Louis Boon Louis Boon Sacha Ruland

Pushing the boundaries in Venlo

Written by  Annelotte Huiskes Wednesday, 10 June 2015 14:18

The ‘father’ of Liberal Arts and Sciences in Maastricht, Louis Boon spearheaded the launch of University College Maastricht (UCM) and the Maastricht Science Programme (MSP). Now, as dean of Campus Venlo, he is gearing up to get University College Venlo (UCV) off the ground as of September. He is a keen proponent of the open curriculum model. "If it were up to me, this would be the model for the entire university."

Given his career, you can see why Boon is such an avid supporter of the open curriculum. His CV fits right in with a Liberal Arts and Sciences programme. He studied sociology and philosophy, and began teaching mathematical logic at the economics faculty in Mannheim. Next he joined the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics at VU University Amsterdam. After that came the Faculty of Psychology in Utrecht, followed by Health Sciences and then Psychology in Maastricht. Then there was UCM and the MSP and, last but not least, UCV.

"I love do new things and I’ve always liked working on new subjects and in new faculties. Now for UCV I'm exploring the history of food; the different sorts of scientific research that has been done and how it has developed in different cultures. The only disadvantage is that it takes you away from doing your own research."

Boon saw this same drive to do new things and the courage to take risks in the first cohorts of UCM and MSP students. He’s expecting the same type of students at UCV. "They’re not your typical students. I know from experience that students who follow a new programme always end up doing extremely well. Purely because of that I’d encourage everyone to come here. The reason is that these students are extremely motivated; they want to make their own choices. They have to be daring, because they can't just resort to asking previous students on Facebook 'Is this a good programme? Which course should I take?' "

The adventurous nature of the programme is reflected in the slogan of the recruitment campaign: 'Push the boundaries!' This can be interpreted literally, given Venlo’s location on the border with Germany, but also metaphorically, as prospective students are encouraged to do something new and different. "We hope to kick off in September with 40 to 50 students. During that first year they’re your only children, so to speak; they get all the attention. So that's a nice bonus for them."

The idea behind UCV was first raised in UM’s Executive Board two years ago. The university has been running a pair of master's programmes in Venlo for the last six years: the MSc Global Supply Chain Management & Change and the MSc Health Food Innovation Management. But in the framework of the Kennis-As Limburg programme, UM is keen to do more in the areas of service provision, research and commercial activity in the region. "The master's programmes are doing well, but with around 120 students they’re not large enough to make a meaningful contribution to the region. Our footprint in Venlo isn't big enough yet to maintain our own staff here and develop a strong intellectual climate." 

In Boon’s view, the secret to the success of the Liberal Arts and Sciences programmes lies in their open curricula. They don’t focus on a single main subject, but instead encompass broad areas of interest. Students create their own curriculum from a wide range of subjects to suit their talents and interests. The main difference between UCV and UM’s two existing Liberal Arts and Sciences variants, UCM and MSP, is that the Venlo curriculum is somewhat more applied. " UCV is a mixture of life sciences and social sciences that emphasises food and health on the one hand and logistics and business on the other, focusing on applications in practice. We want students to start conducting applied research in cooperation with companies in Limburg and beyond as soon as possible."

Another key difference is that UCV students will join forces with students from HAS and Fontys, institutes for higher vocational education (HBO) in Venlo. “Both students and teachers will get the chance to collaborate on research projects and learn from one another. For instance, UM is setting up a microbiological research project on various gastrointestinal processes. This is fundamental research with direct links to probiotics and the dairy industry, and HBO students will also be able to participate. So UM will be collaborating with both the business sector and HBO, which is a unique approach."


After the bachelor’s, some students are expected to stay on for a master's programme in Venlo. Others will head to Maastricht or elsewhere. "By introducing them to research and business early on in the programme, we hope they’ll continue their studies and find work here too”, says Boon. “There are lots of opportunities. In terms of finances, the manufacturing industry here rivals the green and logistics sectors combined. And many companies in this region are world leaders in their sector – they’re just not very visible. When people think about Venlo, they tend to think of greenhouses and logistics. But there’s a lot of industry here as well. Slaughter lines, milking robots and all sorts of machines for food cultivation. Our task is to work together with industry and the government to develop a culture of innovation that attracts new businesses."

This is not something you can achieve in a couple of years, Boon emphasises. "The bachelor's programme will open its doors in September. That means the first graduates will start working in four years at the earliest. So you should commit for at least 10 to 15 years. That applies to both UM and the local and provincial governments. Only after that time will you start to see real effects."

Louis Boon (1948) studied sociology and philosophy in Amsterdam. In 1985 he relocated to Maastricht, where he was involved in developing several new programmes, including University College Maastricht and the Maastricht Science Programme. He served as the Founding Dean of the University College Maastricht from 2001 to 2008, and has been Dean of Campus Venlo since autumn 2012.

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