The Institute and its Program
Leiden University was founded in 1575 and is one of the oldest universities in Europe, and the oldest in the Netherlands. As such it has a rich academic tradition that is highly respected worldwide. Leiden University is also a member of the League of European Research Universities (LERU). The specific institute within Leiden University that is the focus for this roundtable is Leiden University College (LUC), which offers an international honor’s Liberal Arts and Sciences bachelor program. The program is rather new (est. 2010) and builds on the relatively recent development of university colleges in the Netherlands (first one est. 1996 in Utrecht). Our ca. 600 students come from all over the world (ca. 50 nationalities represented) and are selected based on their grades, motivation, international orientation, and extracurricular activities that show an interest in contributing to society. LUC is based in the international city of The Hague, where Leiden University has recently established a number of institutes and programs.
The academic program at LUC centers around what we call Global Challenges, and highlights pertinent themes from an interdisciplinary perspective. Half of our program is taught by our own international LUC staff who represent a large variety of disciplines (from history to physics, from sociology to math), and the other half by academic staff from traditional Leiden University disciplinary institutes. Whereas the majors in other Dutch university colleges are disciplinary in character (e.g., history, political sciences, etc.), the majors offered at LUC are thematic in nature and explicitly interdisciplinary. The first year of the program is broad, after which the students choose one of our 6 majors that each represent a salient global challenge: Human Diversity, World Politics, International Justice, Global Public Health, Earth Energy and Sustainability, and Governance Economics and Development. This thematic interdisciplinary approach is based on the fact that to truly understand global challenges, one needs to study them from multiple perspectives. The city of The Hague is especially conducive to the study of these challenges, as it is home to for example the International Criminal Court, the Dutch national government and its ministries, and many embassies, international NGOs etc. Representatives from these institutes regularly give guest lectures within the LUC curriculum.
Service Learning at LUC
As is the case in most Liberal Arts programs, learning through contact with (local) communities and organizations is a central part of our educational vision rooted in the notion of service learning. This can be done through internships (where academic study is supported by practical experience), civic education (where academic study and community involvement are mutually developed), and volunteering (which is done extracurricularly, but also with LUC).
Internships are often done in local organizations, including local or national governing bodies and NGOs that in some way strive to improve the lives of citizens in The Hague or elsewhere. I will not elaborate on internships here, but instead focus on civic education and volunteerism.
In their second year, LUC students choose one of several ways to fulfill the ‘Global Citizenship’ requirement of 10 ECTs (= 540 hours). One of the options is the Community Project, in which students follow an academic course on service learning, diversity and education, in combination with hands-on work at a local secondary school with a high percentage of ethnic minorities, including students who have just arrived in the Netherlands and do not yet speak Dutch. LUC students engage with this latter group, helping them get acquainted with the Netherlands, Dutch culture, the Dutch language (and/or the English language, depending on the student’s origin), and basic math skills. Our students’ involvement is now an integral part of the school’s program for these ‘newcomers’ who have one year in a special class to master a certain level of Dutch, English, and math that will allow them to move into a regular classroom in the next year. The secondary school students also come to LUC several times for workshops and social gatherings to get acquainted with our university, and to show them that they are also welcome there. We have no formal evaluation of this program yet, but the secondary school, their students, our LUC students, and our involved staff are very enthusiastic about the perceived benefits for all parties involved. the secondary school students get much-needed extra academic attention and LUC students learn about the struggles and resilience of migrant youth that are often from very different socioeconomic backgrounds than they’re used to. Now that we have a few years experience with this model, we feel confident about knowing the do’s and don’ts and we are now working on expanding Community Project options to other topics than just education, towards for example elderly care, poverty, and sustainability.
Regarding volunteering, many of our students do so outside of the curriculum without LUC necessarily knowing about it in any organized way. Recently however, we have started a program in which we actively seek student volunteers. This program entails inviting groups of elementary school children from special ‘Saturday schools’ aimed at enhancing learning opportunities for children from disadvantaged neighborhoods and families. These groups of children visit LUC on a Saturday and attend a plenary lecture by the dean, and then in smaller subgroups attend workshops on a variety of topics, including pollution of sea life, the European Union, and healthy eating. These workshops were initially taught only by LUC academic staff, but we are now also offering workshops developed and taught by LUC students, such as a recent one on the environment and recycling. Similar to the Community Project, this program allows young children from disadvantaged parts of The Hague to see a university from the inside, hopefully make them feel at home, and show them all the wonderful things that you could learn there. In addition, our students (and staff) are encouraged to think about how they can use their skills and knowledge to inspire and educate these children in a way that suits their developmental level and interests. For an impression of this program, please see this video.
Last but not least, a central part of civic education at LUC is represented by the residential concept that requires students to live in the LUC residential part of the building in their first and second year. LUC has an extensive student life program that is aimed at fostering positive contact between students from very different cultural backgrounds, students acquiring cross-cultural communication competence, and students being actively engaged in the LUC community through committees, academic and social event organization. Each year 17 students volunteer as residential assistants who are each responsible for the social life on one of the building’s residential floors, for which they receive extensive training and support from our full-time student life officer.
Socially engaged research at LUC
All of our academic staff at LUC are engaged in research on global societal challenges in some way, both within their specific disciplines and across disciplines working together with colleagues with various scholarly backgrounds. This interdisciplinary research has recently received a boost because the dean has obtained two large research grants that will allow for a new interdisciplinary initiatives around the broad theme of citizenship and civic engagement, focusing on how children learn about their roles in society in various contexts and in relation to their various identities (e.g., gender, ethnicity). This new integrative research program will start in September 2017 and will involve – among others – psychologists, political scientists, anthropologists, historians, sociologists, and scholars from the natural sciences. The ultimate goal of the program is to provide insights into the ways that society as a whole, and educational and youth support institutes in particular can contribute to children’s development into socially engaged citizens.
Bio: Prof. dr. Judi Mesman received her PhD in the field of Developmental Psychology from Erasmus University Rotterdam in 2000, after which she worked as a postdoc, assistant professor, and associate professor at the Centre for Child and Family Studies at Leiden University. In 2009 she became a full professor focusing on the theme of Diversity in Parenting and Child Development, specializing in video observations of caregiver-child interactions across cultures with special attention to issues of gender and racial socialization. Since September 2017, she holds a professor chair on The Interdisciplinary Study of Societal Challenges, which adopts a lifespan perspective on the study of the global challenges that form the backbone of LUC’s educational and research program.. She has published more than 70 international papers, and has received over 8 million euros of competitive research funding. Further, she is very active in outreach activities, including regular lectures for non-academic audiences, providing parenting workshops for migrant mothers, and providing advice to local governing bodies about youth in Leiden and The Hague. Judi Mesman has been dean of Leiden University College since July 2016.