Introducing the newest and bluest WUR programme

February 24, 2023

In September 2023, WUR will welcome the first batch of students to the new BSc programme in Marine Sciences. “Seas and oceans are finally getting the attention they deserve at WUR,” according to pioneers Jan Philipsen and Karen Fortuin.

For a small country, the Netherlands boasts an impressive coastline and a vast array of economic activities at sea. And these activities in the field of food supply, sustainable energy, mining, transport and tourism continue to expand. “It’s actually quite shocking that this is the country’s first university-level Bachelor’s programme in marine sciences,” says initiator Jan Philipsen. The programme he developed prepares students for the MSc programme in Aquaculture and Marine Resource Management, several other postgraduate programmes at WUR and related programmes at universities in the Netherlands and abroad.

Philipsen is not the only one who sees the need for the new BSc programme. According to an external employer survey, many positions in this field are being filled by specialised experts, despite the need for more broadly trained professionals. This inspired Philipsen to set up a new English-language marine programme two years ago. The programme has since passed two important audits (macro-efficiency and accreditation) and can officially welcome its first batch of students in September 2023.

Combining building blocks

“What makes this programme so strong is its integrated nature,” says Karen Fortuin, who succeeded Philipsen as programme director. Lecturers and professors from the animal science, environmental science and social science knowledge units collaborated with education specialists on the programme from the very start. They focused on three key areas: food, nature and society.

All students complete the same broad programme. The courses were designed in collaboration with other programmes and external partners. “We added integration courses to the curriculum at the beginning and end of the first, second and third years. The remaining courses are building blocks, which students will need to combine towards the end of the year,” explains Philipsen. These building blocks involve field research in the North Sea and Wadden Sea and reviewing international case studies to test nature-based solutions against the IUCN's international nature conservation criteria. “We hope to teach our students how to develop good nature-based solutions.”

Boundary crossing

Another unique feature of the new programme is the Boundary Crossing concept that students work with. “Boundary Crossing encourages you to look beyond the boundaries of your discipline,” explains Fortuin. “It’s about working with and getting to know people who are different from yourself; people from different cultural, disciplinary and professional backgrounds.” WUR launched the concept in 2018 and has since implemented it in a number of courses and programmes. “Marine Sciences takes it a step further by incorporating Boundary Crossing throughout the entire programme as a longitudinal course,” she continues. “It’s a continuous learning path.”

Exactly how many students will enrol in the programme next September remains to be seen, as registration only opens on 1 March. “But the open day last October proved there was tremendous interest among secondary school students. We had created two presentations for a maximum of fifty people. Both were fully booked within a day. We had to keep increasing the maximum number of guests and ended up being one of the most well-attended programmes of the day. Many secondary school students see us as the marine version of the Environmental Sciences programme, which is also interdisciplinary in nature. Apparently our message came across loud and clear. We hope to start the programme in September with fifty students.” These students will be immersed in the challenges of the marine discipline from the very start of the programme.

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