According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), “liberal education is an educational philosophy rather than a body of knowledge, specific courses, or type of institution. By drawing on a broad range of knowledge, it asks students to grapple with complicated, important issues, and usually expects them to learn about at least one subject in greater depth and at an advanced level. Intellectual growth occurs as both broad and deep learning challenge previously held beliefs.”
This quotation summarizes a lot of what University College Utrecht is about. At UCU, students to a large extent develop their own specific and individual curriculum, driven by their motivation for learning, by the questions and issues they want to pursue academically, and by their ambitions. There are some curriculum requirements, of course. Students are required, for example, to take classes across the three departments (Humanities, Sciences, Social Sciences) and to complete two ‘tracks’ (sequences of courses up to the advanced level) within the department of their major.
As the quotation suggests, liberal education is more than getting acquainted with various domains of scholarship. Students are also encouraged to think across the borders of disciplines and to develop cross- or interdisciplinary ways of thinking, related to important questions and issues in society or in academia. The ability to think creatively and ‘outside the box’, always grounded in a solid basis of disciplinary knowledge, is an important competence for further study and for a professional career.
Thanks to the initiative and vision of professor Hans Adriaansens and the supportive action of the Executive Board of Utrecht University, University College Utrecht could open its gates in 1998. It was the first modern Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS) international honors college on the European continent. The fact that more and more universities start LAS colleges, in various European countries but particularly in the Netherlands, seems to prove the success of and the social need for higher education based on the LAS philosophy.