF, which he has been leading together with a colleague ever since.

Henk Meijer

Henk Meijer obtained M.Sc. degrees in Econometrics from the University of Groningen and in Computing Science from Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada, where he also completed a Ph.D. in Mathematics. Henk Meijer started to teach in the Department of Computing Science in 1978. He became an assistant professor, associate professor and finally full professor in 1999. During his years at Queen’s Henk Meijer has served on many departmental and university comittees. Most notable are his terms as Undergraduate Chair, Graduate Chair, Appointments Committee Chair and Associate Head of the Department. In 1991 Henk Meijer worked at the University of Papua New Guinea in Waigani, Port Moresby. In April of 2006 the undergraduate students of the School of Computing awarded Henk Meijer the first Lifetime Teaching Award of the School of Computing. In August 2006 Henk Meijer returned to the Netherlands to work at Roosevelt Academy (now University College Roosevelt) in Middelburg, Zeeland, where he was the Head of the Science Department until the end of 2011. In 2014 the students of University College Roosevelt chose Henk Meijer as the teacher of the year. He has been involved with the Dutch Undergraduate Research Conferences organized by the VSNU, which started with a trial conference in 2009 in Middelburg. He has been one of the program chairs for these conferences from 2010 through 2014.

Vivian Nyitray

Vivian-Lee Nyitray (Ph.D. Stanford ‘90) is presently dean of two liberal arts colleges in China: the Prospect Colleges in Chongqing and in Taigu, Shanxi Province.  She began her teaching career at Swarthmore College, moved to Central Michigan University for a year and then moved to Barnard College/Columbia University, where she remained for four years before being recruited to the University of California, Riversde (UCR).  In 2013, she retired from UCR but remains an active Professor Emerita in Religious Studies.  She was deeply involved in the UC-systemwide Education Abroad Program, twice serving as Director for all exchanges in the Netherlands, during which time she was Visiting Professor of Humanities at University College, Utrecht and at the then-Roosevelt Academy in Middelburg.  Long active in the American Academy of Religion, she has chaired the Task Force on New Technologies, the Chinese Religions group, and the Confucian Traditions group.  She is a consultant to the US Federal Bureau of Prisons and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and has served on numerous advisory and editorial boards.  She has won grants and awards from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Japan Foundation, the Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation, and the Woodrow Wilson and Danforth Foundations.  Before being named to the Patricia McSweeny McCauley Chair in Teaching Excellence (Emerita), she had won several awards for teaching and mentoring students.  Her publications, which have been translated into Japanese and Chinese, have focused on feminist analyses of Confucian texts and also on studies of the Buddho-Daoist sea goddess, Tianhou/Mazu. 

Antonia Gohr

Dr. Antonia Gohr is the director of the Office for Academic Affairs and International Programs at Jacobs University Bremen. Among other duties she is responsible for strategic planning, implementation and development of the institutional international partnerships and cooperation.

Dr. Gohr completed her degree (M.A.) in political science, history (medieval and modern), and romance languages and literature (Italian) at the Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg. After receiving her PhD in political science, she did an extensive research work in the Center for Social Policy at the University of Bremen before joining the international community of Jacobs University Bremen.

Having many topics of interests in international education field, she has been recently focusing on the Liberal Arts education in the European context and presenting at various international conferences on the topic.

Laurent Boetsch

Laurent Boetsch (B.A., Washington and Lee, ’69, M.A., DML, Middlebury College) is Professor of Romance Languages and Director of the Center for International Education. He has been a member of the faculty since 1976 and served as Vice President for Academic Affairs from 1996-2001, Acting President, 2001-02, and Provost, 2002-03. From 2003 to 2008 he worked with the Christian A. Johnson Endeavor Foundation to found the European College of Liberal Arts, Berlin, Germany, and served as its first President. Since 2008, he has overseen the formulation and implementation of a strategic initiative for the integration of global learning into the undergraduate curriculum at Washington and Lee. He is one of three founding Executive Directors of the European Consortium of Liberal Arts and Sciences (ECOLAS), an educational consortium for emerging liberal arts programs within the European Higher Education Area.

Barbara Oomen

Barbara M. Oomen is the Dean of University College Roosevelt, the international honors college of Utrecht University in Middelburg labelled by the Netherlands-Flemish Accreditation Organization as an ‘Excellent Teaching and Learning envi-ronment’. She is a professor of law, in particular the sociology of human rights. She studied law and political sciences at the University of Amsterdam (cum laude) and did her doctoral research, on traditional leadership in South Africa at Leiden Univer-sity (cum laude). She worked for the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs in setting up research cooperation with Southern African and at the University of Cape Town, Leiden, Amsterdam and Columbia University and received grants and prizes from the Dutch Science Foundation (Veni), the Fulbright Foundation, the Niels Stensen Foundation and the Law and Society Association. She has published on a wide range of topics in the field of law and cultural diversity, and the sociology of human rights. Previously, she was a member of the Constitutional Commission, the UNESCO sci-ence commission, the human rights commission of the Advisory Council on Interna-tional Affairs and chaired the Netherlands Platform on Human Rights Education. She sits in the Advisory Board of the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights and chairs the commission that certifies the honors programs at Utrecht University.

As a Dean at one of the Dutch Liberal Arts and Sciences colleges, Prof. Oomen teaches the introduction to ‘Law, Society and Justice’ and a 3rd-year research seminar. She is the project leader of Going Glocal, a project destined to strengthen glocal citizenship at UCR and to conduct research on the topic. She takes a strong interest in teaching excellence, undergraduate research and education for global citi-zenship in institutions of higher education and has initiated programs and published on each of these topics.


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The European academic heritage in the aftermath of ‘Bologna’

pdf Hans Adriaansens (490 KB)

The college system

pdf Nicholas Eschenbruch (754 KB)

The undergraduate research focus

pdf Henk Meijer final (0.9 MB)

Wrapping up: a European network of liberal arts and science colleges?
pdf       Barbara Oomen (1.1 MB)