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The Alliance of Asian Liberal Arts Universities (AALAU): Background, Establishment, and the Way Forward___

The emergence of “Liberal Arts” in Asia

---In the past, the visibility and recognition of the “Liberal Arts” brand outside the United States were less well known. Professional subjects such as accounting, law and medicine were often considered the top choices that guaranteed high-paying jobs and high social status among Asian students and their influential parents. Over the decades, more and more Asian higher education institutions have shifted their foci from the traditionally highly specialized and vocationally-centric programmes to liberal arts education by making huge investment in diversifying their curricula. In recent years, liberal arts education has been increasingly regarded as a valuable education opportunity to build students’ capacity in pursuing lifelong learning and hence becoming a positive contributor to the society. The growing recognition of liberal arts education in the region testifies to the increasing public awareness of its merits. Recognizing the contributions of liberal arts education, Forbes named Top 10 Liberal Arts Colleges in Asia in 2015. The emergence of Asian liberal arts institutions with both strong brands and enviable resources (Yale-NUS College, NYU Shanghai, and Duke Kunshan, among others) is a testament to this emerging trend.

A separate league table for ranking liberal arts institutions in the region?

University league tables are now a routine source of information on the relative standing of universities worldwide. Notwithstanding their inherent limitations, prospective students, parents, education advisors, government officials and the society at large do take ranking outcomes seriously. However, many liberal arts institutions in the region are at a disadvantaged position in terms of rankings, especially when comparing with research-intensive universities. As such, there is a pressing need for the setting up of an Alliance which could present a collective voice in negotiating for a separate world ranking system for liberal arts universities in Asia. If the league table materializes, the liberal arts brand will become more recognized in Asia and beyond and hence the reputation of the participating institutions will be further enhanced. Otherwise, there is a risk that the quality education and research of liberal arts institutions might not be positively reflected in the ranking exercises, to the detriment of its ability to compete for quality students, faculty and adequate resources.

The establishment of the Alliance of Asian Liberal Arts Universities (AALAU)

Tertiary institutions in the region and beyond are making headway in enhancing their international competitiveness. In the midst of this globalized era driven by innovation and the intense competition in higher education, Asian liberal arts institutions need to further strengthen their academic development and research as well as student development in order to stay competitive. Through establishing the Alliance of Asian Liberal Arts Universities (AALAU), different universities that share similar features and visions could learn best practices from each other, through benchmarking, that can collectively enhance the quality of teaching, learning and research. It can also raise the image and profile of the member universities by increasing their international presence and help to promote liberal arts education and its benefits and importance in Asia.

Having such a grand vision of promoting liberal arts education in Asian higher education, Lingnan University spearheaded the setting up of the Alliance through lining up with and having thorough discussion with like-minded institutions in Asia. The belief and hope is that through identifying future challenges, sharing best practices and collaborating among ourselves and beyond, the Alliance would be in a strong position to create new opportunities and synergies for faculty members and students of the Alliance members in the areas of teaching and learning, scholarship and community engagement. After a year of preparatory work, the “Alliance of Asian Liberal Arts Universities (AALAU)” was officially established during the Launch Conference organized by Lingnan University in Hong Kong in November 2017. With the theme of “Liberal Arts Education in an Asian Context: Achievements, Challenges and Perspectives”, the two-day Conference brought together over 100 distinguished educators and policy makers with rich experience and expertise in liberal arts education from Asia and across the globe to appraise liberal arts education from an Asian perspective. The conference was well received by all participants and partnering institutions.


The Alliance of Asian Liberal Arts Universities (AALAU) is a network of respectable liberal arts universities in Asia. All AALAU members share common values, a global vision and a commitment to educating future leaders. Central to these values is the importance of liberal arts education in this era driven by innovation. Liberal arts education emphasizes the breadth of knowledge, critical thinking and creativity, an ability to deal with novel problems and a love of learning. We believe that this type of education is conducive to the training of future leaders for a rapidly changing world.

Members of the Alliance, which includes major liberal arts universities in Asia, deal with rapid changes of the education landscape by identifying future challenges, sharing best practices, and collaborating among themselves and beyond.

AALAU’s Vision

To address the major challenges of liberal arts education in Asia

  • Members will work together to identify the major issues with reference to international best practices in higher education.
  • Members will search for innovative approaches to liberal arts education given the current and future landscape in higher education in Asia.
  • Members will join efforts in addressing the new challenges and opportunities in liberal arts education.

To provide opportunities to students and staff that would not arise otherwise

  • Members will develop global education initiatives that cultivate a sense of global citizenship and leadership amongst students.
  • Members will provide opportunities for faculty members to engage in international collaborative research.

To implement collaboration and achieve synergy

  • Members will initiate working groups to enhance the quality of liberal arts education. The working groups will increase members’ involvement, engagement and share the best practices within the alliance members.

Alliance Programmes/Activities

Annual Presidents’ Forum

An alliance meeting will be held annually. The representatives of member institutions will work together to address the major challenges and search for innovative approaches of liberal arts education in Asia. With the concerted efforts of members, we aim to achieve the vision of promoting and enhancing liberal arts education in Asia.

International Summer School

Lingnan University will host an international summer school so that students of member institutions will have an opportunity to come together to study and share ideas. Through the close interaction with the elite students from other institutions, students will be able to cultivate a sense of global citizenship and leadership.

Research Collaboration Group

For the purpose of promoting research collaboration, a pilot research collaboration group will be set up. The group will, based on a commonly shared research interest area among interested alliance members, explore the possibility of conducting joint research projects. The group is also expected to share knowledge on internationally available funding streams and at the same time provide funding advice to the alliance researchers.

List of Foundation Members of the Alliance of Asian Liberal Arts Universities

(as of 2 February 2018)

Hong Kong

Lingnan University

Mainland China

Duke Kunshan University

East China Normal University

NYU Shanghai (observer)

University of Nottingham Ningbo China

Yuanpei College, Peking University


Fu Jen Catholic University

National Chengchi University

Tunghai University


International Christian University

Rikkyo University

Sophia University

The University of Tokyo

Waseda University

South Korea

Dongguk University

Ewha Womans University

Kyung Hee University

Seoul National University

University of Seoul

Yeungnam University

Yonsei University


Symbiosis School for Liberal Arts

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