European master's in maths
More than twenty international students have received an ALGANT diploma, the master's in Algebraic Geometry and Number Theory from the Mathematical Institute, in collaboration with other European universities. Anti-bureaucratic creativity was needed to align all the rules with those Brussels.
The diploma award ceremony was held in the small auditorium at the Academy Building. The two-year ALGANT master's programme started in 2005. The programme is a collaboration between the Mathematical Institute at Leiden University and the universities of Bordeaux, Paris-Sud 11 and Padua. Non-European students receive an Erasmus Mundus grant from Brussels, and other European students are now also taking part. The students - of whom there will be sixty next year - spend a year at two of the four participating universities. Each year is concluded with a joint ALGANT graduation. This year the event was hosted by Leiden.
In her speech congratulating the graduates, Vice Rector Rietje van Dam stressed the importance of international programmes such as ALGANT: ‘Entering a truly European programme has brought drastic changes to your personal lives, as profound cultural adaptation is required for all who decide to work and live in countries far from home, with different languages, customs, and cultural values. However, I am convinced that in the global environment in which we now all have to operate, a key role will be played by people like you, who have learnt to transcend their national boundaries, and to interact with people from different parts of the globe.’
ALGANT is one of the first Erasmus Mundus programmes selected by the European Commission. When it was introduced in Leiden, the organisers at the Mathematical Institute had to use all their antibureaucratic creativity to align the local Leiden rules with those of Brussels. It would seem that although the importance of internationalisation is generally recognised in the academic world, legislation in the Netherlands makes it by no means easy to offer joint programmes together with other foreign universities. Rietje van Dam: ‘The key problem in Holland is the fact that the government funding of our Dutch universities is directly related to their student numbers, and to the number of diplomas they deliver. This makes it very complicated to accommodate students who only follow part of a programme in Leiden, and spend the rest of the time at partner institutions. As a consequence, the 25 or so ALGANT master's theses that have been written in Leiden in the last three years had to be kept out of the national funding system, and the ALGANT student registration took place in a grey zone of the administration of the Faculty of Science.’
It is clear that international co-operation in education and research is becoming increasingly important, and the pioneering role played by programmes such as ALGANT is to ensure that Dutch laws are modified in line with the real situation in academia, and not the other way round. Just before the summer recess, the Dutch House of Commons introduced a new Higher Education Act that should make it possible in time to award joint degrees. Whether this will mean that our own Netherlands-Flemish Accreditation Organisation will have to accredit prestigious foreign institutions is yet to be seen.
As many ALGANT students are given a visa with a limited validity period during their study, it is important that nobody incurs delays in their studies, and that all students manage to complete their master's thesis, before graduation. In some cases this means that students spend whole nights at the Mathematical Institute, but in the end everything works out at it should. Institute Director Peter Stevenhagen proposed in his speech that the 'yield figures' over which Dutch universities have become so concerned in recent years would drastically improve if Dutch students also had to apply for a visa, and that all those who did not complete their studies in time were deported without mercy!
(14 July 2009)