In the last few weeks, the top-10-percent of EUR students have been invited to join one of these honours programmes. Tackling Inequalities is offered to Master’s students, while Grand Challenges is open to Year-2 Bachelor’s students. In the invitation, the various degree programmes’ top-scoring students were asked to apply for a spot on the programme. “Although I have to admit I’m more interested in the right motivation than in high marks”, says Christian van der Veeke, the academic director of Grand Challenges.
Hip, but messy
Both the Bachelor’s and Master’s programmes focus on multidisciplinary research. “Obviously, it’s incredibly hip to take a multidisciplinary approach to research, but it’s also very hard”, says Engelbert. “In order to take part, you must be curious about other disciplines and willing to explore the boundaries of your own discipline. When you’re working with like-minded people, it’s easier to arrive at a particular point of view. Collaborating with researchers from other disciplines is messy and more time-consuming. It takes a while to learn it.”
Van der Veeke completely agrees. He believes that many researchers suffer from tunnel vision when it comes to science – a process that starts early. “We get wired during our first year at university”, says Van der Veeke. “Opinions on other disciplines tend to be very basic and full of prejudice. Students are taught superficial notions such as ‘economists will only look at economic models’. We wish to give our students a different perspective and teach them to respect other people’s input. Guest lecturers are often asked questions here that they are never asked anywhere else, because they are faced with students from other disciplines.” He believes this shows how people from different disciplines have different ideas on subjects.
Both honours programmes will get students to conduct research on an issue currently faced by the city of Rotterdam. In Grand Challenges, students are mainly encouraged to reflect on the city’s problems. “Sustainability has become a bit of a trite subject, but there’s a lot more to it than just environmental issues,” says the programme’s academic director. The theme also includes issues such as a sustainable migration policy, a sustainable healthcare policy, etc. “Giving back to the city sounds a little cheap, but the fact of the matter is, we are connected to each other. The city is connected to EUR, and EUR is connected to the city. Academics are part of the city, but right now, they are too far removed from it. We wanted to do something about that.”
Grand Challenges will be taught for the seventh time starting from late November, but the programme has been revised. It used to have a Dutch-language component as well as an English-language component, but now the two have been combined into one single English-language programme. In addition, the final assignment has been overhauled, a fact of which Van der Veeke is very proud. “You see, the suggestion to do so was made by two alumni of Grand Challenges. While they did think the honours programme was very useful, they also asked me: ‘Isn’t there anything you can do about that final assignment?’” In the old days, students were asked to write three essays from the points of view of three different disciplines. Now groups of students are asked to organise a workshop or teach-in . “And the greatest thing is that the alumni who told me this, who have by now graduated, have become an integral part of the programme. They will be teaching our students how to host teach-ins!”
The Master’s honours programme not only encourages students to reflect on the city’s problems, but to actively present potential solutions. The Municipality of Rotterdam will serve as a formal partner to the eighteen students who will be taking part in the programme. “Rotterdam has voiced the ambition to be the most inclusive digital city in the Netherlands by 2025”, says Engelbert. “The digital world is no Valhalla. Digitisation may actually result in social inequality. Students will be asked to reflect on questions such as, ‘how to protect residents’ rights?’.”
Engelbert explains that it is important that students remain unpretentious when they go into town to conduct their research. It is vital that they listen and learn, rather than impose their knowledge on the locals. “Rotterdam is not a lab. We don’t want to stare at people who may be vulnerable from behind a fence. The last thing I want is for students to think after this programme: now we know everything we need to know. They shouldn’t act like bulls in a china shop. One of the main messages of the programme is: know your place.”