A Broader Mind

Is the world changing or are you changing the world?

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What is A Broader Mind for students?

At Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam we want our students not only to become ‘something’ like an economist, doctor or biologist. We also want them to become ‘someone. In our view, personal development, academic exploration and societal development are an essential part of the academic education. We want to equip students to be successful and play a meaningful part in this world. This requires students to think about who they are, how they view the world and their role in society, and how they relate to others. It requires them to have ‘A Broad Mind’.

In the A Broader Mind programme, students learn to approach societal issues from a range of academic perspectives. They apply their knowledge to solving pressing social issues through the A Broader Mind course and Community Service Learning, and acquire personal skills such as collaborating across borders.

Want to know more? 

With the A Broader Mind programme we fulfil the mission of the VU Amsterdam
“We take responsibility for people and the planet by delivering value driven education, research and knowledge transfer. We imbue students and professionals with knowledge and ‘A Broader Mind’. We pursue pioneering research, both within and across disciplines. As free thinkers with a focus on diversity, purpose and compassion, our students and staff have a deep connection with one another while being fully engaged with society as a whole. This is Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam’s mission”.

On A Broader Mind, students learn to approach societal issues from a range of academic perspectives. They will apply their knowledge to solving pressing social issues through Community Service Learning and acquire personal skills such as collaborating across borders.

Marjolein Zweekhorst
Professor Innovatie and Education, Faculty of Science
[email protected]
Marjolein Zweekhorst

Another pillar of the A Broader Mind for Students Programme, is the ‘A Broader Mind Longitudinal Survey’ (ABMLS). It is designed to track the personal, academic, civic and professional development of students as they progress through their degree programmes, especially in ABM-activities (CSL and the course). The survey is unique since it is one of the first to assess the impact of these kind of activities in Europe and thus far, a longitudinal panel study based on a design like the A Broader Mind Programme, has not been carried out.

The A Broader Mind Longitudinal Survey (ABMLS) is a panel survey among students at the VU Amsterdam. It is an innovative survey in which it tracks student development for multiple years in a mixed-method design, combining different types of data. Results are shared with students and researches from VU Amsterdam to make it a collaborative project.

The A Broader Mind Longitudinal Survey report >

René Bekkers
Professor Prosocial Behavior, Faculty of Social Sciences
[email protected]

The A Broader Mind course is an interdisciplinary course which focuses on the personal development, academic exploration and involvement with complex social challenges like poverty, sustainability and the digital world. In a mixed group of students from all VU faculties, students are involved in challenging online and offline activities.

The course was developed by enthusiastic students and staff members of the VU. Together they built the future of education. The course consists of eight theme’s, linked to the Sustainable Development Goals and reflecting the academic knowledge and societal awareness within the VU.

Pramod George Jose
Computer Science

'We have students who are all from different cultural backgrounds, everyone has a different experience of their life - When everyone interacts they’ll be able to learn quite a lot.'
Diana Lucía Gross Gross
Social Psychology

'You don’t have that many opportunities to talk to others from different disciplines about societal problems. It was amazing opportunity to listen to other people to reflect on  challenging issues and try to find a way to solve them. That’s why I joined!'
Eduardo Urias
Postdoc and lecturer Athena Institute

'In the end we all work in a place with people from different cultures and backgrounds. And here we learn how to perform in such a diverse environment.’
Asger Randers Anderton
Social and cultural anthropology

‘I’m in a very international place and I’m learning to work with different types of people and I learn much about myself. I Think that’s very important and very interesting.’ 
Shivam Kapoor
Computer Systems Security

‘I think that this course is a good platform for everyone to learn, discuss, to do interdisciplinary research and collaborate with everyone.’

Govert Buijs
Professor Faculty of Humanities and holder of the Goldschmeding Chair 'Economy & Civil Society'
[email protected]
Govert Buijs
Selene Kolman
Project manager A Broader Mind Course
[email protected]
+312 5984396

The A Broader Mind course is built around eight societal theme’s. Students collaborate with students from other degree programmes and learn to approach the themes from multiple academic disciplines. The starting point for tackling each theme is a personal question and a challenge facing society.

