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A tour around the University Colleges

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By Hannah Vreeburg

With over 8 University Colleges established in the Netherlands within a time span of 18 years, educating more than 4000 students, the interdisciplinary and engaging Liberal Arts and Sciences bachelor has certainly established itself in the university community. However, just as studying physics in Groningen is very different from studying physics in Delft, so too studying is not the same among all 8 University Colleges. Unlike physics though, the broadness and totality of a University College offers much more room for diversity in its offering of certain academic focuses or student life aspects.

An example of such differences can be seen when considering the University College in Twente. In contrast to the other Colleges, Twente has a profoundly technological focus in its academics. The former name, ATLAS, Academy of Technology and Liberal Arts and Sciences, perfectly fits this description. With a total of just over 100 students, UCT is one of the smallest UCs in the Netherlands. Unlike many of the other Colleges, UCT is really submerged in the University of Twente itself. The students of UCT also live on the campus of the entire UT, together with regular UT students. Next to being able to use the UT’s buildings and laboratory equipment and its close ties to the corporations nearby, the campus facilities are endless. These range from a student-run bar, track fields and a library to a swimming pool, in which they also host an annual Pool Party during the introduction week, which not coincidently, is also partially organised by the UT.

A very different UC would then for example be UCU, where even though it is affiliated with the UU, its courses and student housing are completely separate. The UCU campus is based on a former military base with monument status. The around 800 students can live there for the entire 3 years. Its student association, comprised of over 35 committees organises all kinds of extra-curricular activities. The campus with its own bar, gym and dining hall makes students inclined to leave only for the occasional groceries. It is therefore that the campus is sometimes compared to a bubble. Students do however have the possibility to take off-campus courses at the Utrecht University, to complement the broadness of UCU’s curriculum, ranging from humanity tracks like museum studies to social science and science tracks like economics and quantum physics, with more subject-specific courses. Another iconic UCU characteristic is its Voltaire study room, which is opened 24/7, and frequently used during exam weeks.

At Amsterdam University College, much like UCU, courses in all three departments (sciences, social sciences, humanities) are offered. AUC however, is a collaboration between the UvA and the VU, making it possible for the students to follow courses at both universities. It also has around 800-900 students. AUC does stress its science department more. Its location on the Amsterdam Science Park also fosters collaborations with the many scientific research institutions located there. Interesting to know is that its academic building actually won the Amsterdam Architecture Prize in 2013. Like UCU, on the one hand, part of the academic curriculum is a language course. At Amsterdam this is offered in the 4-week intensive period, during which you take one course only, equivalent in accreditation to one of the 4 courses taught in 16 weeks. AUC students are hosted in dorms close the academic building for the full three years. At the AUC dorms, a huge summer festival is organised annually, called ‘dormfest’, to which incoming students are also already invited.

Very similar in size, the Leiden University College, located in The Hague, has a very different academic approach. Much more than at AUC or UCU, LUC focuses on Global Challenges rather than specific university subjects. At LUC, you also do not major in subjects like physics or economics, but rather follow a specific interdisciplinary combination like International Justice and Global Public Health. In the heart of the city of The Hague, right next to the central station, LUC occupies an entire building. The classrooms are located on the first 4 floors, the first and second years live in rooms right above that. Along with providing the students with a great view from their ‘sky-high’ building, the political centre that is The Hague offers many internship possibilities at for example the International Criminal Court or the Dutch Parliament.

The Erasmus University College, in the modern city of Rotterdam, offers courses in a total of 4 departments: sciences, social sciences, humanities and economics. With around 400-450 students, EUC is significantly smaller than the larger UCs, but as it has existed for only 3 years now it is also much less established than for example UCU. EUC does take part in the so-called Problem Based Learning approach, aiming to make students learn by applying material to specific problems that require interdisciplinary knowledge. As a first year at EUC you also live together in dorms, but after this period you will have to find your own place in the city of Rotterdam. The University College itself is located in the former library of Rotterdam, completely renovated to form the present-day building that is also very environmentally friendly. The building is located in Rotterdam Blaak, a modern part of Rotterdam with many trendy cafes and the famous ‘Markthal’, a large indoor food market with apartments above it. Fun-fact, there is a painting of the Dutch king and queen to be found on one of the walls in the EUC building.

Comparably, University College Maastricht (UCM), also engages in Problem Based Learning. Whilst at all UCs classes are small, UCM goes even further to the point where all teaching happens in groups of no more than 12 students. At this College still, the 600 students, can follow courses in the three departments to form their own personal curriculum. Unlike the other cities, Maastricht is very close to the German and Belgium border. It is therefore not only filled with international students and tourists; the entire city is like a different country, starting with its geographical resemblance of French hilliness. The UCM students do not, like at most of the UCs, live together, but rather submerge in the vibrant student life of Maastricht. Activities of the Student Association, Universalis, from poetry reading till debates also take place in the common room, a place where UCM students can meet up.

University College Roosevelt is another very iconic College, where students experience a completely different setting. Located in the idyllic Middelburg, a Dutch city in the spacious province of Zeeland, the 600 UCR students make up about 1% of the city’s population. UCR is a dependence of Utrecht University and has the same founder, Hans Adriaansens, as UCU. Whilst at UCU there is a performance studies track, at UCR a performing arts program in cooperation with conservatoria is offered and a fine arts track is available. The academic buildings are furthermore named after Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, whose views on global citizenship are an integral part of the College. The Roosevelt family emigrated from Zeeland to the USA in the seventeenth century. The student-run Common House, names after Elliott Roosevelt, hosts a lunchroom, small library and bar, providing for even more of a prestigious and stimulating atmosphere in which the UCR students try to keep up with their readings, social life and sleep all at the same time. Housing is arranged at various dormitories in Middelburg, the furthest about a 10 min walk from the city centre.

Groningen, in the far north of the Netherlands, also hosts a University College for the around 130 students. It is quite small, comparable in size still to UCT, however it does very much focus on the three departments like most UCs. UCG, like AUC and LUC also involves the concept of Global Challenges in their academics. In particular, UCG focuses on the challenges around their three main themes: Energy, Healthy Ageing and Sustainable Society. The students, of which 50% are international, live together in the International Student building of the University of Groningen during their first year, after which they can choose to find their own living space in the city. The UCG students can find their ways not only connecting with other UCG students by joining activities of Caerus, their student association, but also the vibrant student life of Groningen itself.

Even though this tour provides only a general overview of the differences and similarities of the different University Colleges that the Netherlands holds, it does provide insight in the specific focus of some UCs, and more broad offer of others. In addition, this overview also assigns some of these differences to the location of the education, where large student cities form a sharp contrast with for example Middelburg. As the UCSRN, and its aim to unify these bachelors along the concepts of Liberal Arts and Sciences and University College, this overview is quite significant, and provokes a debate on what it is that makes a University College.