Maastricht border crossing

July 3, 1998

THE FIRST transnational university merger in Europe will straddle the Dutch-Belgian border.

A team of academics from both countries is recommending that Maastricht University, in the Netherlands, pools staff, students and resources with Limburg University in Belgium. The aim is to cut costs and better equip students for the European job market. Dutch will be the medium of instruction.

A report to the two governments recommends that the universities begin exchanging teaching staff and students with the longer aim of establishing a single university.

Separated by just a few kilometres either side of the border, Maastricht and Limburg offer similar courses. By merging departments, it is hoped that the quality of education for students of both nationalities can be improved and given a more international flavour.

The first practicalities include ironing out differences between the two education systems and creating a joint qualifications system. The team suggested an enabling bilateral agreement.

Job Cohen, of the University of Maastricht, who was on the team, said: "It is not easy to set up such co-operation. We have found out that all the things we do in our normal work with respect to organisation and education, are not that normal at all. On the other side of the border, our colleagues work differently. "It is interesting to find out how in daily life, people living so near can belong so much to a different culture."

Maastricht already has a department of European studies, and it is expected that other faculties, such as education sciences, will be enlarged.

Limburg will develop its courses in maths and computer science. The economics faculties are expected to merge.

Professor Cohen, who is rumoured to be the likely successor to Jo Ritzen, Dutch education minister, said that the collaboration will create a single, more effective academic body that will be able to offer a broader range of subjects, especially in science. "The two universities together have a much more interesting palette of subjects."

Marc Pattyn, of the Belgian ministry of education, said: "The exchange will be very important for both students and lecturers."

His Dutch counterpart, Cor Ottens, agreed. "International education is important in Europe with the European Community. Working closely firstly with neighbouring countries is a good way of getting experience of working with other countries."

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