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A Broader Mind

Last updated on 26 October 2023
VU Amsterdam is launching the education programme A Broader Mind, in which all Bachelor's students can develop more broadly academically, personally and socially.

VU Amsterdam wants to offer its students the opportunity to develop more broadly academically, personally and socially: equipping students to be successful and meaningful in this world. In the new education programme A Broader Mind, Bachelor's students will work on societal issues and self-development is paramount.

A Broader Mind

  • A Broader Mind for students

    Societal challenges are increasing, becoming more complex and increasingly demanding a multidisciplinary approach. Themes such as artificial intelligence, an ageing population, geopolitical tensions, scarcity of natural resources, uneven distribution of wealth and climate change mark the world of today and tomorrow.

    At the same time, the labour market is becoming more dynamic. Jobs are changing at a rapid pace, knowledge is ageing faster, there are more educational opportunities, and today's students will have multiple careers in different jobs and disciplines during their careers. In contrast to these developments, students are actually encouraged by the government to focus on their own discipline and to graduate quickly. There is hardly any room for students to broaden their horizons or deepen their knowledge, let alone to reflect on their own role in society.

    Objectives of A Broader Mind for Students:

    • To develop a VU Amsterdam-wide Broader Mind Course in which personal and academic development, societal interaction and reflection are given a place within undergraduate education.
    • Expanding Community Service Learning activities that also integrate the academic perspective.
    • To develop and conduct a longitudinal study to measure the long-term effects of the A Broader Mind for Students on VU Amsterdam alumni.
  • Broader Mind Course

    The Broader Mind Course is meant for all VU Amsterdam undergraduates, focusing on personal and academic development, social interaction and reflection on it. This means that students are introduced to major societal issues, such as sustainability, digitalisation and poverty. These are issues that cannot be solved by a single discipline. Therefore, in this course, students come into contact with different perspectives from both experts and fellow students from other programmes. In this way, students go on an exploration to see what these interdisciplinary themes mean to them and how, from their own background and beliefs, they can contribute.

    For and by students
    What makes this course so special is that students, lecturers, scientists and other enthusiastic VU Amsterdam staff create it together. In doing so, students have an emphatic role in designing and improving education. For instance, the topics they will work with are co-designed by students at VU Amsterdam.

    Online and offline activities
    The Broader Mind Course consists of a mix of online and offline activities. The online activities a student follows in a MOOC, a Massive Open Online Course. The MOOC contains videos and articles in which experts speak, students take quizzes and can engage in conversation with other students via a forum. In addition, students are encouraged from the MOOC to undertake their own activities to investigate what a subject does to them. Think of collecting plastic waste themselves to build an artwork with other students, as part of the Sustainability theme.

    Help build A Broader Mind
    Would you also like to help build education? We are always looking for great ideas and new insights, please contact:

    Selene Kolman, Project manager Broader Mind Course

    The Broader Mind Course is led by Professor Govert Buijs, associate professor of political philosophy and holder of the Goldschmeding Chair 'Economics & Civil Society', at the Faculty of Humanities.

  • Information for participating courses

    What is the Broader Mind Course?
    The Broader Mind Course is an innovative course aimed at the personal and social development of undergraduate students. In the course, students from different studies and backgrounds engage with each other on various major social issues. In this way, students learn to look beyond their own studies.

    The ambition of the Executive Board is to eventually make the Broader Mind Course compulsory for all Bachelor's students. Alternatively, programmes themselves may decide to make the course compulsory or bring it to the attention of their students themselves.

    How can students participate in the Broader Mind Course?

    Part of mentoring/tutoring/study and career guidance
    The Broader Mind Course can be included as a compulsory component in a cross-curricular programme or learning line, such as mentoring, tutoring or study and career guidance. It is important that this is clearly communicated to students beforehand.

    Attachment to an existing course
    The Course can be included as a (compulsory) component in an existing course of the programme. It is important that this is clearly communicated to students in advance.

    Encourage voluntary participation
    Voluntary participation in the Broader Mind Course can be encouraged and supported from within the programme.

    What does the training contribute to the Broader Mind Course?
    The course does not need to provide staff to provide teaching during the course. The course is organised and coordinated from the A Broader Mind programme. During the course, students are accompanied by student guides, who are appointed and supported by A Broader Mind. Support from the programme in communicating to students is highly appreciated. This is especially true in the run-up to the course, when students need to be informed about the course. The A Broader Mind coordinator will provide materials for distribution to students.

    What happens to the Broader Mind Course?
    It is the BoE's ambition to eventually make the course compulsory for all undergraduate students. We are currently investigating ways to implement the course.

    Practical information Broader Mind Course

    • For whom: First- and second-year undergraduate students at VU.
    • When:     During period 4 and 5.
    • Study load: The study load for the A Broader Mind Course is 40 hours per year.
    • Language: The course is entirely in English.
    • Certificate:    On completion of the course, students will receive a certificate as proof of participation in the course.

