Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Tuesday 10th November (Day 1): Leiden

The team arrived in Leiden. I presume like me by flying into AMS and taking a train. The city is known as the birthplace of Rembrandt, for its beautiful, old city centre and a large population of students.

We got to the hotel safe and sound, put our bags in safe keeping and heading out to the first HEI on our visit: Leiden University.

Leiden University (abbreviated as LEI, Dutch: Universiteit Leiden) is the oldest university in the Netherlands, founded in 1575 by William, Prince of Orange. It came into prominence during the Dutch Golden Age, when scholars from around Europe were attracted there due to its climate of intellectual tolerance and international reputation. Leiden was home to such figures as René Descartes, Rembrandt, Hugo Grotius, Baruch Spinoza and Baron d'Holbach. It is now a prestigious public research university.
  • In 2013 Leiden was the highest ranked university in the Netherlands in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, where it was rated as the 64th best university worldwide and 61st for international reputation.
  • Shanghai Jiao Tong University's 2011 ranked Leiden University as the 65th best university worldwide.
  • Times Higher Education Rankings consistently ranks it as the best university in Continental Europe for Arts and Humanities. 
The University is associated with ten leaders and Prime Ministers of the Netherlands including the current Prime Minister Mark Rutte, nine foreign leaders, among them the 6th President of the United States John Quincy Adams, a Secretary General of NATO, a President of the International Court of Justice and sixteen recipients of the Nobel Prize (including renowned physicists Albert Einstein and Enrico Fermi).

We received presentation on each of the three themes as well as an overview of the university and its strategy. Leiden clearly sees itself  as an international university..

We also saw their 'Sweat Room' where students sat (and wrote their names on the wall) while waiting for their results. This autograph tradition also extends to honorary degree holders such as Nelson Mandela and Winston Churchill.

We also enjoyed on our tour their lovely Senate Room.

At the end of each day, we share three points that struck us most today about todays visit:
  • Dutch PhD positions cannot not funded by studentships but rather by employment contracts (and the PhD candidates appear eager to keep it that way).
  • There is a great story to be told about how Leiden is responding to student feedback on enhancing employability for its students.
  • Though there are national subject reviews of research with external experts, they do not affect formula funding (though universities do act upon their findings). From a UK REF tradition, and the strong research reputation of Dutch universities, this may be surprising to many.

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