Rector Rianne Letschert: “When they ask me later on what I am proud of, Global Studies is my definite number one”

First study programme involving all six UM faculties


MAASTRICHT. Yes, rector Rianne Letschert got dispirited by it at times. Here you have a “great new study programme” in which six faculties are going to collaborate – unique for the Netherlands and maybe even the whole world – and it looks as if it going to fail because of “laborious financial and bureaucratic systems that we designed ourselves”. After three years of “blood, sweat and tears”, Global Studies is finally there. “That is a long time for an impatient person like myself. But when I leave here and they ask me what I am proud of, Global Studies is my definite number one.”

Yes, emphasises professor Valentina Mazzucato, who was head of the development team for Global Studies (GS), a few days before on the Banditos sidewalk cafe on the Grote Gracht. Without the rector, the UM-wide bachelor’s programme would never have come about; a programme that studies global problems such as climate change, poverty, racism, migration, and a pandemic such as COVID-19 from various disciplines and where the focus lies both on the Global North as well as the  Global South (including parts of Asia, the Middle East, Central America, and Africa). For those who are confused, she immediately has an example from GS: “Take the Somali pirates who hijack large cargo ships and demand a ransom for their release. You could see this as a political sciences problem. A solution could be more security; the European Union chose this option and sent armed forces to the region. But it is not helping, it still continues. You could approach this problem differently: these pirates are from villages that used to live off fishing, but their waters became depleted because big businesses from Asia and Europe had taken all the fish. What does that mean from a legal point of view? They have no more work. The result is poverty, food shortage, psychological problems. This is where you need health sciences, psychology and sociology. Then they want to leave their birthplace and you have the next problem: migration. Global problems are interlinked, you have to see the whole picture and approach the problems from various disciplines.”

Inventing the wheel

Four years ago, Mazzucato submitted a plan for a new bachelor’s programme to the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. But there were more plans and the choice fell on Digital Society, which started up last year. But the plan for Global Studies didn’t disappear into a desk drawer. It landed on the rector’s desk (just like two other bachelor’s proposals; the faculty asked the Executive Board to think along with them and help them choose), who felt that it could be the first UM programme to which all six faculties could contribute. “All faculties have great expertise in the field of Global Studies. Combining this and positioning it carefully was an opportunity that we couldn’t miss.” To continue: “Everyone though I was mad.” Not in the least because of the financial hurdles: every faculty, after all, has its own internal distribution model. Every dean looks after his own club first, everything that goes beyond that, are extra costs and they are not looking for that. The motto being: why would we invest in this and not in our own bachelor’s? Mazzucato: “We had to invent the wheel. Participating in GS shouldn’t be a punishment, we had to come up with a new financial structure.” We did: every faculty pays one sixth of the investment - in the form of lecturers – and will receive, once the study has enough students, one sixth of the profits. Letschert: “We now have a financial framework in which interdisciplinary co-operation is not killed off.”

Leap into the unknown

Mazzucato: “The whole plan was a leap into the unknown, but not entirely unknown because all faculties already had an interdisciplinary orientation. Colleagues in the country are jealous: we would never manage that. There are Global Studies programmes in the world, but they are more like my original plan for FASoS, that wasn’t as interdisciplinary.”

Here in Maastricht, a team of 26 young scientists from all over the UM, led by Mazzucato and Lutz Krebs (now the programme director) put their heads together. In eight times two days, “it was a pressure cooker, very intense,” they set up a curriculum, divided into semesters.  The co-operation went so well that two groups who discovered that they were covering the same ground, successfully submitted a research proposal to NWO.

Two lecturers

“Not only is the curriculum interdisciplinary -  we also teach in an interdisciplinary way. We have lecturers with knowledge of multiple disciplines who jointly supervise a course over a period of one semester. I myself have expertise in the fields of anthropology, sociology and migration studies. When I teach about migration, I won’t be doing that alone but with a colleague from Psychology: we see matters differently, so we won’t always agree in the tutorial group.”

Liberal arts

“I am Italian and I studied liberal arts at Williams College in Massachusetts in the US. The level of education was fantastic and very innovative. I was inspired there to set up a portfolio system, in which students can reflect deeply on their learning objectives, but also on their behaviour, so that they gain more insight into themselves. There will also be an intensive mentor system: every student has his or her own mentor and they meet nine times a year: what do you want to get from your study, how can you achieve that, what are your strengths, what is difficult?,” says Mazzucato. “So there is a liberal arts philosophy behind GS, but we differ from the University Colleges in Maastricht and Venlo. We have one theme: global issues. And where students at UCM can choose a course per discipline, our disciplines are always integrated and there is less choice. It is a really broad programme and after three years students can specialise in a master’s.”


