AILAS is an institute for education and research: an academic community where students, researchers and professionals may receive a general education by studying classic works in the humanities, arts and sciences, in cooperation with more established academic institutions. Because: the massive growth of higher education has resulted in (1) insufficient focus on learning to think independently and (2) insufficient transmission of fundamental knowledge—two things at the foundation of good judgment, necessary to face the big challenges of our era.
Two observations lie at the root of our analysis.
First, during the last fifty years the number of university students in the Netherlands has quadrupled (from 65,000 in 1965 to 258,000 in 2015). This massive growth in higher education has been to the detriment of a good general education (transmission of fundamental knowledge and skills). Until several decades ago general education remained one of the three core tasks of the university, alongside jobs training and research. The reduced role for general education shows itself especially in limited awareness of context and paradigms. To act wisely in any given situation requires both an understanding of how that situation came into being and good judgment of the changes affecting it. There can be no insight without overview. Einstein, for instance, arrived at his Theory of Relativity by way of Kant.
Our second observation concerns the nature and scale of the societal change we are witnessing. Now more than ever, facing the great challenges confronting us requires a highly developed sense of judgment. Smart phones, global networks (internet of data, internet of things), powerful computers, big data and automated analytical skills (artificial intelligence) are tools helping us to easily cross political and geographical borders. Similar advances in physics (new materials) and chemistry (pharmacology and hence health) further contribute to this.
These world–encompassing trends also bring about a growing sense of insecurity. This has fuelled a strong need for a renewed focus on our identity (as individuals, Dutchmen, Europeans and Westerners) and a desire to better understand and influence the developments in society. That requires knowledge of foundations, a proper understanding of facts and the ability to argue—in short, a general education.
At the foundation of good judgment are (1) the ability to think independently and (2) fundamental knowledge. Yet, due to the large influx of students and the limited means available, the transmission of fundamental sources has fallen short. In addition, teaching students to speak, write and reason well has been ‘dissolved’ in specialized teaching and research. The same is true for the mastery and correct application of arithmetic and mathematics.
The nature of the current challenges and the situation in higher education as sketched above creates a need for a coherent supplemental program that guides students and pupils (1) by training them how to think, and (2) organized around the classic literary, theological, philosophical, economic, legal, political, artistic and scientific works of the Western tradition.
The purpose of AILAS is to provide in this need. Similar initiatives in the United States and Eastern Europe have proven highly successful within a matter of years.
The task of AILAS is to arrange for education and support research concerning the fundamental sources of the Western tradition, as well as contemporary questions directly related to this. It seeks to sustain an academic community where students, researchers and professionals are able to develop themselves through study of classic works in the humanities, arts and sciences—a second path of education parallel to (and in conjunction with) more established programs, from secondary education to academic research.
Courses will be accredited through cooperation with Dutch and foreign institutions with a similar mission.