Middelburg town hall becomes a college
Its magnificent town hall harks back to the days when picturesque Middelburg was a major port city in the heyday of the Dutch East Indies Company. Now, it's the home to a new English-language honours college for local and international students.
"Under the Dutch University system, all attention is focused on the latter part of graduate studies. Professors are not dedicated to working with undergraduates," says Professor Hans Adriaansens, dean of Roosevelt Academy.
"We are serving a niche market. Roosevelt Academy is a mix between a US educational programme and an English college teaching liberal arts and sciences to undergraduates."
For the train passenger coming from Amsterdam, Middelburg appears like an oasis in the desert. After Rotterdam and Roosendaal, the train passes a succession of tiny hamlets until you begin to think you will never see an urban centre ever again.
Finally, as you begin to wonder if you are on the wrong track, you are confronted with the large and modern station of Middelburg.
But not everyone gets there. Adriaansens tells of one visitor to the city who travelled down south by car, but turned back just before the city came into sight.
The Gothic town hall (1451-1520) is as massive as it is breathtaking and atypical for the Netherlands. It is a potent symbol of bygone days when Middelburg was second in importance only to Amsterdam.
Now, the city is embarking on a new chapter of its history as the seat for Roosevelt Academy, an English-language, international honours college.
From September 2004, the academy opens its doors — or more precisely the doors of the town hall — to about 400 undergraduate students from the Netherlands and Belgium and 200 international students.
Adriaansens says keeping the numbers of students to a select 600 is a very deliberate policy in contrast to giant universities in the Netherlands and elsewhere where the individual can get lost.
Roosevelt Academy, he says, is looking for curious and ambitious students who want to get the most out of their efforts. Classroom sizes will be no larger than 25 students and a tutor will be assigned to each one. There are 60 qualified professors.
The relatively small college population will help students bond on a working and social level to obtain the most from their time in Middelburg. Comparing his academy to the mega-campuses of larger universities, Adriaansens quips: "We are into education not amputation".
The academy is holding an open day on 11 March for fourth, fifth, and sixth year pre-university VWO students from the Netherlands, students of fourth, fifth and sixth year classes in nearby Belgium and students with a HBO-propedeuse (1st year end exam certificate from a HBO higher education institute).
Their first experience will be of the campus — there isn't one per se. The college is based in and around the picturesque town square, with the grandiose town hall at its centre.
The original Flemish-Gothic building was designed by the members of the Keldermans family, famous architects from Mechelen. Later, after the Dutch East Indies Company (VOC) was founded in 1602, Middelburg became the second most important port in the Netherlands.
During the Second World War, heavy bombing nearly destroyed the entire structure, but in the 1960s the municipal authorities launched a huge project to restore it to its former glory.
The city's councillors are moving to different premises, leaving the town hall for the academy. Students will work and walk among the buildings left over from the days of the VOC and its sister organisation, the West Indies Company (WIC).
But that does not mean it is rundown or off the beaten track, the dean says. There are good road and rail connections to Flanders and the rest of the Netherlands.
The city was attractive to the academy because of its modern facilities and the availability of suitable premises. (The finishing touch was being put to new dormitories in January).
As the province did not previously have a university, the Library of Zeeland, which will double as the Academy library, is being kept well stocked with all manner of books, magazines, music and electronic media.
And if a course book cannot be found in Middelburg, students can turn to Hogeschool Zeeland and Utrecht University. Roosevelt Academy is the sister college to University College Utrecht (UCU) — the international honours college of Utrecht University.
Getting with the programme
"School is regular, but Roosevelt Academy is not a regular school," Adriaansens says. The students will have relatively more hours per course than counterparts at other Dutch universities.
The emphasis is on the liberal arts. "For centuries, the study of literature, languages, law, culture, history and the like has been the favoured approach in Europe and elsewhere for educating the leaders of tomorrow," he says.
Students will be obliged to sign up for four courses per semester (September to mid-December and February to mid-May). First year students must divide their eight courses between at least three of the four departments: Academic core, Arts and Humanities, Social Sciences and Science.
At the end of the first year, students then choose a major field of study and divide half of the required course list within the major. The remainder is split between the academic core and elective courses, with students encouraged to select courses themselves that best suit their talents.
Students will be given a chance to study abroad in their second year and all are supposed to learn a second language during their time at the academy. Graduates leave with a Bachelors of Arts or Science Honours degree awarded by Utrecht University.
And what then?
"The degree will enable students to apply for graduate programmes in the top institutions around the world, or, if they prefer, to get a trainee position with an international organisation before deciding whether to further their academic studies," Adriaansens says
26 February 2004
Temporary visiting address:
Main address of the Academy Building beginning September 1, 2004:
* To register for the open day, send an email with your name, address, current education qualifications, to firstname.lastname@example.org.