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Governance for Society

These are turbulent times, both nationally and internationally. In the profile theme Governance for Society, VU academics and students examine how leaders in governments, organisations and companies can realise an inclusive, fair and safe society.

Our society and democracy are under severe stress. There are alarming conflicts between international coalitions, countries and population groups. There is also indignation about transgressive behaviour, the childcare benefits scandal, the gas extraction in Groningen, unequal opportunities and the coronavirus pass. And there is agitation over administrators and government leaders who put self-interest first, abuse their power and live in an ivory tower. Trust in international expertise, government, an independent press and even the rule of law is weakening in the Netherlands and around the globe.

Due to increasing digitalisation, we live in a much more fragmented society. Citizens are organising their own associations and are looking for new ways to make their voices heard. They are served up information based on algorithms and increasingly live in their own bubble with like-minded people. On top of this, there are restrictions on freedom of the press in a number of countries. Criticism from others is often dismissed as fake news. Because of this, contradictions, mutual distrust and lack of understanding are intensified, and solutions to complex national, international and social issues seem further out of reach than ever before.

Heart for society

How can we turn the tide as a society, and once again find a healthy balance between individual freedom and collective interest? How can leaders reduce social divides between citizens, employees, patients or consumers? Which freedoms and responsibilities should be entrusted to citizens? And where is a stronger hand needed to protect the vulnerable and strengthen their position in the long term? Simply put, how can we govern with a heart for society and our fellow citizens? This question is central to education and research within the profile theme Governance for Society at VU Amsterdam.

The ambition is to realise a society in which everyone counts, participates, has equal opportunities and feels heard and represented. A society in which we share the sweet and sour equally, both economically and socially. A society in which governmental and semi-governmental agencies and organisations empathise with and respond resiliently to what is happening in our hyper-diverse society. While also ensuring that the will of the strongest or the loudest doesn’t dominate.

An inclusive, fair and secure society

VU academics and students examine, for example, how the government can restore declining confidence with a responsible tax and benefits policy. How companies can make a successful shift from profit-driven to socially-aware entrepreneurship that takes people, the environment and society into account. How healthcare can be made accessible to the most vulnerable and how the healthcare organisations involved can work together more effectively.

They also examine how local, national and international leaders can give attention to opposing voices so that every voice counts equally and no one is excluded. How the police and judicial systems can ensure that people who come into contact with them receive the right help and care. How policy makers can approach migration differently in order to make better use of the opportunities that migration offers to society. And how leaders and elected officials can combat political corruption, human rights violations and social inequality.

Working together for a better world

It is precisely hyper-diversity, with its wealth of perspectives, opinions and discussions, that ultimately makes our society strong and resilient. It ensures that we continue to build our democracy. Because democracy is not just an individual right; it requires agility and reflection from all of us. It is only through this lens that we can better understand social challenges and find solutions together. This is how we stand strong together for a better world.

Nostalgic messaging scores with voters on the left and right

Nostalgic messaging scores with voters on the left and right

In the past, things were better in the Netherlands. And we need to go back to that. Messaging like this is being shared by both left- and right-wing parties during the House of Representative elections. VU political communication scientist Mariken van der Velden conducts voter research, and she sees that the nostalgic message is resonating.

Read the article

Governance for Society at VU Amsterdam

Contributing to the SDGs

We contribute to the following Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through this profile theme: quality education (SDG 4), gender equality (SDG 5), decent work and economic growth (SDG 8), reduced inequalities (SDG 10), sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11), peace, justice and strong institutions (SDG 16), and partnerships for the goals (SDG 17).

Is our government doing too little with scientific findings?

Is our government doing too little with scientific findings?

VU professor of Economics and Public Finance Bas Jacobs discusses the disconnect between economic policy and economic science. How does this tension between science and the political and public debate exactly work? Bas Jacobs talks about it in a podcast by Pakhuis de Zwijger [in Dutch].

Listen to the podcast here

Research – Governance for Society

  • Effective approach to societal challenges

    Our research focuses on administrative and political processes—top-down and bottom-up—within public and semi-public authorities, companies and other organisations. With a multifunctional approach, we focus on issues in the areas of:

  • Faculties involved

    In the profile theme Governance for Society, we primarily collaborate on research within and among three VU faculties: the Faculty of Social Sciences, the School of Business and Economics and the Faculty of Law.

  • Research institutes involved

    Institute for Societal Resilience

    How do we ensure that our society is resilient enough to deal with social challenges? Through this research institute of the Faculty of Social Sciences, we conduct research into areas such as social inequality, refugee problems, tensions between ethnic and religious communities, polarisation and new forms of crime and cybercrime.

    Kooijmans Institute for Law and Governance

    How can we do justice to what is going on in society? And how do we deal with blurring boundaries between legal sub-disciplines? We approach legal issues from an international, transnational or meta-legal perspective (studying law from a different perspective, such as a sociological one). And we expressly seek out international scientific debate in our publications.

