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VU University Amsterdam

VU University Amsterdam
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Seal: Maiden in the Garden [1]
Latin: Universitas Libera
(Reformata Amstelodamensis)
Motto Auxilium nostrum in nomine Domini (Latin)
Motto in English
Our help is in the name of the Lord
Established 1880 [2]
Type Private (publicly funded)
Endowment 482,6 million [3]
President Prof. mr. dr. J.W. Winter
Rector Prof. dr. V. Subramaniam
Academic staff
2,976 (2.263 fte) [3]
Administrative staff
1,662 (1,410 fte) [3]
Students 23,656 [3]
Location Amsterdam, North Holland, Netherlands
Campus Urban
Newspaper Advalvas (Independent)
Colors Black, light blue and white
Affiliations EUA

VU University Amsterdam (abbreviated as VU, Dutch: Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) is a university in Amsterdam, Netherlands, founded in 1880. VU is one of two large, publicly funded research universities in the city, the other being the University of Amsterdam (UvA).

The literal translation of the Dutch name Vrije Universiteit is "Free University". "Free" refers to independence of both state and church. Both within and outside the University, the institution is commonly referred to as "the VU" (pronounced somewhat like "vew" as in "new"). In English, therefore, the university uses the name "VU University".

Though founded as a private institution, VU has received government funding on a parity basis with public universities since 1970. Over the past decades, VU has transformed from a small institution into a broad, research-intensive university attended by a wide variety of students of diverse backgrounds. While the Netherlands does not have an official ranking system, according to the "CWTS Leiden Ranking", the VU University was recognized as the second best university, nationally.

The university is located on a compact urban campus in the southern Buitenveldert neighbourhood of Amsterdam and adjacent to the modern Zuidas business district.

In 2012, VU had about 24,500 registered students,[4] most of whom were full-time students. Measured in FTE, the university had 2,250 faculty members and researchers, who were supported by 1,500 administrative, clerical and technical employees. The university's annual endowment for 2013 is around €450 million. About three quarters of this endowment is government funding, the remainder is made up of tuition fees, research grants, and private funding.[4]

The official university seal is entitled The Virgin in the Garden. Personally chosen by Abraham Kuyper, the Reformed-Protestant leader and founder of the university, it depicts a virgin living in freedom in a garden while pointing towards God, referring to the reformation in the Netherlands in the 16th and 17th century. In 1990, the university adopted the mythical griffin as its common emblem.[5] The position of its wings symbolizes the freedom in the university's name: freedom from both state and church. The bright and blue postmodern symbol has been the focal point of the university's Main Building ever since.


  • History 1
  • Organizational structure 2
  • Education 3
  • Research 4
  • Campus and academic life 5
  • Notable faculty 6
  • Notable past faculty 7
  • Notable alumni 8
  • University rankings 9
  • See also 10
  • References 11
  • External links 12


Bust of Abraham Kuyper, founder of the VU, in the Main Building.

The VU was founded in 1880 by a group of orthodox-Protestant Christians led by Abraham Kuyper as the first orthodox-Protestant (Calvinist) university in the Netherlands. Kuyper was a theologian, journalist, politician, and prime minister of the Netherlands from 1901 to 1905. He was a professor of theology at VU as well as the university's first rector magnificus (academic president). Kuyper's world- and lifeview is referred to as Neo-Calvinism. Vrije Universiteit literally means 'Free University' (or 'Liberated University') to signify independence from both government and church.

Teaching at the Vrije Universiteit started in 1880 in a few rooms rented at the Scottish Missionary Church (now the Kleine Komedie theater), along the Amstel river in Amsterdam's city centre. Here, Kuyper and four fellow professors began lecturing in three faculties: theology, law, and the arts. Soon the Scottish Missionary Church became too small for the growing number of students and the university bought its first building, located at Keizersgracht 162. In the following years the university acquired more buildings throughout the city. VU was formally accredited and granted the legal right to award academic degrees in 1905. New faculties were subsequently added to the original three, including a science faculty (1930) and a medical faculty (1950).

Funding for the university was provided through the VU Association, the Christian organization founded by Abraham Kuyper, which was firmly rooted within the reformed Protestant community in the Netherlands. By the end of the 1960s, the university received financial support from more than 200,000 private contributors. Many were making small coin donations collected by some 10,000 (mostly female) fundraisers, who going door to door with the quintessential green VU collecting box.