    Broader Mind Course programme
    Broader Mind Course consists of 8 interdisciplinary themes divided into 2 tracks. Participating students are randomly distributed across the 2 tracks. Each student follows one Track:

    • Track A: Success, Poverty, The Human Body, Rebellion
    • Track B: Viewpoints & Worldview, The Digital World, Health & Happiness, Sustainability

    Students are divided into interdisciplinary groups, which are a mix of different courses and years. These groups are guided by senior student guides (Student guides).

    The overall structure of a Track is as follows:

    • Introduction meeting: get to know your group mates and student guide.
    • Start assignment "Ranking the themes": reflection on the themes covered in the course.
    • Mid-term assignment "Make-up your mind": reflection on the first 2 completed themes.
    • Concluding assignment "Formulate your personal challenge": formulate a personal challenge based on what was learned in the course and present it to group mates and student guide.
    • 4 Themes, consisting of online activities and one meet-up per theme.

    Each theme is centralised around a personal question and a societal challenge:

    Personal questionSocietal Challenge
    Health & HappinessWhich factors influence my happiness?Follow your own path to happiness.
    PovertyHow do I experience financial poverty?How can we, as society, reduce the negative effects of poverty in someone's living environment?
    SuccesHow can I become succesful through learning of my failures?How can organisations become succesful through learning of their failures?
    The Digital WorldHow do I weigh the (ethical) benefits versus risk regarding  digital innovations?How to gain a thorough understanding of the requirements for and applications relating to digital innovations in healthcare?
    RebellionWhat kind of rebel are you?How far would you go with your own rebellion in respect to societal challenges we get introduced to in this course?
    Viewpoints & WorldviewWhat makes me 'me' and what do I want to be seen by others?How do people from so many different backgrounds manage to live together in the super diverse city of Amsterdam?
    SustainabilityHow big is my role in the cause, the consequence and the solution of the plastic problem?Joint the quest and help to solve the waste plastic problem!
    The Human BodyWho is the owner of my body?What is the limit for biotechnical applications for human health?

    The course consists largely of online material, such as videos from various experts, text, assignments, quizzes and discussion forums.

    There are 6 offline activities during the course, 3 of which in period 4 and 3 in period 5. The planning of the offline activities takes into account the regular exam schedule of VU Amsterdam.

    Learning objectives
    Upon completion of the first year Broader Mind Course you will be able to:

    • explore and compare a range of perspectives on four themes based on the Sustainable Development Goals;
    • reflect on your personal attitude towards societal challenges and responsibilities, and your experiences on the Broader Mind Course;
    • reflect at a basic level on your personal qualities, pitfalls, ambitions, perspectives and personal wellbeing, both individually and in a group with fellow students;
    • identify a personal challenge based on what you have learned in the Broader Mind Course and explore implications for personal and professional life, with specific reference to your university and study programme.
  • Community Service Learning

    In Community Service Learning (CSL), students use their academic skills to contribute to solving social issues. This is done in close cooperation with a social partner, such as a municipality. Some students already engage in CSL in their studies, but the VU eventually wants to make it possible for all students to participate in a CSL activity.

    Often, the activities are part of a programme's compulsory programme and carry credits. So what does such a Community Service Learning activity look like? Here are some examples:

    • In the 2nd year Youth Health Care course, students gave recommendations on how moving learning can be used as learning support at a primary school in Amsterdam Nieuw-West.
    • The Inside-out Prison Exchange Programme provides educational meetings in penitentiaries where students and inmates are taught together.
    • In the 3rd-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 are working with the food bank to optimise logistics processes.
    • Students look at how the municipality of Almere could deal with the increasing number of elderly people through interviews and literature research.

    Community Service Learning is an important fulfilment of the university's social role. In the VU Amsterdam Strategy 2020-2025, VU Amsterdam expresses its intention to make Community Service Learning a structural part of education.

    Marjolein Zweekhorst, professor of innovation and education at the faculty of science, is the initiator of Community Service Learning and driving force behind CSL research.

    Read more about Community Service Learning at VU Amsterdam.

  • Longitudinal research

    To measure the long-term effects of A Broader Mind for Students on our students and alumni, a longitudinal study will be started. For this purpose, a cohort study will be conducted over 12 years. Prior to the cohort study, experiments will be done among the students participating in the course so that the short-term effect of the course and its different elements on student skills and outcomes can be measured.

    The longitudinal study is led by René Bekkers, professor of prosocial behaviour at the Faculty of Social Sciences.

  • Help build the Broader Mind Course

    Do you enjoy being creative? Do you enjoy working with people from different backgrounds? Do you like contributing to innovation in education? Then this is something for you!

    We are always looking for enthusiastic students, faculty and staff at VU who want to help build the Course and help us further develop and improve it.

    For questions or application, please send an email to:

  • More information

    A Broader Mind webpage

    Read more about A Broader Mind's components and vision in the pitch.