Category Archives: Activities – Blaster

BLASTER – The Best Liberal Arts and Science Teaching Expanded and Reinforced




Dr. Hans Adriaansens, Dean Emeritus of University College Roosevelt and recognized as the “father” of undergraduate  liberal arts and sciences education in the Netherlands, delivered the keynote address at the recent conference, Moving Liberal Arts and Sciences Forward: The BLASTER Erasmus+ project and its Outcomes, held on October 24, 2017 at Leiden University College, The Hague.  The conference marked the end of the Erasmus+ Strategic Partnership grant BLASTER sponsored by University College Roosevelt and the European Consortium of Liberal Arts and Sciences (ECOLAS) who partnered with Leiden University College The HagueUniversity of WarwickLeuphana University LüneburgBratislava International School of Liberal Arts and Vytautus Magnus University to produce new materials in the areas of Teacher Training, Undergraduate Research and Quality Standards in the liberal arts and sciences.


Speaking to a large audience of primarily Dutch professors, students and policy-makers, Adriaansens reviewed the formation and achievements of the university college system in the Netherlands over the past twenty years. He noted in particular their contribution to the improvement of undergraduate education since “the emancipation of the bachelor’s degree”, made possible by the Bologna declaration and the process of higher education reform in the European Union. He also noted the influence of the Dutch reforms in other European countries and lauded the growing interest in the liberal arts and sciences as represented in over 30 colleges and programs that make up the ECOLAS network.  Rather than rest on those laurels, however, the eminent sociologist and educator implored the audience to think of what has been accomplished as simply a halfway-station toward what he envisions as the final destination of the liberal arts and sciences.  Stressing the importance of a collegiate setting in providing the best environment for liberal arts and sciences learning, Adriaansens challenged the audience to consider the following:  “The question now is: do we settle for a situation in which only a small group of students enjoys the educational and productive power of the UC-concept, or do we take a next step in spreading the word that this combination of LAS and College is beneficial for all students who take their life seriously?”


In response to this fundamental challenge, the speaker offered five concrete suggestions as to how the bachelor stage at all universities ought to evolve:

1) Adopt of the LAS format across the board.  By recognizing that LAS is not just one among many undergraduate programs but actually the umbrella under which all undergraduates can study, students would make much better choices about their academic and professional futures when offered the opportunity to contribute to the planning of their own studies without the traditional disciplinary barriers;

2)  Adopt the collegiate structure for LAS.  By calling for the breakdown of the current disciplinary program structure, Adriaansens expresses perhaps the most bold and controversial of his suggestions to pave a way forward.   Here he insists on the necessity to create a true academic community of scholars and students in order to establish the small-scale setting within which faculty and students alike can thrive;

3) Redefine the mantra of teaching and research.  Here Adriaansens harks back to the original notion of German bildung to point out that teachers and learners doing research and acquiring knowledge together is the true essence of university education. Undergraduate liberal arts and sciences programs in Europe have clearly demonstrated the capacity of students to engage in meaningful research alongside their faculty mentors and “should be part and parcel of the university’s bachelor program.

4) Invest in a teaching and learning center.  Teaching and learning centers are critical to allowing professors to adapt and accommodate changes in pedagogical strategies going forward.  According to Adriaansens, the focus of these centers should concentrate primarily on the incorporation of digitalization and forms of blended learning as well as on the means to incorporate undergraduate research into the bachelor stage;

5) Make a career plan for undergraduate teachers.  Finally, Adriaansens advocates for a new way to evaluate the position of undergraduate faculty taking into consideration the specific objectives of the bachelor level education.  One consideration is the time that needs to be given to mastering the teaching and research skills necessary for faculty teaching primarily undergraduate students and recognizing that short-term appointments are inadequate in order to build a quality undergraduate faculty.


Adriaansens address was followed by a lively question and answer period during which he was able to elaborate on several of these issues.  In sum, the keynote address was a fittingly provocative end to the Erasmus+ BLASTER grant and provided a bold framework for the future of the liberal arts and sciences in Europe. You may read the full text of the remarks here.


The two-year Erasmus + Strategic Partnership grant, BLASTER (Best Liberal Arts and Sciences Teaching Expanded and Reinforced) has produced a series of important and useful tools for practitioners of the Liberal Arts and Sciences throughout the European Union.  The documents which are available on the following links include:


Guide to Emerging Liberal Arts and Sciences Practices in the EU

This booklet provides an introduction to various aspects of LAS in Europe and is aimed at a wide audience to include policy-makers, educators, HE decision-makers, teachers, students and administrators.  An introductory chapter offers a brief review of the purpose and principle characteristics of a liberal arts education followed by a section of four case studies of currently active and successful LAS models in Europe.  A final chapter provides a step-by-step process for developing an LAS curriculum as well as some preliminary suggestions on how LAS programmes may be assessed.


