Few thoughts from the train home

Last couple of weeks were incredibly intensive, but also refreshing for my thinking on wider relevance of my research. I have met so many inspiring young minds ready to engage in the debate on the future of higher education in general, and possible place for European liberal education in particular. 1st LESC was obviously first and foremost a spring of those discussions, but what surprised me was the level of personal care many students showed towards this particular form of studies. We are alike in a way: curiosity of a researcher mixed with a sense of gratitude of a student towards their institution and their teachers. Add to that international mix of students, and this sounds like a recipe for a great discussion. I hope the conversation will continue.

EUREDOCS was exceptional in another way. Group of just a dozen students have been joined by first-rate professors to engage in a dialogue that was professional, forward-thinking and intergenerational at the same time. Perfectly organized by Helen Perkins, Francois Smit and the rest of SRHE, I wish this intimate meeting might have taken place even more often than once every two years.

UNIKE rose up to the high expectations I had beforehand. Geographical, but also professional diversity of participants provided a crash course on the current challenges of higher education in (old?) times of knowledge economy. Seeing again all the people that so kindly accepted me to Oslo half a year before was so nice, and the perfectly calm atmosphere of Copenhagen worked great as a backdrop for catching up. It is impossible to name everybody, but I particularly remember lovely talks with Peter Maassen and Chris Newfield, Davydd Greenwood and Sue Wright, Pavel Zgaga and Rebecca Boden, as well as people doing great job at heterodox universities. I hope that the project will have a follow up it deserves.

Other brilliant folks that I met in Groningen and Lisbon, at summer schools of histories of education and sociology, provided useful comments, but maybe more importantly, challenged me to reframe my interests for different audiences. Format of a summer school, which allows for more in-depth discussion of particular research, as well as numerous non-formal interactions is an important element in formation of new researchers, that we should try to sustain and develop even when it is not very much rewarded for any party involved.

Finally, a conference convened by Marek Kwiek and Kristian Szadkowski in Poznań provided a great opportunity to meet higher education researchers in Poland. This seems quite basic, but as this milieu is in statu nascendi, it is a great opportunity in itself. One particular dimension of our discussions was “Ustawa 2.0”, so a coming prospect of new higher education law in Poland, one that might be inspired by a proposal coming out from the Poznań team. I brought with me not only a proposal to treat MISH/MISMaP as liberal education, but also watchdog reports from Fundusz Pomocy Studentom. Creating links and generating data and analyses might be the two most important tasks before researchers interested in higher education in Poland.

Last, but absolutely not least, I have finally started interviews for my PhD with the founding fathers of liberal education in contemporary Europe. Hans Adriaansens was very generous to talk with me at lengths. I am particularly happy that we were able to go in-depth into Dutch university colleges, beyond the obvious and general into more strategic, historical and organizational details that might help me write a better dissertation.

After a change of schedule, it now seems that I will have my upgrade viva in mid-August, which means I have to complete my literature review and methodology by the end of July. Thus I am very grateful for all the feedback that I was able to receive for both my study design and partial results during last weeks, from so different people. As not that many of us know about the idea and practice of liberal education in Europe, I look forward to writing a post for this blog alongside more personal document, expressing my rationale for the study and wider “so what”. I think this might help me structure the whole project that went through numerous iterations and transformations.

But probably before that happens, I need couple days off. This year was extremely strenuous, and the summer looks not less intensive. Reflecting on the discussions, remembering faces of those who generously shared their opinions and time to help me improve the thinking, and feeling grateful for how, after all, everything seem to fit in the final instances – this is the task for the coming days. I consider myself extremely lucky, and I hope that one day I will be able to give back much more than what I am now receiving.

One possible path to do that would be to transform this blog into more of a work-in-progress thought diary and less of a narcissistic exercise. As everything, this would require my most scarce resource – time – yet the benefits would be ever bigger.

Right now, to all of you – especially those not mentioned by name in this post – my deepest thanks.