Personal questionSocietal questionPowered by
Track A
Success & Failure Success“How can I achieve success by learning from my failures?”“Can we break the societal taboo on failure?”School of Business and Economics
Poverty Poverty"Do I unintentionally perpetuate poverty?""What can society do to reduce poverty?"Social Sciences
Human Body Human"Will I modify my body in the future?""What are the (moral) limits to biotechnical applications for human health?"Law
Rebellion Rebellion"What kind of rebel am I?""To what extent does society need Rebellion?"Humanities
Track B
Viewpoints & Worldview Viewpoints"What is my worldview, and what can I do to broaden my perspective?""How can I live with people who have different and conflicting worldviews?"Religion and Theology
Health & Happiness Health"How can I improve my own happiness?""How can we help create a happier place for others around us?"Medicine/Dentistry/ACTA
Digital World digital world"How do I weigh up the ethical benefits and risks of digital innovation?""How is society influenced positively and negatively by digital innovation?"Behavioural and Movement Sciences
Sustainability Sustain"What is my role in causing, identifying and solving the plastic problem?""Join the quest and help to solve the plastic waste problem!"Science

Open to all VU Amsterdam Bachelor students (1st – 3rd year)
interdisciplinaryInterdisciplinary with a mix of challenging on- and off line activities
periodPeriod 4 and 5 with the exception of regular exam weeks
6 offline meet-ups on Tuesdays OR Wednesdays between 17:30-20:00 hrs
Study load: approximately 40 hours (± 3hrs/week). Online activities can be completed in your own time
trackTrack A: Success & Failure, Poverty, Human Body, Rebellion
Track B: Viewpoints & Worldview, Health & Happiness, Digital World, Sustainability
certificateUpon successful completion you will receive a certificate
Sign up through this website in December
More information about will follow on this website. For questions feel free to contact us via [email protected]
Why the shaping of students on academic, personal and societal level should have a natural place in education. 

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’.

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.

De wereld verandert

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.

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 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 your societal and personal skills.

In addition, VU Amsterdam is conducting longitudinal research to measure the effects of the A Broader Mind course on students and alumni in the long term. You can participate voluntarily in this study and you will receive an annual survey with questions about your personality, student life, your view of the world and your expectations for the future on the labor market.

Are you curious about the Course? Click here or scan the QR-code to get a sneak preview! 


To enter the sneak preview you have to fill-in your e-mail address. Select "I am a new user" and then fill-in your name. Your mail address will not be used or distributed by the VU Amsterdam. 

    The A Broader Mind course is for all Bachelor’s students at VU Amsterdam, and centres on personal development, societal 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.

    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.

    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.

    05-03-2019 - Students exchanged 'poverty experience' in Low budget dinner

    Within the theme 'Poverty' students participated in a five-day challenge to live on a minimum of €4,29 a day. At the end of the week they came together and had a low-budget community meal organised at the VU. We obtained waste food from a variety of supermarkets to cook this meal. During this dinner the students reflected at their own experiences and shared them with each other.


    What is self-care?

    Self-care is one of the most important concepts that you will learn about. Self-care is an extension of self-love and this in turn has a huge influence on everything you do and don't do. So what is self-care? Self-care is taking care of yourself in every sense of the word. It is everything you do to help yourself perform optimally emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually. Basically, self-care is giving yourself everything you need to be a healthy and happy person. Maybe when you hear taking care of yourself you think of obvious things like eating right, exercising, etc.

    Read more >
    Govert Buijs

    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.
    [email protected]- +31 (0)20 598 66 83


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

    Nynke Rodenhuis
    [email protected]
    +31 (0)20 598 63 12

    152 A Broader Mind students graduate
    The VU is proud of the next generation of A Broader Mind students. We congratulate them. They have set and achieved their goals! Watch the congratulatory video of rector Vinod Subramaniam who spoke to the 152 graduates during the closing A Broader Mind festival on 18 June.


    thijs_bierstekerThijs Biersteker becomes first ‘A Broader Mind Fellow’
    The climate artist Thijs Biersteker has recently been named as the first VUvereniging A Broader Mind fellow. The fellowship is supported by the VUvereniging. Biersteker challenges students of A Broader Mind to translate their academic knowledge and personal experiences into a socially relevant message through artistic expression. A good example is his film about the impact of one cigarette butt on the environment. This ties in well with the current discussions around the smoke-free VU Campus.

    Biersteker's studio (www.wovenstudio.io) is a sustainable art studio that works with scientists and research groups, museums and architects to communicate their scientific findings or data in unusual ways. He translates scientific and/or socially relevant findings into interactive installations which people invite people to touch and move around. Thijs is also one of the founders of the Art, Ethics and Empathy course at TU Delft.