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Vrije Universiteit
Latin: Universitas Libera
(sometimes: Amstelodamensis or Reformata)
Motto gewoon bijzonder (English: simply special)
Established 1880
Type Special, Protestant
President Prof.dr. Lex Bouter
Faculty 2,200 faculty and researchers, of whom 300 full professors
Students 20,000
Location Amsterdam, Netherlands
Affiliations EUA

The Vrije Universiteit (literal translation from Dutch: "Free University") is a university in Amsterdam, Netherlands. The Dutch name is often abbreviated as VU. The university is located on a compact urban campus in the southern part of Amsterdam in the Buitenveldert district. Though a faith-based, private institution, the VU receives government funding on a parity basis with the public universities.

The university should not be confused with the University of Amsterdam, which is a different university, located in the same city and owned and operated by it.

The VU University Amsterdam has about 20,000 students,[citation needed] most of whom are full-time students. The number of faculty members and researchers is 2200 (of whom 300 are full professors). Teaching and research activities are supported by 1600 administrative, clerical, technical, and other employees. The university's annual budget is around US$500 million,[citation needed] about two third of which comes from the Dutch government. Tuition, research grants, and industrial contracts provide the rest.

The logo of the university is the griffin, pictured on the right. The position of its wings symbolizes the freedom in the university's name: freedom from both state and church.



Abraham Kuyper, founder of the VU University Amsterdam

The VU was founded in 1880 by Abraham Kuyper as the first orthodox-Protestant (Calvinist) university in The Netherlands. Kuyper was a Dutch politician, journalist, and prime minister of The Netherlands from 1901 to 1905. He was a professor of theology at the VU as well as the first rector magnificus (President of the University).

Vrije Universiteit literally means 'Free University' (better: 'Liberated University') to signify freedom from both government and church. The education itself, however, is not free of cost. To overcome this association, recently a decision was made to use the term VU University instead of Free University whenever the English translation is needed.

As with all accredited universities in The Netherlands, students pay a (government determined) tuition, which is currently (2009) around €1600/year for students from the European Union and ranges from €7000 to €9000/year for students from elsewhere.[1] Most Dutch students receive a grant or loan from the government to cover tuition and living expenses.

Although current students and faculty members are adherents of many religions, as a consequence of its Protestant heritage, the VU has always placed a special emphasis on the social and cultural context in which it operates. Many faculties offer courses teaching students about the historical, social, and cultural issues related to their discipline, with course names like "Social Aspects of Science". Topics such as the consequences of science for society, ethics, and related issues are discussed.

Management structure

The board of trustees of the university is the Vereniging VU-Windesheim, which also manages the Christelijke Hogeschool Windesheim University of Applied Sciences in Zwolle as well as VUmc, which is the university's Medical Center. The university is run by an executive board ("College van Bestuur" in Dutch) which makes decisions in consultation with the Board of Deans ("College van Decanen" in Dutch).

Recent rectores magnifici (University Presidents) have been:

  • 1983-1987 Pieter Drenth
  • 1987-1993 Cees Datema
  • 1993-1997 Egbert Boeker
  • 1997-2006 Taede Sminia
  • 2006-today Lex Bouter


Eastern entrance to the campus

Organisationally, the university is divided into 12 faculties, which offer a great variety of bachelor's, master's, and Ph.D. programmes in many fields. These faculties are:[2]

The language of instruction for the bachelor's courses is Dutch. However, many of the master's programmes are given entirely in English in order to attract students from outside The Netherlands. In fact, in some master's programmes, international students outnumber the Dutch students by a large margin.

The Ph.D. programme is different from that in the United Kingdom and the U.S.A. Rather than applying to the university for admission in the winter, prospective students must find a (full) professor who has a position for a Ph.D. student, called an AiO (Assistant in Opleiding—Assistant in Training), and contact him or her directly. Most professors and faculties advertise their open positions on their Websites. AiOs are paid a salary and are considered university employees. They do not have to pay tuition.


Left: Exact Sciences; Right: Humanities and law

From its humble beginnings, the VU has become a modern research university. The research focus is given by the VU-star, which emphasizes seven broad areas in which the university excels:[3]

  1. Communication, knowledge, and meaning
  2. Computerization and digitization
  3. Economics and society
  4. Health and disease
  5. Legal and administrative issues
  6. Life sciences
  7. System earth

Many of these research foci are interdisciplinary, with faculty members and students from multiple faculties working together to forge new breakthroughs. Some of the key faculty members are listed below.

Notable faculty

De Rode Pieper ('red potato'), housing the Institute for Health and Wellness
  • Henri Bal, professor of Computer Science and author of several books, who together with his student John Romein wrote a program that broke the ancient game of Oware (Awari) and gives the best move in any situation, usually leading to a forced win.
  • Dorret Boomsma, professor of biological psychology and winner of the Spinozapremie
  • Brad Bushman, since 2005 a visiting professor from the University of Michigan in United States who is a foremost expert on the causes and consequences of human aggression.
  • Jet Bussemaker, assistant professor of political science 1991-2001, now undersecretary of the Ministry of Health, Welfare, and Sport
  • Jaap Doek, professor of law and chairman of the U.N. Committee of the Rights of the Child (2001-2007)
  • Peter Koslowski the ethicist and philosopher, author of nearly 20 books
  • Peter Nijkamp, professor of spatial economics, president of the governing board of the Netherlands Research Council (NWO), and winner of the Spinozapremie
  • Bob Pinedo, professor of medicine, director of the VUmc Cancer Center, and winner of the Spinazopremie
  • Piet Rietveld, professor of economics, and leading researcher in transport economics
  • Jan Smit, professor of earth science, was one of the people who contributed to the theory that an impact of a meteor near Mexico caused the ending of the Dinosaur age about 65 million years ago.
  • Andrew S. Tanenbaum, professor of Computer Science who wrote the MINIX operating system, the inspiration and precursor to Linux. Tanenbaum is the author of five textbooks, which have been translated into over 20 languages and are used at universities all over the world. He is also the founder and webmaster of
  • Richard Tol, professor of economics, and leading researcher in the economics of climate change.
  • Pier Vellinga, director of the Climate Centre
  • Frank den Butter, former chairman of the Royal Netherlands Economic Association and former director of the Tinbergen institute.

Notable past faculty

Notable graduates and former students

The science building

International acclaim

On the 2009 THE–QS World University Rankings list, the Free University of Amsterdam was ranked inside the top 200.

Year Rank (Change)
2005 186
2006 183 ( 3)
2007 304 ( 121)
2008 155 ( 149)
2009 165 ( 10)


External links

Coordinates: 52°20′02″N 4°51′54″E / 52.33389°N 4.865°E / 52.33389; 4.865



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