by Myrte Vos, class of 2012
[WARNING: the following was written with tongue wedged firmly in cheek. If, at any point, you’re in any way offended, stop being offended and go do something else.]
Way back in 1998, Utrecht University opened the doors of the first undergraduate liberal arts college in the Netherlands. Everything about it was un-Dutch: its selection procedure, which dared to imply that all animals were equal, but some animals were more equal than others; its teaching philosophy, which took education to be a vehicle for personal, moral, and intellectual growth, rather than a years-long, beer-sodden obstacle course towards adulthood; and most of all, its campus, which with its quad and its hedges and its monuments and, worst of all, its wrought iron gates, was an affront to postmodern student culture. UCU was like a nouveau riche stockbroker swaggering into a club full of financially struggling aristocrats. Jealously warred with disdain. This arrogant young upstart was never going to make it.
Fast forward a few years, and everyone and their grandmother seems to be running a university college on the side. If you’ve been out of “the scene” for a while, you might not be up to date with how many of them there are now, and where, and what their added value is. This article is for you.
University College Maastricht (2002)
The first to jump on the bandwagon. A clever move, because it made Maastricht a more attractive destination for, to name but one example, German students. Distinguishes itself through ‘problem-based learning’, the university’s preferred teaching style. Since 2014, Maastricht has a colonial outpost in – hold on to your butt – Venlo. You read that right. University College Venlo is a real thing that exists, in Venlo. Its focus is on food, nutrition and health, so it frankly pushes the definition of “Liberal Arts & Sciences” to its breaking point, but we’ll allow it. What a time to be alive.
University College Roosevelt (f.k.a. Roosevelt Academy) (2004)
Utrecht’s colonial outpost in Middelburg. Undisputably the fanciest of all the colleges, until EUC came along to dispute it. UCR’s claim to fame is its minor tracks in art and music, with which it, of all the Dutch UCs, might actually come closest to the medieval ideal of the seven liberal arts. It also comes closest to what your uncomprehending relatives imagine when you explain your degree to them.
University College Tilburg (2008/2015)
The first UC to abandon the ideal of offering the full buffet of academic disciplines, as it were, and to decide that in Tilburg, every night is Taco Night. There is a rich variety of tacos – European history & culture, business & management, social sciences, European law, and cognitive neuroscience – but it’s tacos nonetheless. Perhaps it’s unfair to say that, when Tilburg University is essentially a Mexican restaurant: you gotta play to your strengths. For those of you who are confused by the name, this used to be a regular LA&S programme, and was converted to full UC status in 2015.
Amsterdam University College (2009)
Located in Amsterdam Science Park, in a very pretty architectural-award-winning building that nevertheless does not boast enough stained glass or marble to compete for the title of Fanciest UC, and the unholy demon-child of They Who Shall Not Be Merged – inside joke, sorry; I mean the UvA and the VU – AUC continues the trend of picking a theme and thereby cleverly disguising yourself as a degree that makes sense. The theme, in this instance, is Science(TM).
Leiden University College (2010)
The Hague really wanted in on this ‘having a university’ party; Leiden wanted in on the ‘having a UC’ party, but they had no place to put it. (The struggles of running your business out of an adorable little village.) The solution: plonk it down right next to Den Haag CS! A sprawling, leafy campus it ain’t – for the first two years, you live, socialize and go to class in one glass-and-steel tower flat – but it’s good practice for all the human rights lawyers, diplomats, and NGO executives that LUC is designed to produce: they’ll end up in similar towers in New York, Hong Kong, Vancouver and Johannesburg.
Erasmus University College (2013)
You’ll never guess what their theme is. “Philosophy?” I hear you ask hopefully. Hahaha! No. Erasmus University styles itself as ‘royal purveyor to boardrooms’, and its UC looks to be set up as the royal purveyor to top-ranked Schools of Economics, Management, and Business Administration, including, of course, Erasmus’ own. It has the aesthetic to match: spectacularly renovated inner-city monument, check. Students housed in something called the Student Hotel, check. This is the sushi bar of colleges.
University College Groningen (2014)
The most recent college to open its doors. Apparently they’re struggling to attract students (their first two cohorts comprise about 30 students each), which may be a sign that the university college market in the Netherlands is approaching saturation. It might also be because they don’t have a lot of courses on offer. Don’t give up, Groningen! In my ongoing tortured food metaphor, there is still room for pancakes!
University College Twente (2012)
Oh come on, now it’s just getting ridiculous. Bildung for engineers? Really? Wasn’t the whole point of university colleges that you spend 3 years intellectually snacking on whatever takes your fancy, only to graduate with so little knowledge of any one field that your degree is essentially useless? Won’t this result in shoddy robotics and collapsing bridges a couple of years from now? Plus, the one thing HUM and SSC majors had going for them is that they had insight that engineers, for all their “useful” “skills”, did not. You can’t just take that away from them. It’s cruel.
BONUS: Proposed UCs (because hell, why not, the more the merrier!):
Radboud University College
Trust Nijmegen to get all hipster and refuse to join the hype. C’mon, Nijmegen, don’t be a partypooper! Maybe your thing could be radical socialism. While everyone else is grooming the pundits, CEOs, diplomats and humanitarians of tomorrow, you are training its revolutionaries, teaching them to seize the means of production and warning them that sticking a bunch of young people in a building together and telling them they’re extra special is the opium of the 1%. Wake up, sheeple!
Wageningen University College
This one’s not actually such a stretch, if Twente has managed to figure it out. Like, you’re eighteen, you find yourself preoccupied by the question of how humanity can continue to thrive on planet Earth, but you also don’t want to pin yourself down on, like, just forestry or just biotechnology, you know? Also you’re pretty into, like, literature. Hey, you could have a lit course just on dudes who went outside! Like Walden and Into the Wild and stuff. This curriculum writes itself, really. Plus, Wageningen has no English-language bachelors. See above re: hipster nonsense.
University College Kampen
With secularism spreading across Europe like wildfire, it’s clear that it’s time for a radical new take on religion: an interdisciplinary, critical approach to faith in the 21st century. What better institution to take up the staff, as it were, than a Protestant theological university? Protestants love critical analysis, it’s right there in the name. The future of religion may just be in ditching the dogma and engaging in some wild, intellectually thrilling cross-pollination of Abrahamic and shamanistic belief systems. The world needs preachers that can think outside of the book, don’t you agree?