European Liberal Education 1990-2015
: A Critical Exploration of Commonality in the Visions of Eight First Leaders

  • Daniel Kontowski

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This dissertation asks whether existing forms of liberal arts education in contemporary Europe are based on a common vision and whether there is justification in calling them a movement.
Nearly a hundred programmes and institutions created over the last three decades in several European countries now claim to offer a liberal arts education. However, their organizational forms, features and functions mentioned in the literature, and even the tradition of liberal education itself do not suggest a common vision of what that might entail. This thesis asks whether European liberal education should be viewed as a movement, a countermovement, a complex structure of core and fringes, or whether it is a misnomer.
The answer is sought in an exploratory collective case study of the visions of eight first leaders of such developments in eight European countries. The study generated original qualitative interview data regarding the theory, practice, and background of pioneering visions for liberal education. The data was analysed using sociological research methods, allowing comparisons between each case in order to determine the scope of overlap between each leader’s vision.
I propose that European liberal education can be perceived as a countermovement to the dominant logic of the disciplinary research university. This countermovement is animated by divergent interpretations of the three heterogenous themes: ontological complexity, transformational pedagogy, and organisational alternative.
This answer contributes to education studies research, providing an empirically grounded account of the visions behind important manifestations of European liberal education. It establishes an agenda for further explanatory, evaluative, comparative research on liberal education in Europe and beyond. The thesis also offers conjectures regarding the philosophical embeddedness of the framing of the question and the proposed answers in terms of multiple possible ontologies of European liberal education. Finally, this work addresses the importance of conceptual delineations for future practice and strategic choices ahead for liberal educators in Europe.
Date of Award1 Feb 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Winchester
SupervisorNigel Tubbs (Supervisor), Thomas Norgaard (Supervisor) & Ulrike Ziemer (Supervisor)


  • Eastern Europe
  • Western Europe
  • Academic leadership
  • Liberal arts and sciences
  • Interdisciplinarity
  • Comparative research
  • Higher education

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