Science Education at UvA-VU: Bachelor's in Chemistry
‘A field of science of key relevance to major social issues in areas such as food, medicine, energy and sustainability,’ that is how Sape Kinderman, programme director of the Bachelor's in Chemistry, describes his subject area. 'At information days especially, I notice that many secondary school pupils have an impression of chemistry that does not match with reality.'
In Amsterdam, around 180 Bachelor's students are working to understand, create, analyse, do calculations on and make applications with molecular bonds. Since 2009, students from the University of Amsterdam (UvA) and VU Amsterdam have been doing so jointly, when the Bachelor's programmes in Chemistry of both universities were merged. By now, everything is running smoothly, says Kinderman. For example: for every course a single responsible lecturer is appointed in consultation with all staff, whereas before a UvA lecturer and a VU lecturer would share responsibility. The Board of Studies, Examinations Board, eight curricula each with their own coordinator: everything is up and running.
Many prospective students have questions beforehand about the joint nature of the programme, Kinderman has noticed. 'They ask about cycling back and forth, and about what kind of qualification they will receive.' But once begun, they see the programme as a single entity. 'Nobody is aware anymore of who enrolled at what university.' Starting in September 2016, new students will officially be enrolled at both universities, making the Bachelor's in Chemistry a joint degree.
Kinderman believes that overall, the joint programme benefits students. 'They have more minors to choose from, as well as more research groups when selecting a research internship, for example.' The Amsterdam-based programme stands out because it embodies the research priority areas of both the UvA and the VU, he says. Both are strong in analytical and theoretical chemistry, for example, and the UvA also places a lot of focus on 'green chemistry': sustainable chemistry, homo/heterogeneous catalysis, and photonics. Additionally, the VU also concentrates on 'red chemistry', or molecular pharmaceutical research. The research groups in this area will remain at Zuidas, Kinderman says, but the theoretical chemists from VU will soon move to Science Park.
Science Park is where virtually all compulsory subjects will be taught. This is intentional, Kinderman explains, 'in order to give students a home base.' Science Park is also home to the joint ACD study association, for example, as well as being the location of the annual Chemistry Tour, where last year Amsterdam chemistry students met the winner of the Nobel Prize.
The electives from later in the Bachelor's programme are given at the location most logical for the required expertise: third-year students take Biomarkers and Proteomics at Zuidas, for example, whereas Catalysis is given at the Science Park.
For those working at VU, however, a greater part of the programme now takes place outside their field of vision than before, Kinderman observes. 'But I have no reason to believe that they feel inferior, given the large degree of effort and enthusiasm evident in their teaching.'