It was in this period of time, the end of the 1960s and into the 1970s, that the university's profile changed significantly in many respects.[6] From 1968 onwards, the university relocated from Amsterdam's city centre to a new, functional campus in the southern Buitenveldert neighbourhood. In order to strengthen academic research, university administrators decided to apply for public funding on parity with public universities, which is guaranteed under the Dutch constitution, and no longer opposed admitting non-Protestant professors and students. As a result, the number of students grew substantially. Against the background of increasing student activism at universities around the world, new student organizations were formed demanding a more democratic academic culture at VU. By the end of the 1970s, the small, elitist Christian institution had all but disappeared and had become a broad, research-oriented university, open to students of diverse backgrounds.

Student numbers continued to grow rapidly in the 21st century: from 15,700 students in 2002 to about 25,000 in 2011, causing growing pains which have resulted in lower student satisfaction and budgetary constraints. The university has embarked on an ambitious reform agenda, including a large-scale renewal of campus facilities, austerity programmes and staff reorganizations,[7] which in turn were met with opposition and legal action from trade unions as well as a newly formed grassroots movement of staff and students.[8]

The university's Christian heritage is nowadays reflected through a continuing focus on social, cultural and philosophical perspectives within its various academic programmes. The VU Association, which founded and funded the university for almost one hundred years, is now mostly a social network, organizing lectures, debates and other activities connecting science and society throughout the Netherlands under the name 'VU Connected'.[9]

Organizational structure

Former eastern entrance to the campus, since 2010 the location of a new building for the Faculty of Law.

VU University is made up of twelve faculties, responsible for teaching and research, as well as a number of interdisciplinary research institutes. The faculties are: Arts; Dentistry; Economics and business administration; Earth and life sciences; Human movement sciences; Law; Medicine; Philosophy; Psychology and education; Sciences; Social sciences; and Theology.[10]

VU University is formally a private institution, part of the VU-VUmc Foundation. The other main institution within this foundation is the VU University Medical Center, which has a separate management structure.

The university is governed by the Executive Board, consisting of a President, a Vice-President and a Rector. The Executive Board has general management responsibilities and appoints the deans and professors of the faculties. The Executive Board is accountable to a Supervisory Board, appointed by the members' assembly of the VU Association, a private organization which founded the university in 1880.

The university's Works Council, a body of elected representatives of faculty and staff, as well as the Student Council, have consultation and co-decision rights in some areas of university policy and management. The College of Deans, consisting of all faculty deans and chaired by the Rector, acts as a coordinating and consulting body at the central level and is responsible for awarding doctoral degrees and honorary doctorates.


The Main Building, viewed from campus square

Teaching is organized within the twelve faculties. Together, the faculties offer 50 bachelor's, almost 100 master's, and a number of Ph.D. programmes.

The language of instruction for most bachelor's courses is Dutch. The university currently offers three bachelor's programmes fully in English: International Business Administration (Faculty of Economics and Business Administration); Computer Science (Faculty of Science); and the Amsterdam University College, a liberal arts programme offered jointly with the University of Amsterdam. In addition, the university-wide VU Honours Programme is taught in English.

Many of the master's programmes are offered entirely in English. In some master's programmes, international students outnumber the Dutch students by a large margin.

As with all publicly funded universities in the Netherlands, bachelor's and master's students pay tuition fees determined by law, currently amounting to around €1,800 per year for students from the European Union and €9,000 to €12,000 per year for students from elsewhere.[11] Most Dutch students and long-term Dutch resident EU citizens receive a grant or loan from the government to cover tuition and living expenses.

Ph.D. programmes are organized differently. Rather than applying to the university for admission, prospective students must find a (full) professor who has a position for a Ph.D. candidate, called a 'promovendus', and contact him or her directly. Most faculties advertise open positions on their websites. As is common in Dutch universities, 'promovendi' are paid a salary and are considered university employees, therefore they do not pay tuition.


Left: Sciences Building; Right: Main Building.
New 'O2' Lab Building under construction (January 2014).

Like teaching, research at VU is organized mostly along the lines of the twelve faculties and their departments. University-wide, four interdisciplinary themes have been determined as the principal focus areas of research:

  • Human Health and Life Sciences;
  • Science for Sustainability, linking research on national resources with studies on the effects of human intervention, such as climate change;
  • Connected World, focusing on the impact of information technology on society; and
  • Professional Services, focusing on the business and finance sector and issues such as corporate social responsibility.[12]

In addition to faculty research centres and programmes, the University houses several interdisciplinary research institutes.[13] For example, the Amsterdam Institute of Molecules, Medicines and Systems, founded in 2010, consists of 17 research groups in pharmaceutical sciences, life sciences, computational life sciences and molecular sciences at VU. AIMMS focusses on three programs: molecular mechanisms of biological processes, design and characterization of molecules and medicines, and Biomarkers and diagnostics.

