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Interdisciplinary Education


One of the main aspects of PPLE is interdisciplinarity. But, you’re probably wondering, what exactly does it mean to have an interdisciplinary education? Well, let’s start at the beginning.

What is an interdisciplinary education? 

It took a biologist (James Watson), a physicist (Francis Crick), and a chemist (Rosalind Franklin) to crack the code of our DNA. By integrating knowledge and methodology from their different disciplines, they unravelled the helix-like structure of the DNA, laying the groundwork for understanding heredity. They didn’t just discover human DNA, but also PPLE’s.

Since the start of modern universities, roughly a century ago, academic knowledge has grown substantially. This means we’ve evolved into fragmented research fields and highly specialised knowledge. The (current) higher education system has followed this trend and is divided neatly into faculties and departments. And while this makes sense within the world of academia, it usually doesn’t in the real world. The real-world functions in issues, ideas and problems that do not adhere to such academic, disciplinary boundaries.

The most interesting and relevant puzzles arise at the intersections between disciplines: issues such as climate change, the tension between identity and migration, the recent Covid pandemic, or the epidemic of obesity are not confined to disciplinary boundaries but demand a broader approach. An interdisciplinary study aims to connect several disciplines by integrating them together. 

This means that learning interdisciplinarily gives you competences such as: 

  • Being able to relate the lingo and touchstones of one discipline to those of another discipline 
  • Dealing with complexity 
  • The ability to switch between different disciplinary perspectives and...  
  • ... easily synthesise and relate knowledge from different disciplines 
  • A readiness and empathy to cooperate with an expert from another discipline

In today's more flexible and variable job market, companies expect their employees to be able to work in an interdisciplinary team and to combine knowledge from different disciplines.  

Why do we teach interdisciplinarily?

Well, you need legal specialists to write a new law on the liability of a car crash caused by a car on autopilot in the streets of Amsterdam. But would knowledge of Dutch law alone be enough? What about EU-law? And going beyond law, what about the economic consequences? What about the powerplay and relation between governments, car-manufacturers and fin-tech corporations such as insurance companies? Could a good law or good policy come to fruition if the people drawing it were only legal specialists, completely unaware of the insights Politics, Psychology or Economics have to offer?

What good is a CEO of a bank during the financial crisis if she only thinks of the market as an algorithm? What about the psychology of bankruptcy? How can a judge value an expert witness on probability and DNA proof without a solid foundation in statistics and philosophy? How can journalists fulfil their role in the checks and balances of the democratic process if they have only been taught how to write? 

When stepping outside of the university context, one quickly realises that the pressing issues of the present and future cannot be assigned to one academic field or professional specialisation. Not that we’re saying specialists aren’t needed! Many problems can only be addressed by them alone. But at PPLE we would like to offer a broader perspective to those who are interested.

Why do we choose Politics, Psychology, Law and Economics as the DNA of PPLE? Well, because they make up the building blocks of society. Politics studies the organisation and distribution of power; how the rules of the game are made and by whom. Law studies how those rules are applied, interpreted, manipulated or upheld. Economics studies the role of money and markets – how rules affect them and they affect rules. Psychology studies how individuals, alone or in groups, make decisions in response to the world around them.

How do we teach interdisciplinarily?

You’re probably thinking: well this sounds wonderful, but how?

To start, we create a stimulating and personal study environment. Then we’ve designed the curriculum in such a way that your first year will be 100% interdisciplinary. We will analyse societal challenges with the help of multiple perspectives, drawing from what we at PPLE find the most essential social-sciences. Yep, you’ve guessed it; Politics, Psychology, Law and Economics. In the second year you will choose a major from one of the disciplines. From there on 50% of your classes will be in the discipline of your choosing and the other 50% will remain interdisciplinary. Allowing you to focus on some specialisation will give you a  solid connection to your master programme’s while still remaining to study interdisciplinarily as well.

In your major classes you team up with other students who are specialising in the same major. But in the other, general classes such as Core Courses, Research Methods and Integrative Seminars, you will blend in with students from other majors. They will bring other perspectives to the class, as will you. In doing so you as a person and as a group will put interdisciplinarity into practice yourself.

So the interdisciplinarity will be handed to you in classes and the way the curriculum is built up. But it will also have its own dynamic in your own head and heart. It will be part of your three year long academic journey. The papers you will write, the discussions with other students, the literature you will read, will all resonate with your own experience so far and lead to new insights. Guaranteed. There are no courses that combine everything, that’s impossible, and there will be no final answers. It’s a puzzle of which only you can see the result once you are done. This process demands some intellectual and personal agility, which we find our students to be very capable of!