A Broader Mind

Embrace the future: develop a broader mind

Society is changing at an ever-increasing pace. Now more than ever, it is essential to develop your skills, knowledge and personal qualities in ways that go beyond the boundaries of your own discipline. Broadening your mind means that you are better equipped to meet the challenges of the future.

As Mirjam van Praag, the President of the Executive Board, said at the opening of the 2018 academic year: We don’t want our students to simply ‘become something’ – we also want them to ‘become someone’.

Mirjam van Praag: Wij willen dat onze studenten niet alleen ‘iets’ worden, maar ook ‘iemand’ worden.
Why the shaping of students on academic, personal and societal level should have a natural place in education. 

VU Amsterdam is launching the educational programme A Broader Mind, in which all Bachelor’s students come together to work on the issues affecting today’s society and where personal development is paramount. Through this programme, you will you learn to approach each societal issue using a range of scientific disciplines.

How is your world changing? 
As the challenges facing society become more numerous and more complex, the need for a more multidisciplinary approach becomes greater. Themes such as artificial intelligence, ageing, geopolitical tensions, climate change, shortage of natural resources and the unequal distribution of wealth are all having an impact on our world today and will continue to do so tomorrow.

At the same time, the labour market is changing dramatically, the working landscape is shifting and knowledge is becoming less sustainable. Opportunities for education are multiplying and today’s students are far more likely to have a career that encompasses a whole range of jobs and disciplines. Despite these developments, government policy is geared towards encouraging students to focus on their own discipline and to graduate without delay. There is hardly any scope for students to broaden their interests or to study subjects in greater depth, let alone to reflect on their own role in society.

De wereld verandert
What does this mean for you? 
As a student, this requires you to think about who you are, how you look at the world, how you relate to others and the nature of your role in society.

You will develop personal skills such as collaborating across borders, debating openly and effectively, reflecting on your own perspectives, norms and values, and dealing with pressure and stress. In addition, through Community Service Learning, you will apply your knowledge to solving pressing issues that are having a major impact on today’s society.

There are two elements to participating in A Broader Mind:

  • Community Service Learning: a form of education in which you will put professional knowledge into practice. In doing so, you will make your own contribution to solving societal issues.
  • A Broader Mind course: you will work with students from other Bachelor’s degree programmes to develop you social and personal skills.

In Community Service Learning (CSL), you will use your academic skills to solve key issues affecting today’s society. This is done in cooperation with a social partner, for example a municipality.

CSL is already part of the educational experience of some students, but VU Amsterdam wants to open up CSL activities to all. In many cases, CSL activities are a standard part of the degree programme and earn the student credits.

What form does a Community Service Learning activity take? Here are a few examples:

  • In the second year of a Youth Health Care course, students completed a project resulting in recommendations on how ‘learning on the move’ can support the educational experience at a primary school in Amsterdam Nieuw-West.
  • The Inside-Out prison exchange programme provides joint education sessions in penitentiary institutions, where students and inmates are taught in the same class.
  • In the third-year Community-based Health Interventions course, students work with the Salvation Army to improve various programmes in Amsterdam, such as homeless shelters, crisis shelters and community centres.
  • Logistics students work to optimize logistics processes at a local food bank.
  • Students carry out interviews and literature surveys to examine possible approaches to help the municipality of Almere deal with the growing number of elderly people.

If you have questions about Community Service Learning, please contact:Wim Haan

Wim Haan, Project Manager for Community Service Learning. 
+31 (0)20 598 56 73  

Community Service Learning and research into CSL will be led by Professor Marjolein Zweekhorst, Professor of Innovation and Education at the Faculty of Science.
+31 (0)20 598 70 33 

Marjolein Zweekhorst

 Read more about Community Service Learning at VU Amsterdam.

The A Broader Mind course is for all Bachelor’s students at VU Amsterdam, and centres on personal development, social interaction and reflection on these processes. As a student, you will be encouraged to get to grips with major societal issues, such as sustainability, digitization and poverty. These are issues that cannot be solved from the perspective of a single discipline. That’s why the course brings you into contact with a wide range of perspectives held by both experts and fellow students. It will take you on a journey as you discover what these interdisciplinary themes mean to you and how you can draw on your own background and personal convictions in order to make your own contribution.

For students, by students 
The course has been designed jointly by students, lecturers, researchers and other enthusiastic members of staff at VU Amsterdam: that’s what makes it so special. It gives you a genuine and active role in designing and improving your own education. For example, the themes you will tackle on the course were co-written by VU students.

Online and offline activities 
The A Broader Mind course consists of a blend of online and offline activities. In the MOOC, you will watch videos and read articles in which experts present their ideas and insights. You will take part in quizzes and enter into forum discussions with other VU students. In addition, the MOOC will encourage you to undertake activities independently with a view to exploring your own personal response to the issues in question. This might include collecting your own plastic waste to make an artwork with other students, as part of the Sustainability theme.

Help build A Broader Mind 
Do you want to make an active contribution to education? We are always looking for great ideas and new insights! Please contact:

SchippersRolinka Schippers, Project Manager for the A Broader Mind Course
+31 (0)20 598 27 13

The A Broader Mind course is led by Govert Buijs, Professor of Political Philosophy and holder of the Goldschmeding Chair in Economics and Civil Society at the Faculty of Humanities. 
+31 (0)20 598 66 83

Govert Buijs

Working with themes 
Eight themes are discussed on the A Broader Mind course. As the course and the programme as a whole are still under development, these themes may therefore be subject to change. You will collaborate with students from other degree programmes and learn to approach the themes from a range of disciplines. The starting point for tackling each theme will be your own personal question and a challenge facing society.

1. Health & Happiness  
Societal challenge: Follow your own path to happiness.
Personal question: Which factors influence my happiness?

2. Poverty  
Societal challenge: How can we reduce the negative effects of poverty in someone’s living environment?
Personal question: What is my own experience of financial poverty?

3. Success  
Societal challenge: How can organizations achieve success by learning from their failures?
Personal question: How can I achieve success by learning from my failures?

4. The Digital World  
Societal challenge: How can society gain a thorough understanding of requirements and applications relating to digital innovations in health care?
Personal question: How do I weigh up the ethical benefits and the risks of digital innovation?

5. Rebellion  
Societal challenge: To what extent does society need a rebellion in relation to the societal challenges discussed on the course?
Personal question: Wat kind of rebel am I?

6. Identity  
Societal challenge: How do people from so many different backgrounds manage to live together in the super-diverse city of Amsterdam?
Personal question: What makes me 'me' and how do I want to be seen by others?

7. Sustainability  
Societal challenge: Join the quest and help solve the plastic waste problem!
Personal question: How big a part do I play in causing, identifying and solving the plastic problem?

8. The Human Body  
Societal challenge: What are the limits to biotechnical applications for human health? Personal question: Who owns my body?

If you have any general questions about A Broader Mind, please contact the programme team:

Kirstin de Boer  Het programmateam
+31 (0)20 598 76 05     

Nynke Rodenhuis  
+31 (0)20 598 63 12