Dean and programme manager for Interdisciplinary Education appointed

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The Executive Board has appointed Iris van der Tuin, Professor of Theory of Cultural Inquiry and until recently Director of Education of the School of Liberal Arts at the Faculty of Humanities, as Dean of Interdisciplinary Education at Utrecht University with effect from 1 September 2021. Van der Tuin will lead the Interdisciplinary Education programme in the coming four years together with programme manager Joki van de Poel. Van de Poel is head of education policy at the Faculty of Social Sciences.

Strategic Plan 2025

The Strategic Plan 2025 states that Utrecht University will ensure that students come into contact with various disciplines and that they can pursue their profiling outside their own study programme to the full. In order to offer students this opportunity, it is essential that they are able to choose from a well-considered range of interdisciplinary courses. This can only be achieved with a Dean and programme manager who develop and disseminate a clear vision of interdisciplinary education, stimulate interfaculty cooperation and set up an adequate support and governance structure. The setting up, teaching and following of interdisciplinary courses, minors or programmes should become something that is taken for granted.

Added value

Prof. dr. Iris van der Tuin. Foto: Ed van Rijswijk
Prof. Iris van der Tuin

Van der Tuin encountered the power of interdisciplinarity through her work with the broad bachelor programme Liberal Arts & Sciences. "I have seen so many times that students experience the added value of diverting from their disciplinary background to adopt a different perspective and to integrate knowledge and insights from multiple disciplines in relation to a specific theme or problem. Just to give you a few examples: for the water issue in South Africa, political historians added value in a team of innovation scientists and computer scientists. And cognitive scientists worked together with specialists from gender studies and organisational sciences to develop a new metaphor for the glass ceiling or the leaky pipeline. After graduation, our students will be living and working in an increasingly complex society. We cannot equip them for their entire working life on the basis of the knowledge and skills that are available to us now. They will constantly have to adapt to rapid changes in society and deal with increasingly complex issues. Then it is better to have learned to work together across borders, to apply interdisciplinary methods and to find it normal to approach a problem in collaboration on the basis of different areas of expertise."

Not a single way

As a Director of Education and in various (inter)national networks, Van der Tuin encountered the diversity of interdisciplinarity: "There is no single way to design an interdisciplinary curriculum, course or teaching activity. The trick is to make well-considered choices, preferably research-informed. The university-wide design of the Interdisciplinary Education programme ensures a broad view of interdisciplinary education and of evaluating what works and why."

On the practical side

Joki van de Poel
Joki van de Poel

As head of education policy, Van de Poel knows better than anyone that interdisciplinary educational initiatives need to be permanently anchored in the university organisation. "There are plenty of great ideas for interdisciplinary education, but too often these ideas fail because there is insufficient attention to the practical side of collaboration. We want the organisation to learn from past experiences and, by means of targeted knowledge building, the bundling of expertise and the development of cooperation models, we want to make the implementation of interdisciplinary education much easier. In doing so, we hope to perpetuate and increase the enthusiasm for interdisciplinary education that is often already there, ultimately providing our students with an even richer learning environment." Together with a yet to be determined Board, Van der Tuin and Van de Poel will work on a UU vision of interdisciplinarity that is anchored in the disciplines. This vision will be elaborated in university-wide working groups on topics such as support, financing, visibility, expertise exchange and quality assurance. The link with strategic themes, educational initiatives within the UU and EWUU Alliance, and interdisciplinary educational projects at partner universities abroad will be consciously sought.


The coming months will be devoted to discussions with interested parties at the faculties and within the EWUU Alliance, and to further the development of a programme plan. Also, a start will be made with setting up the first working groups that will work on specific issues. Iris and Joki are curious about good ideas from within the organisation and invite colleagues and students to submit them to them. They state: "After all, even with the complex topic of the sustainable embedding of interdisciplinary education, we will likely get the most out of it with a broad, interdisciplinary view.”