I’m not sure if I can generalize what I know of the University of Amsterdam (UvA) to the whole of the Netherlands, but I can give you an overview of how lessons are conducted here in UvA. Do remember to check out my post here if you have not done so!
I took 4 courses in three different “colleges”, and in this post I would briefly talk about these three colleges and how they work. Students applying for your undergraduate programs or exchange programs in UvA can do a brief comparison and then find out more information for yourselves.
A little background about myself, so that you can understand how my perspectives are formed. I’m a Singaporean who has lived in Singapore for the whole of his life, and the longest duration of time I spent away from home, before this trip to Amsterdam, was 35 days in the USA (mainly in San Francisco, and also explored other places including Los Angeles, Washington D.C., New York, and Boston). I study Psychology as my major in the National University of Singapore (NUS), and came over to UvA for my third year, second semester of study. I would describe myself as non-adventurous, but still like to go beyond my comfort zone to push the self to improve. I’m quite an introvert, sometimes shy, but still enjoy the company of my friends and see the importance of attending social gatherings to make new friends. Amsterdam was my choice of study not because of the liberal laws in sex and drugs (unlike Singapore); I chose because of UvA’s strength in psychological research and education. It was only upon my arrival here that I learnt more about the Dutch culture and was amazed by how progressive this country is! Being the minority (and sometimes the only Asian in class) was a first time for me, and it took time to get used to it. Nevertheless, international students find comfort in one another, and it was easy to make new friends here as long as you make the effort to go out for events!
University of Amsterdam (UvA)
Classes here in UvA span across 20 weeks, split into three blocks of 8 weeks, 8 weeks, and 4 weeks. A typical semester would require you to take 30 ECTs worth of courses (modules), in which you take 2-2-1 in the three blocks mentioned respectively. Courses range from 3 ECTs to 12 ECTs, depending on the duration and intensity of the course. There are self-study courses, and these are great in terms of flexibility of time! For all other courses, it is common to have just one lecture a week, which lasts for 2-3 hours. Some courses would have additional “workgroup” on days other than the lecture slots. Lecture attendance is mandatory, and absence for more than one class would result in denial to taking the examinations. The passing grade in the Netherlands is 5.5 (out of 10), and each course would set their own passing grade at different levels (e.g. 20 out of 30 MCQs for a 5.5, or 22 out of 40 open-ended questions for a 5.5).
There are several campuses spread across the city, including AUC in Science Park. All campuses are readily accessible by the public transport. It is important to check where you courses are held before you select your accommodation (for students)! A friend of mine chose her accommodation to be near Science Park when her lessons are held in the Roeterseilandcampus – they are 20-25 minutes away by cycling!
More about the campuses in UvA: http://campus.uva.nl/en
Politics, Psychology, Law, and Economics (PPLE) College
I was lucky enough to take one course here and experienced a different form of education within UvA. PPLE is a specialized program part of UvA, that gives students a broad-based and interdisciplinary education across the four domains mentioned in the name of the college. Courses here follow the same 20-weeks system, but are usually more intensive in nature. A regular course have 8 hours of contact time a week, as opposed to the 2-3 hours for UvA. This translates to 2x 2-hour lecture, and 2x 2-hour tutorials each week. Class size is relatively smaller as well. In UvA, a typical psychology course would have 40 – 80 students in a large lecture theatre. Here in PPLE, they have 6 – 10 students per course, and classes are held in small tutorial rooms, ideal for intimate discussions with the tutors (compare the student-tutor ratio). In my Emotions class, there were 6 FT students and 3 international students, making a total of 9 students for the course. Lectures were not compulsory, and usually only around 6-7 of us would turn up. Tutorials are compulsory. Similarly, the passing grade is a 5.5.
More about PPLE College: http://pple.uva.nl/
Amsterdam University College (AUC)
The AUC is yet another specialized branch of UvA, which houses the science courses (UvA do not have science courses) together with the VU University. A typical 20-week semester is split into 2 parts: 16-weeks, then 4-weeks intensive. Students typically take 4 courses in the 16 weeks, and then 1 course in the subsequent 4 weeks. Students have 2x 1.5 hours lectures per week, and class sizes are small, to a maximum of 25 per class. You can be absent for a maximum of 5 classes in the 16-weeks block. Similarly, the passing grade is a 5.5.
More about AUC: http://www.auc.nl/