Science Education at UvA-VU: Bachelor’s in Physics and Astronomy

9 February 2016

This month the Bachelor's in Physics and Astronomy: an interview with Marcel Vreeswijk, programme director of the joint Bachelor’s degree in Physics and Astronomy at the UvA and VU. 'By working together with our colleagues from VU Amsterdam, we are able to offer a solid Bachelor’s programme with small sized working groups and many projects.’

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Perfect timing

In 2014, the University of Amsterdam and VU University Amsterdam merged their education in the Physics and Astronomy Bachelor's programme. As of September 2016, the programme will be offered as an actual joint degree; newly incoming students will receive a single, joint degree from UvA and VU. ‘The merging of the degree programmes in 2014 had a perfect timing,' says Marcel Vreeswijk, programme director of the joint Bachelor’s degree in Physics and Astronomy offered by the UvA and VU Amsterdam. ‘From 2010, the number of students grew so rapidly that we almost couldn’t cope anymore at the UvA. By working together with our colleagues from VU Amsterdam, we’ve been able to organise a solid Bachelor’s programme with small sized working groups and many projects.’

Vreeswijk and his colleagues began working closely together on the merger in 2012. ‘It wasn’t very easy at first, because everyone wanted to hang on to their own courses. But together we were able to develop a better joint curriculum than each of us previously had.’ The long period of preparation ensured an easy merger, according to Vreeswijk. From the very start, the objective was to have one degree programme located in one place. ‘We wanted students to be able to settle into a single place.’ That place became Science Park, where more than 95 percent of courses are delivered. ‘Of course, this implies that many lecturers need to travel between their research and teaching location.’

Teaching as a uniting factor

Most lecturers already knew each other through their research, Vreeswijk adds. ‘But teaching turned out to be a uniting factor. Research is more individualistic, something you do with your own group.’ The group of lecturers are getting on well. ‘We regularly have meetings and discuss our teaching without UvA or VU hats on.’

There are three factors that make the joint programme unique, says Vreeswijk. Scale is one of them. ‘We’re large scale, but we aim for small-scale teaching with groups of 20 to 25 people.’ There is also a professional student mentoring group. ‘We actively keep an eye on students in the first year in particular, when it's most needed.’ And finally: the joint programme is explicitly research based. ‘Our lecturers work as researchers at leading scientific institutes, such as LaserLab, Nikhef, WZI, API and ITFA. We also have good connections at the Academic Medical Center (AMC-UvA) and the VU University Medical Center. Lecturers can talk about their research with great passion and in great depth.'

Students can graduate in any area of physics, Vreeswijk adds. The UvA's research focuses slightly more on fundamental physics, with subjects such as quantum universe and gravitation. VU Amsterdam is also well known for its research into the physics of life, the bio- and medical physics.

Joint degree

From September 2016, new students will be enrolled in the official joint degree, which is optional for students in higher years. There will be changes behind the scenes, but students will barely notice the difference, according to Vreeswijk. ‘The real difference will be on the degree certificate, which will have both the UvA and VU Amsterdam logo on it.’

Text: Jeroen Scharroo

Published by  Faculty of Science