Learning and Teaching in the Liberal Arts

This highly useful training kit offers an overview of pedagogical methods supporting quality learning and is aimed especially to assist early career teachers in the liberal arts and sciences to design, conduct and reflect on their teaching practices and their students’ learning.  The kit also includes suggestions on how to plan and execute on-campus teaching seminars in order to expand best practices in teaching the liberal arts and sciences.


Companion to Undergraduate Research in the Liberal Arts and Sciences (CURLAS: 2017)

This important contribution to a key aspect of liberal arts and sciences education summarises the current state of undergraduate research in Europe and contains guidelines to support undergraduate students and their academic supervisors. It is a highly practical guide to the importance of research at the undergraduate level and the steps necessary to ensure its success through faculty-student collaboration. Other related outputs, such as case studies and appendices, are listed here.


Each of these documents was the focal point of four special seminars/workshops which introduced the materials produced through the BLASTER grant and demonstrated how the resources can be used in liberal arts colleges and programmes. More than 200 European educators attended the workshops hosted by:  the Bratislava International School of Liberal Arts, Slovakia (Teacher Training, 25-26 May); Warwick University, UK (Undergraduate Research in the Liberal Arts, 24-25 September); Leuphana University Lüneburg, Germany, 28-29 September) and Leiden University College The Hague, Netherlands, (Liberal Arts and Sciences in the 21st Century, 29 September, 2017).


ECOLAS will be actively encouraging the distribution and employment of these important materials for the advancement of the Liberal Arts and Sciences.  In addition to hosting all of the resources produced by BLASTER on our website, our first initiative is a call for proposals for the Julie Kidd Johnson Travel Research Fellowships in the areas of teacher training, undergraduate research and quality standards (deadline 30 November, 2017, apply here). Additional programmes will be announced after the first of the year.


ECOLAS is involved and helps to organize three events for those interested in Liberal Education in 2017 as part of the project BLASTER. The first of these events took place in Bratislava, Slovakia on 25-26 May 2017 (Campus of BISLA at Grösslingová 53) and was aimed at professional development of teachers in liberal arts and sciences and their pedagogical skills.


The seminar presented newly published book Learning and Teaching in the Liberal Arts which offers an overview of pedagogical methods supporting quality learning as an outcome of research on needs of university teachers. The workshop also offered opportunities and possibilities for starting a programme to train young teachers at academia.


The two days of sessions, intensive discussions, friendly debates, and enthusiasm about the topics among 50 participants from 8 countries prompted ECOLAS to offer not only a summary of the workshop lectures and mutual contacts but also to look into possibilities for cooperating in order to improve the condition, quality, and awareness of liberal arts education in Europe. In particular, the last discussion about our possible cooperation and the aim of our efforts was extremely helpful for plans and endeavors at ECOLAS.


It seems that the bachelor’s degree instituted throughout the Continent thanks to the Bologna Agreement has not reached its potential or fulfilled its expectations and it is often perceived with disdain by many educators in Europe. If there anything that can reverse this trend, and to legitimize the bachelor’s degree, it is through liberal arts education with its stress of teaching and learning, insistence on depth and breadth of knowledge, and stressing the variety of intellectual skills as the core of quality education. It was felt as a background of our conversation in Bratislava that you also care about the best ways to improve the quality of education, regardless if participants were part of a liberal arts program or a traditional university setting.


The workshop was facilitated by specialists in the field from Erasmus University Rotterdam, University of Warwick, Masaryk University in Brno and BISLA based in Bratislava. The interactive sessions covered following topics: problem-based learning, stimulating interdisciplinarity, encouraging critical thinking at students and reflective and scholarly teaching. You can download their presentations herehere and here. Here you can find the event’s programme.


The Steering Committee for the Erasmus+ BLASTER project met October 19-20 at Leuphana Universität, Lüneburg, Germany, to hear progress reports on the three projects currently in development and to plan for the activities of the grant’s second year.  The committee is composed of representatives from each of the six strategic partners that make up BLASTER – University College Roosevelt (Netherlands), Leuphana Universität (Germany), Warwick University (UK), University College Leiden (Netherlands), Vytautus Magnus University (Lithuania) and the European Consortium for Liberal Arts and Sciences-ECOLAS (Slovakia).


The committee heard from the leaders of each of the three “pillars” of the grant: Quality Standards, Teacher Training and Professional Development and, Undergraduate Research.  The Quality Standards group is preparing a three-part manual aimed at educators and policy-makers interested in beginning liberal arts and sciences programmes.  The manual will address the essential characteristics and framework for LAS, case studies of current European models and information on specific quality standards for curricular, structural and organizational aspects of an LAS programme.  The manual will have both a text version and an interactive online version that will be maintained so that it can continue to serve over time as a resource for EU educators.  The Teacher Training and Professional Development group reported on two successful workshops held for faculty at BISLA (Bratislava, SK) and University College Roosevelt (Middelburg, NL). In addition, they outlined progress toward the development of a “teacher training kit” that will be made available to all institutions that aim to strengthen instruction at the undergraduate level.  The group dedicated to Undergraduate Research has held a workshop for faculty and students and is working towards the publication of a special edition of Reinvention: an International Journal of Undergraduate Research (Warwick University, UK) dedicated to the work of students of the liberal arts and sciences.


