Haarlem Shakes Up the University College Landscape

By Petra Stangvik

Editor’s note: This news story is part of a collaboration between The Herring and AUC’s journalism course. The story was entirely reported, written, edited, and fact checked by members of the journalism course. Some material may have been altered by The Herring’s editors to fit its style guidelines.

– Haarlem’s old prison becomes a place of freedom as it transforms into the newest University College in the Netherlands. University College Haarlem aims to open in September 2019 as a partnership between the Vrije Universiteit (VU), the Open University, Haarlem city council, and the Panopticon foundation. It will follow the university college model of offering a broad variety of courses and allowing students to put together their own study program, with a special focus on art, culture and entrepreneurship. It will be the second UC within the Amsterdam area, in addition to Amsterdam University College (AUC), which was established in 2009.

Although both of these universities were involved in the initial planning of UC Haarlem, the UvA decided to drop out. At an executive board Q&A hosted at AUC, the UvA Rector Magnificius, Karen Maex, explained that we have a great UC here already. According to Maex, the UvA has initiated a lot of activities and programs within their faculties that have aspects of UC education, such as the Politics, Psychology, Law and Economics College (PPLE). Moreover, Maex said the UvA would like to have a greater role than just “diplomas and money”, which their role was confined to during the initial planning.

The VU and the Open University will collaborate to develop the curriculum and structure of UC Haarlem. According to Rector Magnificius of the VU, Vinod Subramaniam, it is important that the new college will be distinct from that of AUC. “This University College should be complementary to AUC,” he said in an interview with ANAVA, the VU’s student newspaper. “It should not be a cannibalization of that college.”

Joris Van Schie, 2nd year social science major at AUC and Chair of the UCSRN (University College Representatives of the Netherlands), said that if if UC Haarlem can combine the digital services and expertise of the Open University with the VU’s knowledge of university education, “it is going to be good.”

As such, AUC may have some competition. But Cas Evers, head of admissions at AUC, does not think the option of another Amsterdam-area UC alone poses a threat to AUC. He said that although there has been a recent increase in programs at the VU and UvA with a broader focus, such as PPLE, these have not had an effect on applicants to AUC.

Van Schie agrees. He believes that the two UCs will ultimately attract different people. “An AUC student would not go to Haarlem, and a Haarlem student would not go to AUC,” he said. Firstly, the cities are very different, Haarlem being closer to a small authentic Dutch town in contrast to the vibrant city life of Amsterdam. But the thing that really matters with UCs is their atmosphere. In his experience, UC students tend to choose based on atmosphere first; then living situation; then geographic location; and fourthly, the academic focus of the UC.

AUC´s Dean, Murray Pratt, agrees that each of the colleges has a distinctive character, and that there is room for each college to develop its specialty and unique offer within the spirit and ethos of liberal arts and science. As such, he wants to continue to develop and fine tune AUC´s own model and highlights its international focus. “AUC is the UC of the global city,” Pratt said. “We´ve networked into institutions, municipality, companies and events here, and this serves as a portal to internationalization.”

This may alone attract students. Malou Miedema, a 2nd year humanities major, chose AUC specifically because she wanted to study in Amsterdam, despite AUC´s distinctive science focus. But it is good that UCs distinguish themselves by academic focus instead of just doing the same thing in different places, she said.

Moreover, a new UC will help make interdisciplinary education more known. “And of course, a new UC will save a couple of more hundred students from educational factories like the UvA,” van Drie said.


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