1. ‘Public administration does not belong at a university’

The faculty was established exactly 55 years ago by Jacques van Doorn. He was a sociologist and quite renowned for the ‘Rotterdam formula’, according to an interview with Van Doorn included in the book 40 Years of FSW: The Rotterdam Formula in Practice, published on the occasion of the faculty’s 40th anniversary. The Rotterdam formula is a solid combination of theoretical and practical knowledge.

Until 1 September 2017, ESSB was known as the Faculty of Social Sciences (FSW). It all began with a degree in sociology, which was later joined by degrees in political science and public administration. Van Doorn was not at all keen on the inclusion of the public administration degree programme. He said in the aforementioned interview that it ‘felt like a defeat’ to him. “It’s a nice subject, it is, but it does not belong at a university.” It was the establishment of the public administration degree programme that caused Van Doorn to retire from his professorship before actually reaching retirement age. “It stopped being fun for me.”

ESSB: facts and figures


ESSB is celebrating its 55th anniversary this year.


ESSB currently has 3,604 students, who are taking one of six Bachelor degrees or one of 23 Master programmes.


ESSB has 47 full professors, including eleven women and 36 men.


At the moment, 170 people are doing a PhD at ESSB.

2. Transfer from Feyenoord to Willem II

Now that the Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences (ESSB) has a new dean, the Feyenoord era at the faculty is over. You see, the new dean, Victor Bekkers, is occasionally spotted in the King Willem II Stadium in Tilburg, supporting the Willem II football club. Henk van der Molen and Henk Schmidt, Bekkers’ predecessors, are huge Feyenoord fans and were said to attend Feyenoord games together.


The Erasmus University College (EUC), founded in 2013, is an independent part of ESSB. The EUC is EUR’s Liberal Arts & Sciences programme, an educational system based on American and British universities in which students are given a great deal of freedom in choosing their electives. The degree does not come cheap: students from the European Economic Area pay €4,100 per year, versus €12,000 per year for students from non-EEA countries. First-year students are obliged to live at the college’s own hall of residence, which costs another €7,400.

4. A restructuring that prompted people to leave

In 2015, Henk van der Molen initiated a restructuring of ESSB. The Public Administration and Sociology departments were told to merge, as were the Educational Sciences and Psychology departments. This prompted quite a few administrators and lecturers to leave. Eleven lecturers were offered professorships at other universities, and two administrators left, as well.

Van der Molen told EM he regretted the fact that so many staff members had left and likened their departures to his favourite football club: “Sometimes we are just like Feyenoord – we train these guys, only for them to leave us. We have lost an entire football team. Seriously, though – it was obviously a good move for them, because they were offered professorships elsewhere, which allowed them to improve their personal positions, but it’s a pity for the faculty.”

5. Pioneers: problem-based learning and N=N

ESSB is known for being a pioneer in the field of education. Van Doorn may have been known for his ‘Rotterdam formula’, but Henk Schmidt gave Rotterdam problem-based learning, which he took with him from his previous employer, Maastricht University. In 2001, Schmidt first offered a psychology degree in Rotterdam which involved a problem-based learning approach. It was EUR’s first problem-based degree. Many others were to follow.

ESSB was also the first EUR faculty to embark on a Nominaal = Normaal (N=N) pilot study, which, among other things, meant that first-year students had to obtain all the credits they needed to pass their first year and that students were given fewer re-sits but were able to use high marks in some subjects to offset fail marks in other subjects. This pilot study, too, was one of Schmidt’s ideas, according to the Remarkable and Innovative: FSW’s Story, 2003-2013 booklet, published on the occasion of the faculty’s 50th anniversary.

The booklet says the N=N pilot study was quite a nerve-racking event for Schmidt: “There were very dark moments when I woke up early in the morning and found myself thinking, ‘Sure, I’m quite certain this is right, based on many years’ experience, but what if I’m wrong?’ When they [the N=N prognoses – eds.] came back favourable, I was walking through the corridors singing.”