Dutch pioneering in Liberal Arts

Nieuws | de redactie
19 januari 2012 | With Erasmus University, another major Dutch institute sets up a University College. No other European country has pushed Liberal Arts as decisively. Hans Adriaansens, pioneer in this field, has now retired from Roosevelt Academy and will be wished farewell in a ceremony next week.

The number of Liberal Arts colleges in the Netherlands continuesto grow with the Erasmus University College to open its doorsin Rotterdam in 2013. In the last 14 years, six universities set upcomprehensive Liberal Arts colleges or individual tracks. No otherEuropean country has pushed so decisively in this direction.

Liberal Arts were first introduced to the Netherlands in 1997when Hans Adriaansens pioneered with the creation of the Utrecht University College. In the beginning,proponents of this approach faced harsh criticism from their peersas it fundamentally questioned the Dutch understanding of highereducation being egalitarian.

Growing Popularity

Nevertheless, the greater focus on interdisciplinary excellencegained popularity over time. This resulted in the establishment ofthe University College Maastricht (2002), RooseveltAcademy (2004), Amsterdam University College (2008), theLiberal Arts track by Tilburg University (2008), and Leiden UniversityCollege The Hague (2010).

With Erasmus University Rotterdam, another major Dutchuniversity is following suit. “This new, broader educationperfectly fits our ambition to foster internationalization andexcellence in higher education,” commented the university’s rectormagnificus, Prof. Henk Schmidt.

American higher education – the Dutch way

Inspired by the American approach to higher education, LiberalArts colleges let students choose courses from a variety ofdisciplines, while giving them more time to decide on theirspecialization. Classes are smaller and mostly taught inEnglish.

Unlike other Dutch universities, Liberal Arts colleges alsoimpose entrance requirements with aptitude tests, interviews andmotivation letters being part of the application process. Still,these programs differ in two ways from their American counterparts:tuition fees are lower (around €1800) and students graduate after 3years instead of 4.

In his function as dean of the Roosevelt Academy, Dutch LiberalArts pioneer Hans Adriaansens had great influence on thisphilosophy. To him “excellence is not simply about selectingexcellent students. Rather it is about the responsibility ofuniversities to offer the right context for excellentteaching.”

Messi and Cruyff in a swimming pool

“If you throw Messi, Cruyff and me in a swimming pool, you willsee that they also won’t be able to play better soccer than me. Andthis is because a swimming pool is not the right place where theycan show their talent,” commented Adriaansens during his speech at the Harvard/Roosevelt seminar onexcellent teaching.

This seminar is part of a cooperation between Roosevelt Academyand the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learningat Harvard University. Both institutes have close ties with ongoingacademic exchange as in 2009 when Derek Bok visited the academy toteach a Masters class. For next week, Roosevelt Academy hasorganized a farewell ceremony as Hans Adriaansens retired from hisposition as dean.


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