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Exploring Leiden University College: A personal journey with alumna Georgina Kuipers

It has been just over a decade since the first students graduated with Leiden University’s unique Liberal Arts and Sciences Bachelor degree. We caught up with one of those pioneering graduates.

Georgina Kuipers in front of the building on Lange Voorhout where LUC started out in 2010.

Students from the Netherlands, Europe and around the world live together on a dedicated campus in the heart of The Hague, the global city of peace and justice. They are part of Leiden University College (LUC), a residential living and learning community inspired by the university college concept popular in the United States. The three-year, English-language, inter-disciplinary programme is special because of its focus on major global challenges and how to respond to them.

To learn more about the impact of LUC we met with one of its first graduates at her office at in The Hague, a stone’s throw from the location where she once joined the College’s founding class. Following her master’s and doctorate, Georgina Kuipers is now a senior researcher, instructor, and programme manager at The Netherlands School of Public Administration.

What is it like, working so close to where it all began?

‘One - slightly shallow - reason I work here now is that I really wanted to go back to Lange Voorhout. It is a beautiful area and close to many institutions such as the Dutch Houses of Parliament and the Peace Palace, which houses the International Court of Justice. LUC was located temporarily across the street from here during our first years. I have really wonderful memories from that time, even if we experienced some heating issues in our not quite perfectly insulated temporary building. Right after I left, the College  moved nearby into the purpose-built Leiden University College campus with modern classrooms and student apartments – this is where the college’s students are still housed today.’

Leiden University College (LUC)

LUC was launched by Leiden University in 2010. Today, the college has some 600 students enrolled in its small-scale education programme, with an average of only 18 students per class. Its staff are also involved in numerous research projects and scientific collaborations, which collectively enrich their approach to teaching. Every year, LUC graduates gain places on Masters programmes at the best universities around the world, and the College’s 1700 alumni have gone on to establish themselves in a wide range of careers.

What made you decide to become one of Leiden University College’s pioneering students?

‘When I was trying to figure out what to study, I found it challenging to choose because of my many interests. Thankfully my aunt came across the concept of university colleges and liberal arts. I liked the approach of different disciplines and subjects and liked the idea of living on campus to connect with peers. In the end it was actually the serendipity of my best friend's mother coming across a newspaper article about the launch of a university college here in The Hague. She cut it out and gave it to me, I still cherish that clipping to this day.

I went to the first information evening and watched former NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer - a Leiden University emeritus professor - speak about his personal experiences related to global security challenges. I also remember meeting the college’s first academic hires at the event and being a bit cheeky. I asked the brand new Dean Chris Goto-Jones, who had moved here from the UK, why he wanted the job. Thankfully it turned out that this bold and inquisitive attitude was a great fit for the programme – my application was accepted and we got along really well.’

Leiden University College was founded in 2010 by Leiden University. Based in The Hague, it is part of the Faculty of Governance and Global Affairs.

Why would you recommend liberal arts and science to students today?

‘Apart from it being a great opportunity for those who don’t just want to limit themselves to studying one thing only, like myself, I think our Dean explained it best. He famously regularly recounted the David Foster Wallace parable about two young fish swimming in water. At some point an older fish comes along and says, "Morning, boys, how is the water?" When the fish swim on one of them looks at the other and says, "What the hell is water?" It emphasizes the need for people to be critical of their surroundings since what’s most obvious is often hard to be aware of. My education at LUC really brought home to me that it is important to remember that everyone is different. To solve any large challenge it is important to realize that a physicist can have a very different perspective from a lawyer.

What’s also a great advantage of Leiden University College compared to many other bachelor’s programmes, is that you're asked very early on to read scientific literature. Because you're taken seriously very early and the teachers know you really well, you gain the thinking and working level to develop yourself more quickly – and to collaborate on research projects.’

Has LUC influenced your further academic and professional career?

'My foundation at LUC has determined how I did my master's and PhD, instead of the other way around. I would not be doing what I’m doing now if it wasn't for my cross-disciplinary foundation. In my current role I help shape education programmes, so I have stayed relatively close to academics. But I also work with the practical side of things, providing advice to people working in public administration. I think this interdisciplinary angle is where my LUC background really shines through. When I compare myself to colleagues, most "are something," like a lawyer or a linguist. But if you've studied at LUC, because your major is already thematic, that disciplinary description is less applicable. You're a generalist, but in the best sense of the word.

Because of this liberal arts and science graduates also have a unique edge when it comes to their ability to work easily with people from different academic and professional backgrounds, which is something employers really appreciate. I see that my – non-LUC – friends have also learned a lot during their studies and jobs, but that their basic interest and perspective are essentially fixed. And unless you take part in a broader student association, you don't necessarily meet many people outside of your own field. You don't need to know a mathematician if you studied law, for example. At LUC you really do meet people you might not have known otherwise, and that naturally shapes your view of the world. This also means I have been able to maintain a great network outside of my own professional field.'

An early version of the Dies Fatalis logo, part of the traditional annual celebration at Leiden University College.

How important was the on-campus community aspect of Leiden University College to you?

‘Community life was one of the most important aspects of my time at LUC, which has cultivated a really close-knit community where students live and learn together. I became a founding board member of the LUC student association, Fortuna. The academic team is also really committed and goes above and beyond to spend time with the community to really get to know the students and to give them space to influence the way the college functions. I took part in many reading groups and committees. That sense of community, not only with students but also with teachers, makes LUC special.

One great example of the openness of the LUC team to students’ initiatives was how we ended up organising a major closing festivity, Dies Fatalis, a play on Leiden University’s annual birthday celebration called Dies Natalis. It involved a lot of creativity and collaboration between students and staff, including a Dies Fatalis logo that includes two fish because of that story our Dean would bring up all the time. This was one of many ways that we used to gently poke fun at him and at each other. The event is still celebrated to this day by LUC students.’

Leiden University College is located in a purpose-built campus in the heart of The Hague. It houses up to 396 students in individual units and counts 15 class rooms, an auditorium, and space to study and relax.

Aside from being reminded of your time at the former college building when you bike to work, how does your time at LUC impact your life today?

‘I always come back to my foundation at LUC. If my friend’s mom had not come across that newspaper clipping, I would probably be doing my work completely differently now. It's a different way of thinking, which, if done right, enriches your work and personal environment. I think that's true for many of my fellow alumni as well. Their lens is different, and they have continued in that direction throughout their post graduate studies and careers.’

In 2013, Georgina Kuipers graduated from LUC with a major in World Politics and a minor in Political Arts. She completed a research master’s in Political Science and Public Administration at Leiden University as well as the Leiden Leadership Programme in 2015. She concluded her doctoral research project 'Damaged trust: Building trust through compensation policies after government-facilitated damage' at Leiden Law School in 2021.

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