Liberal-Arts Education: Has the Global Migration Stalled?
New efforts to develop liberal-arts education in Asia have recently grabbed headlines and generated a buzz in academe. Yale University is helping Singapore build a liberal-arts college, for instance, while in Malaysia, a new liberal-arts institution for women is being developed under the wing of Smith College. Such work has led some observers to speculate that we are on the cusp of a global resurgence of liberal education, spurred in part by an increase in international outreach by American colleges and universities.
However, we need to be cautious about such pronouncements. The examples of Yale and others, such as New York University’s liberal-arts college in Abu Dhabi and Bard’s affiliated colleges in Russia and Germany, are so far only islands in an uneven global sea of undergraduate education. And while there are some interesting indigenous efforts to revamp the undergraduate curriculum in places like China, the big question is whether liberal education can develop on its own, with deep indigenous roots, and be available to larger numbers of students, particularly in developing countries that face rapidly growing demand for higher education.
That is why China, having made a commitment to widespread reform of undergraduate education, is a key country to watch. What is happening in the universities of Hong Kong, as well as those on the mainland, presents a curricular model capable of reaching many students. The introduction of general education is viewed as an important aspect of Chinese universities’ ability to be world class and to prepare their students to meet the demands of a fast-changing, increasingly competitive global environment.