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Tax lawyer Sjoerd Douma best Coursera lecturer

Professor Sjoerd Douma has been named the top lecturer on Coursera, the best-known platform for online courses. Students gave him an average score of 9.8 - almost unheard of for a lecturer in International Tax Law.

It came as a 'complete surprise' when Douma heard that he was to receive the Outstanding Educator Award from Coursera. Douma, Professor of International & EU Tax Law is the lead instructor for the online course on Rethinking International Tax Law, a course he has been teaching since 2015 with enormous enthusiasm. But he had never dreamed that, of all the lecturers and all the courses on the Coursera platform - 2,000 in total -, he would be named as the best. 

Dull and uninspiring?

‘Leiden University has good facilities for recording Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs),’ says Douma, who designed his MOOC together with lecturer in Tax Law Judith Reijnen and the Leiden Online Learning Lab. ‘But our budget is much more limited than that of the big players like Oxford, Harvard and Cambridge. Not only that, tax law has a more dull and uninspiring reputation than many other subjects.’


The fact that he nonetheless won the prijs says a lot about Douma's talents as a lecturer. He believes that teaching is the crux of a good MOOC. 'With an online course it's not so much about how polished your presentation material is; authenticity is much more important. Your passion for the subject also has capture your audience. It's the same as in the classroom - you have to build a relationship with your students.' Douma has managed all these things: students evaluated his teaching with a 9.8 and a panel of Coursera experts were also full of praise. Another sign of his success was that the number of students who abandoned the course half-way through was much lower than for other courses.'

Starbucks and other multinationals

In the course, Douma takes his students on a journey through the wonders of the world of International Tax Law. It is a subject that has attracted more public interest in recent times, mainly because multinationals like Starbucks have been using cleverconstructions to avoid paying a lot of tax. This week Dutch newspaper Trouw revealed some of the agreements that the Dutch Tax Authority makes with these large corporations. There are regular calls to tax multinationals more heavily. Douma: ‘Whatever your opinion, it's important that the debate is conducted on the basis of the facts. These facts are what we present in the MOOC.’

Join in?

The MOOC on Rethinking International Tax Law will be starting again on 3 April. Participation is free, and it is possible to request a certificate after the course, for a small fee. Leiden University offers some twenty other free MOOCs in addition to this one.

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