The first batch has by now found its way to Maastricht. About seventy students from 28 countries were welcomed at the end of August during a festive opening in the Vrijthof Theatre. Twelve per cent is from outside the EU, another 15 per cent has a double EU/non-EU nationality. In 2025, it is expected that there will be an influx of two hundred students per year. “We would also like students from the Global South and we are striving for a real international classroom. It is a new market for the UM and recruiting there could also prove fruitful for other Maastricht bachelor’s programmes.”

The current first-year students are receiving hybrid education because of COVID-19, one half of the group is online, the other half is on campus. “It is important that our first-year students actually meet each other. They don’t know yet what it is like to be a university student, we invest a great deal in building relationships. We emphasise community building and NVAO (the quality watchdog of higher education in the Netherlands and Flanders, ed.) has also marked the programme as ‘small and intensive’. For this, you have to meet a number of special requirements. Our students have their ‘own’ building, the Stercollege. Lecturers come to them. But we are not enclosed in a bubble. Our programme comes under FASoS administratively, we are on the same premises, so we will meet each other.”

Anything else?

One last question for the rector: will there be more interfaculty programmes? The NVAO panel was full of praise for GS and unanimous in its judgement, says Letschert. “If we were still young, they said, we would choose GS. We will do it more and more, but with two or three faculties rather than six. We now have Business Engineering, a collaboration between the Faculty of Science and Engineering and the School of Business and Economics. And in the coming years, I expect new initiatives between FSE, the medical cluster and the campuses and the region. There is a lot of potential there.”

Salomé Jourdan (19), half German, half French: "This was exactly what I was looking for"

After secondary school, Salomé Jourdan took two years off. Not because she was tired of learning, but because she had no idea what study programme would really suit her. “I care about the problems in the world: the climate, poverty, inequality, refugees. I want to gain insight into the problems and contribute to making the world a better place.” She went searching, looked at what was on offer at many universities in Belgium, the Netherlands and France. “I wanted to go abroad, but not too far from my parents’ home in Freiburg. It is now six hours by train.” Her new study had to “have depth and really make a difference”.  Eventually she came across Global Studies in Maastricht. “I started reading, and yes, this was exactly what I was looking for.”

It is more work than she had expected. “We must read more, and that takes a lot of time. I spend one to two days a week at the faculty. We have hybrid tutorial group meetings, they are going well, but I hope that we can have all education activities on campus again soon.” To conclude: “I think I made the right choice.”


Gaya Hoffman (25), Israel: "I felt: this is not a coincidence"

Yes, she is a lot older than the average first-year student, she grins. “In Israel, you have to do three years of military service after secondary school, and after that I travelled for three years: Africa, Australia, Asia and Latin America.” Her experiences abroad – she saw for example the consequences of migration in Africa, the refugees in India – put her on the road to international collaboration and Global Studies. Why Maastricht? “That is a funny story. I was in Argentina and our car got stuck in the desert. A Dutch backpacker passed by. He studied at the UM and told us about Maastricht. After that, I checked the website and saw GS. I felt: this is not a coincidence; I have to do this.”

I quite liked the first few weeks. “The faculty is doing everything to help us, our start was really smooth, despite COVID-19. The mentor programme is terrific, it is unique to have a professor who is helping you to find your way.  I am very enthusiastic. This is the place I should be.”


Kwesi John (27), Trinidad and Tobag: "I do eventually want to return and try to make a difference"

He has lived in the Netherlands for a number of years and he has family in Rotterdam. During that time, Kwesi John worked as a sales assistant in the Designer Outlet in Roermond, among other things, until he decided to start studying again. “I couldn’t decide between European Public Health and Global Studies. I am interested in what is happening in the world, I want to understand that better, preferably from different perspectives. The problems are so huge and also so mutually interconnected that you need an interdisciplinary approach.”

He was born and bred in Trinidad and Tobago, in the Caribbean, “we belong to the Global South and have tremendous problems when it comes to health care, water, poverty, and education. I do eventually want to return and try to make a difference. Although I would also like to work for the United Nations and concentrate on the Caribbean.”

He was slightly tense in the first week. “Would he be the oldest? Would I easily make contact with fellow students? How would I find PBL?” That tenseness soon disappeared, he feels like a fish in water: has already made friends, the education programme is going well, and John is a member of the education committee and GS’s study association. “It is a lot of work, but I love being involved and besides, I have a lot of ideas.” For example, he would like to see grants for students who cannot pay for a study in Maastricht. He tells all of this in English (“my mother tongue”), but he also speaks Dutch. “I told fellow students: at least learn the basics of Dutch. Surely, if you are going to live here, you want to be able to understand the language.”


Rector Rianne Letschert: “When they ask me later on what I am proud of, Global Studies is my definite number one”
Rector Rianne Letschert at kick off Global Studies in Vrijthof theatre
Salomé Jourdan, student Global Studies
Kwesi John student Global Studies
Gaya Hoffman, student Global Studies
Valentina Mazzucato at kick off Global Studies
Author: Riki Janssen

Joey Roberts and archive SJ, KJ, GH

Categories: News, news_top,
Tags: rector,letschert,global studies,mazzucato

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