The Hague is the seat of government in the Netherlands, the country’s third largest city with a population of more than 600,000 and as the United Nations’ fourth major centre – after New York, Geneva and Vienna – is home to its International Court of Justice. Yet, while it has a university of applied sciences, it has never had its own research university.
Its solution was to ask Leiden University – the oldest Dutch higher education institution, established in 1575 in the beautiful but small city 10 miles away – to open a campus in The Hague.
Carel Stolker, Leiden’s rector magnificus and president, said that The Hague’s civic leaders had had “no money for another university” and, moreover, there was “no need” to create one, given the proliferation of existing universities nearby.
While the campus has been up and running since 1997, Leiden has being significantly expanding its teaching and research activities in The Hague since 2016 under Professor Stolker’s leadership.
The “DNA” of The Hague is international and political, said Professor Stolker. Hence Leiden has launched courses such as international studies, political science, international law and international relations at its campus there.
When some Leiden academics previously voiced scepticism about the expansion, Professor Stolker countered with the argument that it was “quite possible that LSE [the London School of Economics] or Yale or [another] university would come over to the Hague and start offering courses in English, in political science, whatever. Then it would be a competitor on your doorstep. That was convincing to them.”
Now “our scholars and our scientists also see the advantages”, he said. For instance, “if you want an ambassador to give a speech to our students it’s really easy”, he added.
Leiden, said Professor Stolker, was still exploring the civic potential of its presence in The Hague, and is “still in the process of learning: what can you do with the city?”.
Teaching in English at the campus was natural “because it’s such an international environment – but we also feel a responsibility towards the local people there” to educate “not just the kids of the diplomats…but also the locals”, said Professor Stolker.
One key question was how much to grow the Hague campus. “We don’t want to end up with two universities – we really want to stay one university in two cities, that’s the concept,” said the rector.
There are 4,500 students at the campus at present. Natural growth would take that to 7,000.
Professor Stolker said: “But maybe it could grow to 10,000 or 20,000 [students]. Who knows?”
The mayor of Leiden was, he continued, at one stage “kind of afraid” about the university developing its presence in The Hague.
But while there “used to [be] more tensions” around The Hague campus “today it’s quite obvious to everyone this is a very important step”, including to Leiden and its political leadership, Professor Stolker said.
“I was born here in Leiden so he [the mayor] trusts me…So for me it was a little bit easier to go to The Hague than for my predecessor, who came from Amsterdam,” he added.
On post-Brexit collaboration, Professor Stolker said he “would love to work together with one or two British universities in The Hague, in international law, European law”.
He added that “most Dutch universities are talking with British universities on collaborations”.
Professor Stolker is in talks with the University of Edinburgh “to discuss future collaborations”. Edinburgh “have come to us because of Brexit”, he said. Such a partnership could involve joint PhDs, joint professorial appointments or joint courses “maybe in The Hague”. Given the ease of travelling from the UK to The Hague it is easy for academics to “come for a couple of days and then go back to Edinburgh or any other city in the UK”, he explained.
Professor Stolker added: “If you’re the neighbour of one of the best-performing higher education systems in the world [the UK], you want to keep that relationship.”
Print headline: Leiden builds bridges and keeps competitors at bay