    A-LAB (Amsterdam Law and Behaviour Institute)

    Why do victims of domestic violence often not report it? And how can we change this? How can young people who commit cybercrime use their skills to benefit society in a positive way? A-LAB studies issues related to law and behaviour.

    Talma Instituut

    How do we ensure high-quality, accessible and affordable healthcare? The Talma Institute combines knowledge from various VU faculties in the areas of work, healthcare and wellbeing. For each research project, we put together the right team, which could include economists, lawyers, or administrative and organisational experts.

    Migration and Diversity Centre (MDC)

    What can we as a society learn from research on migration, diversity and decolonisation? In addition to research in this area, we also offer practical insights into opportunities and challenges. Through the VU faculties of Law and Social Sciences, we collaborate with other international universities and research centres.

    VU Interdisciplinary Centre for European Studies (VICES)

    What is the impact of transnational change processes—such as geopolitics, globalisation, inequality and populism—on the law, (democratic) governance and politics of the European Union? Through the VICES platform, we collaborate across disciplines and stimulate new ideas and networks for research in on European integration, a unique experiment in governance. 

    Peace and Conflict Studies Centre (PACS)

    What are the causes of political violence and how can we prevent it or stop it? Within this interfaculty scientific network, we conduct research and develop strategies to build peace and manage conflict.

    Amsterdam Business Research Institute (ABRI)

    How can our researchers and students, businesses and the local community strengthen each other? We are one of Europe's largest institutes for business and management research, located in Zuidas, which is the business centre of the Netherlands. We conduct research in six areas: accounting and financial management, digital innovation and transformation, logistics and operations research, marketing, organisational behaviour and HRM, and strategy and entrepreneurship.

    Centrum voor Religie en Recht (in Dutch)

    In modern times, how do we give shape to religious freedom and its limitations? What new social and legal questions have arisen in relation to religious communities and religious organisations? These are some of the questions that are researched by this partnership between the Faculty of Religion and Theology and the Faculty of Law.

    Amsterdam Centre for Family Law (ACFL)

    How do we prevent children from suffering as a result contentious divorces and complex family relationships? How can we ensure that we protect the elderly as they are living independently for longer and continuing to make their own decisions, while they still remain vulnerable? In this research centre for family and law, we bring together experts in various fields of Dutch law, comparative law and European family and youth law, as well as social sciences.

    Zijlstra Center

    How do we give shape to a liveable and sustainable society? How do we ensure democracy, healthcare and well-being, security, and education? Especially now, leadership, managerial and business expertise, and skills of the public sector are being heavily relied upon.

  • Collaboration with partners

    Livecast Stad in Spagaat with Pakhuis de Zwijger (in Dutch)

    Along with Pakhuis de Zwijger, in the series Stad in Spagaat we offer a space for digital reflection where Amsterdammers, practical experts, professionals, entrepreneurs, administrators and academics can discuss administrative dilemmas during the COVID-19 crisis. It is a place where insights and challenges are shared regarding themes like education, homelessness, informal healthcare, the economy, poverty and debt.

    Creating Secure Societies with the University of Twente (UT)

    With this programme, VU Amsterdam and the UT aim to strengthen the resilience and security of society. We focus on issues related to societal security and address themes such as polarisation, crises and subversion. By combining social sciences and technology—for example, in the data analysis of social media and remote sensing—and involving stakeholders at an early stage, we will achieve a better understanding of these security issues and find effective solutions.

    Tinbergen Institute

    The Tinbergen Institute is a graduate school and research institute in economics, econometrics and finance. The institute was founded by the three economics faculties of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the University of Amsterdam and Erasmus University Rotterdam, who jointly offer a research Master's programme.

Education – Governance for Society

  • Bachelor’s programmes

    Bachelor’s in Philosophy, Politics and Economics
    What kind of world do we want to live in? How can societies be organised in a way that is fair? What role does social media play in political opinions? In this small-scale and intensive bachelor's programme, students acquire the interdisciplinary knowledge and skills needed to address today's most urgent societal questions.

    Bachelor’s in Law in Society

    How can law pave the way for a sustainable future? Is terrorism a matter for international criminal law or international security law – or both? And what is a lawyer’s moral responsibility in these cases? In this bachelor's programme, students explore complex societal questions from a legal perspective.

    Bachelor’s in International Business Administration

    How do other cultures view topics like Corporate Social Responsibility and responsible finance? How can you respect diversity and establish trust in an international, virtual team? This bachelor’s programme is all about living and working in an international environment.

  • Minors

    Minor in Gezin, Recht en Forensische Gedragswetenschappen (in Dutch)
    In this minor, students learn what interventions in parenting and family life mean from a legal and behavioural sciences perspective. How are interventions carried out in vulnerable families and problematic educational situations within legal, psychological and pedagogical frameworks?

