By Adesholla Bishop and Thea Bladt Hansen
— In 2020, AUC’s international office embarked on a project to create alternatives to the foreign exchanges cancelled due to COVID-19. The idea of inter-University College (UC) exchanges, where students from the various university colleges in the Netherlands could experience life at a different UC for a semester, was born. So far AUC has been the most popular destination for students pursuing inter-UC exchange, but will the project maintain its appeal once international exchanges are once again possible?
“I wanted to go to Tecnológico de Monterrey in Mexico on my exchange, but when COVID-19 happened I could not really go there. So I was looking for alternatives,” says Czarek Banaszek, a third-year UC Twente student who went on inter-UC exchange to UC Roosevelt in Middelburg.
According to Marliene Stolker, AUC’s internationalisation officer who initiated the inter-UC exchange programme together with Marcus Smit, Teamleader Services & Communications at AUC, the inter-UC exchange should be viewed more as a full-fledged addition to the existing international exchange programmes at UCs than as a mere substitute. “Lots of students initially apply to multiple UCs and then pick the final one based on where they get in, but this gives them a chance to explore a little more,” Stolker explains.
Banaszek is one of eight UC students who went on exchange to other Dutch UCs last semester. Two students from AUC applied for the inter-UC exchange but were in the end able to go on their originally planned exchanges abroad and chose to do that instead. Three students from UC Maastricht and one student from UC Groningen went to AUC.
Stolker sees the ongoing housing crisis as a potential reason for AUC’s popularity: “We do realise that AUC offers a big package for students with housing and having the entire curriculum open to visiting students, whereas this is not the case at other UCs. We’ve flagged this problem. And I also understand that it seems risky to give up your room at AUC to go to a UC which does not offer housing.”
Housing is a general theme when it comes to the experiences students had last semester with the inter-UC exchanges. Fourth-year UC Groningen student Anne Roos Ververs believes that the housing system of AUC gave her more time to enjoy life in Amsterdam and become part of the AUC Bubble while being an inter-UC exchange student last semester. She recalls a feedback session towards the end of her exchange during which other students explained their struggles with housing: “One of the other inter-UC exchange students came from Tilburg and had to travel to Rotterdam everyday. This meant that she had no time to socialise with her friends from Tilburg and also no way of getting into the bubble in Rotterdam, because she was just constantly travelling because of housing issues.” At the moment, only AUC, UC Utrecht and UC Roosevelt offer housing for inter-UC exchange students.
Several students saw the inter-UC exchange as an opportunity to take degree-related courses that their own universities did not offer. “UC Maastricht is very research-focused, very academic, intensely so,” says Aaron Wells, inter-UC exchange student at AUC last semester, of their home university. “AUC offers performing arts and creative writing – courses that UCM doesn’t have.” Banaszek, who wants to pursue engineering, explains that most UCs do not focus on offering technical courses. He chose to attend UCR as it offers a practical robotics course that was not available at UC Twente. Banaszek ended up prolonging his exchange at UCR into his sixth and final semester so that his robotics professor could supervise his senior project.
“Every school has its own specialisation or things they’re better at, so it’s a great opportunity to expand your curriculum in a direction that is not offered in your UC,” says Chiara Poli, student at UC Twente and Chair of the Executive Board of the University College Student Representatives of the Netherlands (UCSRN).
The UCSRN’s primary role in the development of the exchange project was to present to the programme’s organisers how inter-UC exchanges could strengthen the UC community. “People perceive the UCs as being somewhat separated, each with its own bubble. By mixing students up, we get to extend this bubble,” Poli explains.
Despite initial struggles to integrate into the student population, Ververs’ time at AUC affirms Poli’s statement: “It got me out of my own bubble and into a different bubble,” she says. Similarly, Banaszek explains that “every UC has its own colour, its own scent, and you get to experience that a bit.”
The inter-UC exchange provides an opportunity for new experiences and a change of scenery, but it nonetheless differs from an exchange abroad. “It’s much easier to organise,” says Wells, offering this as one reason why they chose to do an inter-UC exchange. For Roos Ververs, the programme was simply a solution to wanting change but not being able to go abroad. “After three years, I was kind of done with Groningen,” she says and adds that “It was really nice that I could go to Amsterdam, but I don’t think it can compete with exchanges abroad.”
Though the inter-UC exchanges were initially intended as a COVID-19-safe alternative to exchanges abroad, the UC schools involved are now evaluating the programme’s success and considering continuing it beyond this year: “We [the exchange coordinators] see this first academic year of inter-UC exchanges as a pilot project to see if it could work even after the pandemic,” Stolker says.
Brigitte Leurink, exchange coordinator at UC Twente, is not certain about the future of the inter-UC exchange project. “A memo on the pilot project … was sent to all the deans asking them to decide whether their college is willing to participate in the extension of the pilot project,” she states. She adds that positive responses to the idea of continuing inter-UC exchanges after the COVID-19 pandemic have thus far only arrived from the UCs in Rotterdam, Tilburg, and Twente, so it is at the moment unknown whether the project will continue as a supplement to exchanges abroad.
Update: In 2022-2023 AUC, EUC, UCF, UCG, UCM, UCR, UCTilburg and UCTwente will continue the inter-UC exchange programme. UCU will only participate in the Spring semester.