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“Not an Exotic Idea” Liberal Education attracted a lot of international interest at the MHE Conference

2017-10-23 “I had loads of questions which cannot be singled out into one pigeonhole” were Alumnus Jakob Dirksen’s words as he explained at the MHE Conference (Modernizing Higher Education) why he pursued, with the Studium Individuale, a liberal education programme. The concept is gaining importance throughout Europe – this became very clear during the conference which welcomed participants from 13 countries.


Dr. Volker Balli looks back with satisfaction on the MHE-Conference of the end of September. The Academic Director of the Studium Individuale at Leuphana organised at the meeting, where the participants exchanged views on the modernisation of higher education in Europe. The focus was on the concept and implementation of liberal education. “The essentials of liberal education have been communicated in a clear and enlightening way” Balli sums up. “It includes an intensive, fundamental study focused on the study process of the individual in which breadth and depth complement each other”. Approximately 70 participants attended the MHE conference in Leuphana’s newly built Main Building. Leuphana is one of the first German universities to implement the tradition of liberal education. Scientists, educators and students from Great Britain, the Netherlands, Russia and the US, among others, came together for two days to discuss current research, development and practice.

The first to follow the concept of liberal education in Europe during their studies included eight conference participants who asked fundamental questions at the beginning of the event. Their motives were of particular interest: Why did they not opt for a classical course of study, but for a programme focused on broad-based education, decision-making freedom and creative freedom as well as personality development? "For me, the freedom to select my own topics means a lot” said a student, another added: “I want to be responsible for my own intellectual development”.

Former Leuphana student, Jakob Dirksen revealed what prompted him to study on the Studium Individuale course: “I had too many interests after I finished school and did not wish to commit myself to a specific discipline”. Leuphana College’s special course offerings had enabled him to immerse himself in many different subjects such as politics, cultural studies, philosophy, economics and sustainability science: “I wouldn't want to have missed out on this experience”. Today, five years after starting his studies and completing a Master's degree in political theory in Barcelona, Dirksen works as a research assistant at the University of Oxford. He pointed out that the transition into professional life had posed no problem.

Broad-based education instead of “blinkered” expert knowledge

To Laurent Boetsch, the development and significance of liberal education in Europe takes on major importance. He is Professor (emeritus) of Romance Languages at the Washington and Lee University in Lexington and President of the European Colleges of Liberal Arts and Sciences in Berlin (ECOLAS). He described the essential characteristics and objectives of liberal education at the MHE conference as follows: “Liberal Education prepares people who will be competent in many walks of life, not the least as citizens. It does not aim to form narrow-minded experts, to form 'Fachmenschen.“ At the same time, he presented conference participants with an outlook on the educational landscape of the future: “In the 20th century, the place of liberal education might have been the US. In the 21st might be Europe. There are already promising signs for this.“ Liberal Arts Education is, in fact, growing in importance at Europe's universities, especially in the Netherlands and Great Britain. “Liberal Education is neither an exotic, nor or even a quaint notion, but a fixed, albeit still manageable part of the European education landscape”, Volker Balli notes.

The international participants to the Conference were very impressed by how Leuphana achieves liberal education. Unlike the smaller, exclusive programmes offered by other universities or also very manageable private colleges, the Leuphana College Liberal Education in Lüneburg offers liberal education to a broad group of students – “without, as is customary in other countries, sizeable tuition fees” Volker Balli adds. Former student, Jakob Dirksen finds that Leuphana has identified the new trend in Europe in time. “It is now crucial to remain one step ahead. That's why he wants to take further steps in this direction, meaning: “That’s the direction the whole college should be resolutely taking”.



Dr. Volker Balli
Universitätsallee 1, C8.101a
21335 Lüneburg
Fon +49.4131.677-1797

Author: Urte Modlich, University Communication. News from the university surrounding the areas of research, teaching and study can be sent to