The results of the work of BLASTER will be disseminated publicly in a series of “multiplier events” throughout the second half of 2017. Each of the events will introduce the intellectual outputs produced by the project that will be made available for use by students, faculty, administrators and educational policy makers across the European Higher Education Area.  Information regarding each event will be available during the spring 2017.


For further information regarding the work of BLASTER contact Laurent Boetsch at or Denise Nijhuis at

BLASTER – General Description

Strengthening the relevance and the quality of higher education is a key objective in Europe’s educational policies. Current higher education lacks the emphasis on creativity and innovation needed to prepare students for the 21st century. In addition, as a result of a lopsided emphasis on research, there are concerns about the quality of university teaching. This applies particularly to undergraduate programs, even if these form the bulk of higher education.


Liberal Arts and Sciences Programs, as they slowly (re)emerge all over Europe, hold true potential to meet these needs. They offer interdisciplinary undergraduate education, stimulating academic skills and  students’ ability to “think outside of the box”. They also emphasize teaching excellence, and bridge the divide between teaching and research in undergraduate research.


This strategic partnership brings together six of the forerunners in Liberal Arts and Sciences in Europe: University College Roosevelt, Leiden University College The Hague, Vytautas Magnus University, Leuphana University Lüneburg, Warwick University and ECOLAS. Together, these partners aim to expand and reinforce the best of Liberal Arts and Science Teaching, in order to strengthen the relevance and the quality of undergraduate education and LAS education – both by project partners and by others – in particular.


These general objectives are met via 3 activities:
* The development of LAS guidelines
* The development of a Teaching Training Kit
* The development of student and teacher undergraduate research guidelines and showcasing best practices


Each of the strategic partners has a unique expertise in one or more of these fields – quality assurance, teaching excellence and undergraduate research in LAS – which makes cooperation particularly fruitful and strengthens the combined impact. This impact is enhanced by the fact that all output will be disseminated widely: digitally (video’s, podcasts), in writing (a special issue of the Reinvention journal) and physically (in seminars and in meetings).


Put together, the project activities will not only strengthen the quality and relevance of the education in the participating institutions, and existing and aspiring LAS colleges, but also of higher education as a whole. The Dutch experience with University Colleges, for instance, demonstrates the spill-over effect of broad bachelor programmes and an emphasis on teaching excellence and undergraduate research to higher education as a whole. In doing so, this project will ultimately benefit young Europeans via offering them an education that opens their hearts and their minds, and expands their horizon beyond compare.



Current ECOLAS Initiatives


Joint activities of ECOLAS members are planned and run as part of various projects administered by liberal arts programmes from varying countries based on their specific needs and suggestions. Currently, we are approaching potential sponsors for issues common to the partners including but not limited to:

  • Teacher training and professional development
  • Small research grants for teachers
  • Undergraduate research opportunities
  • Faculty and student exchanges
  • Accreditation and organisational consultation
  • Summer school

The consortium applied for EU’s Erasmus+ programme for funding in the beginning of 2015. Its members are welcome to participate.



Past Projects:


LLP Erasmus Multilateral Project: ECOLAS – Service and Certification Institute for Liberal Arts & Sciences Colleges in Europe (2007 – 2010)


By combining the size of the Oxbridge colleges and adopting a Liberal Arts & Sciences program, project partners have succeeded in improving both the quality of the bachelor programs in their universities as well as the number of successful graduates. They have received many questions for assistance from other European universities, who, as a result of the so called Bologna agreement, are prepared to build the same type of college. The three colleges have the expertise with respect to programming and organization, but lack the funds to actually assist these universities. The universities themselves, most of them being located in Central and Eastern Europe, have too little financial means to pay for these activities. As mobility and comparability in European higher education is an important policy goal, the consortium ECOLAS hopes that funds will be made available through the LLP. The objectives included (1) establishment of Liberal Arts & Sciences Colleges throughout Europe, (2) the construction of a Liberal Arts & Sciences certificate and (3) a campaign to put the liberal arts program on the list of accreditation committees throughout the EU member countries. The impact will be improvement of undergraduate university education throughout Europe.


Coordinator: Bratislava International School of Liberal Arts (BISLA)
Partners: Stichting Roosevelt Academy, Middelburg Netherlands; European Colleges of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Vesalius college vzw, Brussels, Belgium; Faculty of Humanities, Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic; New Bulgarian University, Sofia, Bulgaria;  University of Hradec Králové