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The New University – and the ‘Old’ One(s)


Admission requirements

You have received your propaedeutic diploma within one academic year and your academic results are good (indication: 7,3 average). Students who meet the criteria may apply for a place in the Humanities Lab.


In the spring of 2015, resistance against reorganization plans for the Amsterdam Faculty of Humanities based on budget cuts, very quickly developed into a much broader movement against the way university education in The Netherlands is presently organized and conducted, as (wrongly) founded on “rendementsdenken” (“output-thinking”). The protesters established their alternative in opposition to this prevailing mode of thinking and labelled it “The New University of Amsterdam”; soon, similar “New Universities” were created in other Dutch universities as well.

How new is the New University? Adherents realize that several of their proposals may also be seen as a return to some older ideals of academic education, which have, unfortunately, been abandoned over the last few decades. On the other hand, “output-thinking” is not a completely novel invention either. And on yet another hand again, academic freedom and autonomy are also historical phenomena, not eternal concepts. This makes the study of the history of such concepts, of the ways they were negotiated and put into practice in the past, highly relevant to present day debates of university and education policy. What are the sources of the idea of free education, and free research? What was (seen as) the benefit, what were the costs? What kind of connections have there been between universities and society in the past, and what kind of forces created and changed those connections? How have relations between professors and students developed in different periods and in different cultures? Questions such as these constitute the content of this advanced module. Each week, we will explore two specific issues from a historical perspective, and students will be challenged to discuss the analogies and disanalogies to presently topical educational policy questions.

A detailed weekly programme, with specific readings, assignments, and guest lecturers, will be shared with participants before the start of the course.

Course objectives

  • Familiarize students with the historical sources and development of characteristics of present day university teaching and research.

  • Teach students how to critically evaluate historical accounts of the origins and the development of universities.

  • Critically explore parallels and differences between historical debates on the role of university teaching and research in society and present day ones.


Courses of the Humanities Lab are scheduled on Friday afternoon from 13.00 to 17.00. For the exact timetable, please visit the following website.

Mode of instruction

  • Lectures

  • Seminars

Course Load

Lectures and seminars 24 hours Readings 60 hours Assignments 14 hours Final project 42 hours Total course load 140 hours### Assessment method

  • Weekly participation/assignments (30%)

  • Final project, written paper (70%)

Attendance is compulsory for all meetings (lectures, seminars). If you are unable to attend due to circumstances beyond your control, notify the Humanities Lab office (see email address below), and hand in your assignment (when applicable) in writing to the instructor. Being absent without notification may result in lower grades or exclusion from the course.

If the final grade is insufficient (lower than a 6), there is the possibility of retaking the final paper. Contact the course lecturer for more information.


Blackboard is used in this course for assignments and communication.

Reading list

  • Stefan Collini (2012), What are universities for? London, etc.: Penguin.

  • Other reading materials will be announced before the start of the course.


Students of the Humanities Lab will be registered via uSis by the administration of the Humanities Lab.


Instructor/coordinator: dhr. Prof.dr. W. Otterspeer

Humanities Lab office:
Phone: 071-527 2228 or 071- 527 8039


If all participants of this course are Dutch native speakers, this course will be taught in Dutch.
More information: website.