Rotterdam’s faculty of Philosophy has a lot more to look forward to than it did a few years ago. Interim Dean Frank van der Duijn Schouten recently presented his advisory memorandum on the future of Philosophy at EUR: an independent faculty with an important role for its Double Degree programme, combined with a full-time bachelor and master programme – and in good financial health to boot.

The key points of the memorandum:

  • Philosophy will remain an independent faculty
  • The Double Degree will serve as the faculty’s flagship programme
  • Philosophy will continue to offer a fully-fledged full-time degree programme
  • A share of the funding will be dependent on the number of students who enrol, and the number of degrees issued, in the Double Degree programme
  • The part-time study programme will be handled by Erasmus Academy
  • Closer collaboration with the Honours Academy and Erasmus University College
  • The new dean should preferably come from outside the Philosophy community

“You can feel a tangible mood of relief within the faculty about my recommendations to the Executive Board,” says Van der Duijn Schouten, whose appointment was recently extended to the end of 2018. “I believe the key point of my memorandum – to preserve the faculty’s position of independence – has been well received.” This is a marked contrast with the mood back in early 2015. At a certain point, the then dean even informed staff that he could no longer envision an independent future for the faculty.

This was cause for alarm, and this consternation even spread to the national media. After being appointed as Interim Dean, Van der Duijn Schouten was commissioned to write an advisory memorandum about the future of Philosophy within Erasmus University Rotterdam. He has presently formulated his recommendations, which, barring a few financial details, have been adopted by EUR’s Executive Board.

‘We’ve lost the negative undertone. Now, we think a lot more in terms of our own strength.’

Frank van der Duijn Schouten

Your plan paints a far rosier picture of the future than was forecast a few years ago. What changed in the intervening period?

“If the full-time programme had been retained as the backbone of the Faculty, I would actually have drawn the same conclusion: this faculty can no longer stand on its own two feet. The decision to position the existing Double Degree programme as a study programme that every EUR faculty benefits from was a very inventive move. It forms the Philosophy faculty’s very raison d’être within Erasmus University. In addition, we’ve lost the negative undertone. In the past, our response to problems was predominantly ‘We don’t want to merge with another faculty’. Now, we think a lot more in terms of our own strength.”

The faculty and the university don’t receive public funding for Double Degree students since this involves a second study programme. Intake for the first year was 200 students, and this number has presently increased to over 300. Who’s footing the bill for this?

“A healthy Philosophy faculty – with an adequate teaching complement, quality scholarship and scope for administrative activities – costs around EUR 4 million per year. My proposal was that the other faculties actually pay the way for ‘their’ students who enrol in our Double Degree programme. This arrangement wasn’t solid enough in the view of the Executive Board, which is why it was decided to transfer the funds to the faculty via EUR’s internal distribution model. They’re still working on the details, but the basic idea is that for each student enrolled in the Double Degree programme, we receive an amount per registration and per diploma, equivalent to the amount received by other faculties for their first-year registrations and diplomas: EUR 4,400 per registered student and EUR 11,500 per awarded bachelor degree. To a large extent, this allows for variable funding, which is far healthier than the existing arrangements.”

The success of your plan is dependent on the Double Degree. Aren’t you taking a risk, assigning a programme that doesn’t even have graduates yet such a central role in the faculty’s preservation?”

“I wouldn’t call it a risk, but it does put the faculty under a certain obligation. Because if graduate numbers fall far short of expectations, you need to be honest and admit that even though we gave it our best shot, the programme doesn’t fulfil a tangible need within the student body.”

‘I don’t believe formal requirements – aimed at prodding along the student – are appropriate when someone’s voluntarily enrolled in an extra programme.’

Frank van der Duijn Schouten

What kind of graduation numbers do you expect to see?

“We think it’s reasonable to expect a success rate of around 40 percent. I don’t believe formal requirements – aimed at prodding along the student – are appropriate when someone’s voluntarily enrolled in an extra programme. So I don’t see much point in a binding recommendation, or requiring students to write these huge letters of motivation. I expect the in-depth quality of philosophical study will appeal to many EUR students.”

Is this a feasible success rate?

“Of the 200 students who enrolled in the first year, 80 students earned zero credits. While I’m not demanding that they earn full marks every time, not getting a single mark indicates that they probably didn’t give it sufficient thought when they registered. I think we should also take account of people who’ve only earned 60 of the total of 90 credits because they transferred to a master programme at London Business School half-way through, for example. You don’t necessarily have to chalk that up as a failure.”

How can you prevent the faculty’s full-time programme from becoming the ‘poor relation’?

“This has been a point of special attention from the outset. I was pleased to hear that our full-time students lodged little to no protests about the decision to schedule more education activities during the evening and to organise more English-language lectures. I would not have been surprised if these decisions had encountered more objections from this group. I think they feel partly responsible for ensuring that the degree programme has a future.”

‘I daresay that in ten years’ time, the faculty will be an integral part of Erasmus University’s offer, with above all a rock-solid reputation in the field of education.’

Frank van der Duijn Schouten

Nevertheless, some students are grumbling that they need to earn 180 credits for their degree, while the same diploma can be obtained for 90 credits within the Double Degree programme.

“I’ve noticed as much. But my answer to these students is that they’re free to pursue an additional degree too. If they go talk to a study adviser at the Economics faculty, I bet they won’t be required to earn 180 credits for their second degree in Economics.”

Where will the faculty be in ten years?

“I daresay that in ten years’ time, the faculty will be an integral part of Erasmus University’s offer, with above all a rock-solid reputation in the field of education. This is in line with the growing awareness within the university community that education has been seriously neglected these past few decades. Within the research field, our faculty will continue to provide a kind of intellectual ‘free range’, based on researchers’ personal decisions and individual reputations.”

With a Double Degree and a full-time programme.

“Yes – and I don’t mind going on record with my prediction that in ten years’ time, we will have three times as many options in our full-time programme. With this profile, we can tell prospective Philosophy students ‘You’ll be sharing the lecture hall with your future GP and your future lawyer.’ That’s clear added value. In 2017, we registered some 30 first-year students. I’ll wager a good bottle of wine that in ten years’ time, our intake will be around 90.”