Of the nearly 3,000 academic staff (2,257 in fte) employed at VU in 2012, 42% were female. Almost 80% were of Dutch origin, while about 15% had other European nationalities. The remaining 5% came from Asia, North America, Africa, South America and Oceania.[14] Within the body of academic staff, 29% were Ph.D. candidates employed as junior researchers. In 2012, about 300 Ph.D. dissertations were defended at VU.[4]

In 2012, the

ACTA Building (2010) at Gustav Mahlerlaan, housing the joint VU/UvA school of dentistry.
Former Chemistry Laboratory (1932) at De Lairessestraat.

Notable alumni

De Boelelaan/VU metro and tram station

Notable past faculty

De Rode Pieper ('red potato'), housing the Institute for Health and Wellness

Notable faculty

The university's independent newspaper, Ad Valvas, has been in print since 1952. The newspaper formally acquired editorial independence in 1979. Ad Valvas appeared on a weekly basis until fall 2012, when it became as a biweekly magazine. The Ad Valvas magazine focuses primarily on background stories, interviews and op-ed articles, while daily campus news is mostly provided through the newspaper's website.[23]

The satellite campus 'Uilenstede' is located further south, in the municipality of Amstelveen. Uilenstede, built mainly between 1966 and 1970, is home to several large student housing complexes and apartment buildings, the VU Sports Centre, the 'Griffioen' cultural centre,[19] and a campus café. Several of the university's administrative departments are also located at the Uilenstede campus. Uilenstede is served by metro 51 and tram 5. Many of the residential halls at Uilenstede are currently undergoing major renovation works. A new apartment complex for visiting staff and international Ph.D. students on the eastern side of the campus was opened in 2012.[20] The new building was awarded the municipality's architecture prize.[21] A large renovation of the public space, made possible with a grant from the Schiphol Foundation, started in September 2013 and includes the construction of three new squares at the campus.[22]

VU Cultural Centre 'Griffioen', located at Uilenstede campus

On the south side, the Main Building provides access to the campus square ('Campusplein'). Many student organizations have their offices along the campus square entrance. South of the square is the Sciences Building ('Wis- en Natuurkundegebouw' or W&N), another 1970s building. The W&N is housing the faculties of Sciences and Earth and Life Sciences. In the middle of campus square is The Basket, the university bar, as well as a number of volleyball fields. Recent additions to the campus square area include a campus supermarket and an Italian coffeehouse. Also adjacent to the campus square is the modern building of the Institute for Health and Welness, which has been nicknamed the Red Potato after its distinct shape and color. Along the Buitenvelderselaan is the Initium Building, housing the Faculty of Law. The arch-shaped building, opened in 2010, now forms the eastern entrance of the VU campus. The Faculty of Social Sciences is located in the Metropolitan Building, technically just off-campus, on the other side of the Buitenveldertselaan. The medical faculty is located on west end of campus, adjacent to the sprawling medical centre.

The University's Main Building ('Hoofdgebouw' or HG), established in 1973, is located at the intersection of the Boelelaan and the Buitenveldertselaan. The sixteen-story building is currently undergoing major renovation works.[18] The Main Building is home to the faculties of Arts, Philosophy, Economics and Business, and Theology. The University Library occupies five floors as well as several floors with closed stacks. In addition, the Main Building houses the Aula (main auditorium), the university restaurant, several kiosks, a fair trade store, and the VU bookstore.

VU University's main campus and medical centre are situated in the Buitenveldert neighbourhood, part of the southern district of Amsterdam. The campus occupies about 0,4 km2 and is built along the 'De Boelelaan', a large east-west thoroughfare. Initially a fairly isolated location surrounded mostly by fields, the campus is now adjacent to the modern Zuidas business district housing some of the largest banks, accounting and law firms in the Netherlands. The VU campus is served by the 51 metro line as well as a number of tram lines and bus routes. It is also within walking distance of the Amsterdam Zuid railway station.

The upper floors of the Main Building's eastern wing, housing library stacks and showing the University emblem.

Campus and academic life

The VU University Library holds a relatively large collection of more than 1,000,000 printed items.[16] The library occupies five floors in the University's Main Building, not including closed stacks, while the medical collection is housed at the medical centre. The library's special collections department holds 70,000 manuscripts and printed items in 26 collections. Important collections include reformation works, original English prints, pamphlets and portrets.[17]

In 2013, Professor Piek Vossen (Computational Lexicology) was one of three scholars awarded with the Spinoza Prize, the highest scientific award in the Netherlands.[15]


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