Utrecht has a new, selective, small-scale honors program: PPE

The building of PPE at International Campus, photo DUB

In 2015, the faculties of Law and Humanities announced their plans of starting a new bachelor’s program together: Philosophy, Politics and Economics, a.k.a. PPE. The honors program is entirely taught in English, and will only have room for 75 first-year students, who will have to pass a selection process and pay higher tuition.

PPE students will study a combination of courses designed especially for them in fields of philosophy, history, economics and governance. It’s a broad program that, according to the deans, fits nicely in the trend of interdisciplinary research, as is described in the strategic research theme Institutions for Open Societies. PPE graduates will be able to continue their education in at least 8 different UU master’s programs.

High ambitions
The new program has high ambitions. Eventually, foreign students should make up 40 percent of the 75 students selected for the program. The idea is that 90 percent of students will graduate within four years.

Before the Humanities and Law faculties were able to launch the program, they had to meet several criteria. In order to be allowed to charge higher tuition fees, the program had to get an accreditation called Small-scale and intensive education (BKKI) from accreditation organization NVAO.

To get the accreditation, the program had to meet several requirements – one of which is ensuring a tight-knit community. To achieve this goal, PPE has acquired its own building: the Descartes building at the International Campus. There, students and staff alike will be able to work together intensively.

PPE also had to show that it has added value to the current range of bachelor’s programs. There are two similar study programs in the Netherlands. The University of Amsterdam offers a program called PPLE, which stands for Psychology, Politics, Law and Economics. The VU also offers a program called PPE. Utrecht’s program distinguishes itself from the VU program through the added discipline of history. Program coordinator and political philosopher Rutger Claassen says the Utrecht program could also be called “PPE plus History”, acknowledging this added value.

Another criterion is that, aside from the standard study curriculum, extracurricular activities had to be developed to justify the higher tuition fee, and classes have to remain small. Although the lectures are organized for 75 students at a time, the workgroups are limited to 25 students per group. With this, PPE has satisfied all requirements, and received the accreditation last August. Last week, the minister of Education granted PPE permission to charge higher tuition fees.

Scholarship and dispensation
The program needed the University council’s approval for the higher tuition fees. The council members insisted on having a good scholarship program for students unable to pay the € 4120 tuition fees. They gave their okay early last week.

The faculties of Law and Humanities will offer eight scholarships this first year, which will be financed in part by the surplus tuition from other first-year students. The scholarships offer a 50 percent discount on the tuition fee, and are meant for students who add to the diversity of the student population. This could mean students from a cultural minority group, of students who wouldn’t be able to afford the high tuition fees. The students will have to prove to be eligible to receive the scholarship, which is also open to Dutch and EU students.

There’s also the UU-wide dispensation rule for students unable to get student loans from DUO. This is the case with, for instance, Surinamese students, refugees with a UAF grant, and foreign students.

Students who loan money from DUO, will be able to get a loan for the higher tuition through the institution’s college tuition loan. This would amount to a monthly 333,33 euros. The students will have to submit a signed declaration of tuition fees from the university to DUO.

Interest & selection
Before PPE’s fall 2018 launch was announced, PPE was already included in the program for the UU bachelor open days on November 17th and 18th. Interested parties were informed approval for the program was still pending, but that didn’t deter them from signing up anyway. Almost six hundred high school seniors have already signed up for the next information days.

During the information days, they’ll hear more about the demands they have to meet in order to sign up for the study program: “A high school (vwo) diploma, including math A or math B, with at least an 8 for English on the final report of their fifth year, those are the official entrance qualifications. They’ll also need to submit a letter of recommendation written by, for instance, their guidance counselor or high school dean. They’ll then fill out a question form to support their motivation for, and interest in, the PPE program,” says program coordinator and political philosopher Rutger Claassen.

Candidates who meet the requirements are invited for an interview. “We’re currently looking into how we’ll conduct these interviews. It depends on the number of applications we get. Amsterdam’s PPLE program had 900 applications last year. If you have to meet with all 900 applicants, that’s a huge effort.” Next Friday, the faculty board for the faculty of Humanities will have a final say on the selection regulations.

Claassen and the program board also still need to take care of housing issues. “The Descartes building still has to be renovated, and we’re going to recruit four new teachers this winter – one for philosophy, one for history, one for economics and one for governance & organization.”

In total, the program will need between 12 and 16 teachers in the first year who will spend the educational part of their contract teaching at PPE. “Each teacher will be rooted in the research program of his or her own discipline, and will therefore still be contracted by their own department. We want them to be able to think outside the box from that home base, and conduct interdisciplinary research. The program was originally the idea of researches in the strategic theme of Institutions.”

The PPE students will have to study cases, like the financial crisis or migration issues, from different disciplines. “We want to teach our students not just how today’s political and economic institutions function, but also how they originated. By looking at history, you’ll learn how to understand the here and now better.”

The UU has set aside around 1.3 million euros for the new study program. The faculties each contribute 1.2 million euros throughout the next five years.