Universiteit Leiden

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Students work with local community

Problems cannot always be solved from a desk. Students on the Master’s in Governance of Sustainability therefore went to various Leiden neighbourhoods, where they tackled topics such as litter, urban biodiversity and green spaces.

The research was the initiative of Learning with the City. This is a Leiden platform for concrete, structural collaboration between the university of applied sciences, the university, the municipality and social enterprises. The focus of the collaboration is working with residents on issues in the city. The aim is to conduct more question-led research in higher education.


The students spent three weeks doing small-scale fieldwork in groups of five. They spoke to residents, neighbourhood councils and sustainability ambassadors in the neighbourhoods. For the students this meant thinking beyond their own discipline, says lecturer Merlijn van Weerd. ‘They have to come down from their ivory tower and learn that problems cannot always be solved from a desk. They learn to listen properly to what is happening in society.’


Christine Bezemer went to Stevenshof with a few other students. They addressed the topic of ‘energy and buildings’. She and her group wrote a plan to win residents’ support for making their homes more sustainable. They came up with a process that the municipality and neighbourhood council can translate into policy. ‘I learnt a lot from working with students from a different background,’ says Bezemer. ‘I also liked that the programme was interactive with guest speakers, for instance, and that we had to get out into Leiden.’

The 19 other groups also shared their research with the municipality, neighbourhood councils or sustainability ambassadors. The questions that the students are left with after their research often inspire follow-up research by other students.

Text: Dagmar Aarts
Photo: Hielco Kuipers

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