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The College Project: Higher Education in a Turbulent Time


Admission requirements

This global citizenship course is open to 2nd- and 3rd-year students across all majors. An application is required and is due by Sunday 3 January, 2021.

Please provide the following:

  • Letter of motivation (max 1 page) where you explain your interest in the course, as well as which topics you might be interested in researching, and why. (You won’t be held to this research topic, and indeed we should expect it will evolve with study in the course. But a preliminary statement is helpful nonetheless!)

  • Your CV

  • Your transcript (print screen from Usis is fine)

Submit all documents via email to: a.m.wilson@luc.leidenuniv.nl. Students will be selected based on the strength of their letters and in order to achieve a balanced mix of majors, backgrounds, and interests.


This course will offer students an opportunity to study the history and politics of higher education, while carrying out individual and group research projects aimed at informing pedagogical and institutional practice at LUC.

In the first block, we will undertake an interdisciplinary exploration of the broad question posed by Stephen Collini in his 2012 book, What are universities for? Within this exploration, we will pay particular attention to knotty matters of inequality, access, and social/political reproduction. One aim is to develop a broad understanding of the recent history of the university and the various contests within and around it: from the demographic shifts that reshaped higher education in the post-WWII decades, to the student uprisings of the 1960s and ensuing culture wars of the 1990s, to the more recent dynamics of “academic capitalism,” political polarization, student mental health, and climate change (to name but a few contemporary issues). Along the way, we will remain attentive to how the Dutch university system (including its university colleges) compares to systems in other parts of the world.

Armed with this background knowledge, we will use the second block of the course to attend to our third aim: examining how select patterns in higher education play out at LUC. Teams of students will carry out research projects about specific issues in higher education, with an eye toward addressing particular puzzles at LUC. Research topics will be collaboratively defined and could include: diversity in student recruitment and retainment; curriculum (re)development; “safe spaces” and contests over language; student mental health; social media policies; universities and climate change; student governance; honor code systems and restorative justice.

Course Objectives

By successfully completing this course, students will be able to:

  • Speak knowledgeably about the recent history of universities and explain how the Dutch university system (including its university colleges) compares to others.

  • Apply their knowledge of broad currents in higher education to specific challenges at LUC, and to communicate this learning to others in an accessible and persuasive manner—while remaining open to new or contrasting ideas.

  • Critically reflect on their learning about higher education—and constructively engage with people who may have different beliefs, hold different interests, or find themselves positioned differently in LUC’s social and institutional landscape.

  • Propose concrete educational policy suggestions based on the synthesis and analysis of research from multiple academic disciplines, as well on collected journalism, interviews, and government reports.

  • Develop their teamwork skills, as well as their skills in oral and written communication.


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2020-2021 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

This course is scheduled for Mondays 11:15-13:00 and Wednesdays 11:15-14:00. We will not be using all of that time in online meetings, and we will not make use of both slots every week (particularly in the second half of the course). However, both time slots should be kept open in your schedules so that we can flexibly accommodate a range of activities.

Mode of instruction

The bulk of the teaching for this course will take place online, but we will make space for as many in-person activities as possible (in the form of study groups, research teams, and “walking office hours”). Active engagement will be expected in online discussions (both in class and on a shared discussion board) and in individual research teams. In Block 3, the course will proceed as a traditional seminar, with groups readings and discussion. In Block 4, it will function more like a set of overlapping research clinics, with different teams devoted to particular topics. Teams will use class time to meet on their own, but we will also continue to convene as a whole for team presentations and full-group discussion.

Assessment Method

  • Weekly Reflection Journal (submitted as a portfolio at the end of Block 3): 40%

  • Individual Research Project: 30%

  • Group Project: 30%

Reading list

Readings will be made available digitally.


Courses offered at Leiden University College (LUC) are usually only open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Leiden University students who participate in one of the university’s Honours tracks or programmes may register for one LUC, if availability permits. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator, course.administration@luc.leidenuniv.nl.


Dr. Ann Marie Wilson, a.m.wilson@luc.leidenuniv.nl