    Minor in Peace and Conflict Studies

    What does scientific research teach us about war, peace and conflict? This minor offers students insight into the concepts, causes and consequences of political violence and war from a broad set of disciplines, including political science, international law, criminology, theology, philosophy, anthropology, sociology and history.

  • Master’s programmes

    Master’s in International Crimes, Conflict and Criminology

    In an increasingly complex and globalised world, war, terrorism and crime are intertwined. In this master's programme, students study how conflicts lead to looting, killing, recruitment of child soldiers, genocide and even terrorism.

    Master’s in Business Administration

    Whether it is an IT start-up, a large corporate bank, an online retail company or an international NGO, every organisation needs a strong leader who encourages employees to get the best out of themselves and to work together for the best (business) outcomes. In the Master's programme in Business Administration, students learn which tools to use to achieve this.

    Master’s in Journalistiek (in Dutch)
    About 16% of Dutch people don’t trust the news. How do you create stories that will appeal to news consumers? In this Master’s programme, students discover how digital news media and social media require their own unique approach. Who are the users of these platforms and how do you reach them?

    Master’s in Law and Politics of International Security

    How to law and politics interact? How do they influence our international security? War and peace, terrorism, human rights and criminal law are some of the topical and socially relevant subjects dealt with in this Master's programme .

  • Postgraduate programmes

    The social and organisational challenges faced by executives every day are complex. It takes time to reflect on daily activities and routines, broaden perspectives and increase impact. VU Amsterdam offers postgraduate programmes at the VU School of Business & Economics Executive Education for current and future leaders in the public and private sectors.

    Executive MBA Leading with purpose

    People, businesses and society are looking for change and answers in an uncertain world. This programme helps pioneering leaders bring their purpose, mission, vision and ambitions into focus and use these to transform our world for the better.

    MBA in International Business
    How do you develop the knowledge, skills and leadership needed to take on the business challenges of today and of the future? How do you collaborate effectively in this regard? In this MBA programme, professionals develop into business leaders who embrace opportunities and harness them to shape a successful and responsible future.

    Data-driven Steering in the Public Sector

    Intelligent use of data can lead to better results for citizens and society, for example with cleaner streets, safer neighbourhoods and better facilities. But how do you actually achieve better results based on data? In this programme, passionate professors and experts from the field translate scientific insights into concrete tools for the daily work of public administrators.

    Foundation in Change Management

    Those who supervise complex change projects are regularly confronted with various pitfalls and problems. This foundational programme is for professionals with some experience in a managerial, advisory or project-based role who are looking to expand their academic knowledge and insights regarding change management and organisational development.

    Executive Coaching

    This postgraduate programme is for executive coaches with experience who want to advance their professional skills across the full scope of the coaching profession. VU Amsterdam is the only university in the Netherlands that offers training for executive coaches and team coaches at a master's level.

    Public control, Governance & Administration (in Dutch)

    Being a controller in the public and non-profit sector is significantly different from being one in the private sector. A public controller operates in a political and administrative-economic environment and switches between complex focus areas. They also work towards a financially healthy organisation and the achievement of social objectives. This dynamic political and administrative-economic context is central to the programme.

  • Extracurricular activities

    Dream Team Newcomer Entrepreneurship

    In the Dream Team, Bachelor’s and Master’s students from various programmes work together for one academic year on an assignment related to the profile theme Governance for Society. Enterprising newcomers with a refugee background face extra challenges. They have difficulty accessing financial resources and legal expertise. They are also more likely to experience discrimination and exclusion. Students in the Dream Team develop ideas to tackle these problems in collaboration with entrepreneurs and with Forward incubator. At the same time, they develop themselves academically, personally and socially. This contributes to A Broader Mind. At the end of the year, a new student team takes the project forward.

Organisation – Governance for Society

  • Academic representatives

    Governance for Society touches various research disciplines. To keep our target groups informed, we appoint scientists from each of the three faculties involved at the beginning of each academic year: the Faculty of Social Sciences, the School of Business and Economics and the Faculty of Law.

    These scientists study the social problems that relate to Governance for Society from their specific research perspective. In the 2022-2023 academic year, these are:

    Professor of migration law Lieneke Slingenberg

    Lieneke Slingenberg studies the way in which the law is used to shape the lives of migrants (“rule by law”), in contrast to the way in which the law limits government power in relation to migrants (“rule of law”). She regularly shares insights about migration law and related current events on

    Professor of economics & public finance Bas Jacobs

    Bas Jacobs researches issues at the intersection of public finance, tax optimisation, welfare economics, macroeconomics, Human Capital Theory and labour economics. He frequently shares his knowledge and opinion with media, such as BNR and Vrij Nederland.

    Professor of Donor Studies Eva-Maria Merz

    Eva-Maria Merz combines her theoretical and applied expertise within the topic of (blood) donor behaviour in order to study donor life-courses and the influence of personal and social network characteristics on donor behaviour. She is also project leader and senior researcher at blood bank Sanquin.

Highlighted research

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