Like several other advanced industrial countries, The Netherlands has a problem in generating interest in the natural sciences and engineering among the relevant students. While participation in mathematics and physics courses in high school has remained stable, the percentage of university enrollment in the natural sciences, engineering, and mathematics has decreased steadily since 1970 (Figure 1; Ministry of Science, Culture, and Education, 1995). In contrast, the percentage of enrollment in the category of "Natural Science, Mathematics, and Computer Science" in Germany is more than four times higher than in The Netherlands (Table 1; Netherlands Observatory, 1996).
A development that extends over decades must have cultural roots. Questionnaires and interviews show that the relevant student group believes that the major challenges and problems of contemporary societies are not the exclusive domain of the natural sciences and engineering (Lether 1993). The best students are interested in the development of the sciences and technology in relation to their cultural and social contexts. Technology and innovation, the environment and society, health as an interdisciplinary problem, etc.; these are the issues that challenge an ambitious young generation. Addressing these issues, however, requires more than a qualification in natural science alone (Hofmeister 1995).
The natural science faculties have been slow to appreciate the consequences from this alienation of relevant parts of the youth culture. Apart from some experimental universities founded in the 1960s and 1970s, a majority of European universities offer curricula with strong disciplinary orientations. Thus, students have to choose at the age of 18 to specialize in chemistry, physics, sociology or economics. Among the relevant studentgroup in The Netherlands, this pressure reinforces a tendency away from the natural sciences and engineering.
The faculties find it difficult to change their profiles given their commitments to both research and education. The European system does not yet recognize an American-style "undergraduate" with a liberal arts education. During the last decade, government policy has sought to economize on higher education, both in terms of student loans by disciplining academic curricula, and in terms of faculty expenditure by making the system more efficient. This has legitimated a strong focus on "core business" in the curricula offered in the various disciplines, to the detriment of cross-disciplinary openings in the education program. For the natural sciences, these trends lead to a further isolation of the natural sciences and consequently a growing distance from potential audiences among students.
The beta/gamma propedeuse
In 1994, the Board of the University of Amsterdam established an Advisory Committee composed of distinguished faculty members from various departments in order to develop ideas on how to bridge the gap between the various programs in the social sciences on the one hand, and the natural sciences on the other. The University of Amsterdam (like others) has traditionally a strong R&D-profile in the natural sciences, while most student enrollment is in the social sciences.
How can this imbalance be redressed? What types of institutional mechanism can make the natural sciences more attractive from the perspective of higher education? At its first meeting, the Advisory Committee agreed that the division between social and natural sciences is increasingly obsolete because of the effects of new developments in both the natural and the social sciences. Interesting research areas develop at the interfaces; interdisciplinary problems challenge scholars to translate insights from one discipline into another. The computer is pervading the social sciences, and the natural sciences are increasingly aware of their cultural conditions. Furthermore, the labour market shows a tendency to reward dual qualification in both the social and natural science domains. Tobias et al. (1995) noted that in the US, double qualifications are sometimes considered as indicators of so-called "gold-collar workers" (cf. Leydesdorff 1997).
Experiences with interdisciplinary sciences like the environmental sciences, however, have been rather disappointing during the last twenty years. Issues tend to focus research on the normative and the applied sides of science without much effect on core theories in the disciplines. Translation among disciplinary perspectives require a theoretical reflexivity that is not constrained by a normative starting point. How should one organize higher education so that students can learn to appreciate the differences among the disciplines?
On the basis of discussion of these questions, the Advisory Committee proposed two instruments to be implemented at the level of the university:
1. a b/g propedeuse: this freshman year should focus thematically on new developments between the disciplines at a theoretical level;
2. a Major/minor scheme would allow students to break away from the program in their main discipline to follow an intensive course in another discipline for a period of one year. Such a program should be defined with reference to a minor qualification.
For institutional reasons, priority was given to the first proposal, notably the new propedeuse. A first cohort of students entered the new program on 1 September 1996. Implementation of the second proposal is currently under discussion.
In this paper, we report on the implementation of the first initative. As noted, the new program has been labeled the "beta/gamma propedeuse". In Western Europe, "beta" is used as an abbreviation for natural sciences and math, while "gamma" is used to indicate the social sciences (as opposed to "alpha" for the humanities). We shall focus on the conceptualization of the propedeuse, and we report on preliminary results of the program in terms of narrowing down choices in the second trimester by participating students.
In the summer of 1995, a small committee of teachers from various faculties agreed that the theme of the new propedeuse could be "entropy, evolution, and intelligence". This theme allows for contributions from advanced parts of various disciplines, and it allows for discussion of the differences between the various sciences-e.g., biology versus social science. Additionally, one may expect it to be challenging to the teachers involved as an integrating theme with sufficient distance from applications or normative implications. Actually, "insight into the relations among the sciences" could be formulated as a common objective of the envisaged course.
In the context of the existing education programs the committee elaborated a compromise which would make it possible for students in the new program to continue their education in the second year of traditional programs without unnecessary delays or extensions. Given the organization of programs at the University of Amsterdam into three trimesters, we reached agreement with the participating faculties using the following scheme:
first trimester second trimester third trimester (Sept., Oct., Nov.) (Jan., Feb., March) (April, May, June) integrated program on: half time study in one &nb sp; &nb sp; of the natural sciences full time study in the entropy, evolution, & nbsp;   ; discipline that is and intelligence half time study in one chosen for the remainder &nb sp; of the social sciences of the study   ;
For the faculties, this scheme guarantees that half of the time in the first year will be devoted to subjects in the discipline of eventual choice, notably half of the second trimester and all of the third. Additionally, the first trimester should provide relevant insights and motivation for the remainder of the study. This solution allows students to postpone their choice of specialization. After the first trimester, the choice has to be narrowed down to one natural science and one social science discipline. Only after two-thirds of the first year does a definitive commitment to a single discipline have to be made. Furthermore, the program allows bright students to qualify for two follow-up studies.
Since we wished students following this program to have full access to all the relevant options, we set heavy entrance requirements. Their high-school package should contain physics and advanced mathematics courses. The aim was not to attract students who hesitate in terms of skills, but those who have too many options left open. Furthermore, we interviewed each of the entering students as part of the admissions procedure.
Sixteen curricula in seven faculties agreed to participate in the beta/gamma propedeuse. They are listed in Table 2.1 They include all the natural science programs of the University of Amsterdam, and a majority of programs in the social sciences.
The first trimester
The collaboration with colleagues from so many disciplines in a theoretically integrated program has been an intellectual challenge for all the participants. Thus, this development provided an opportunity for the staff involved to gain insights into the didactics of other programs. For example, parts of a new methods program developed by the Department of Mathematics have already been adopted by the economics faculty for use in first-year mathematics courses.
The program in the first trimester is organized in four parts: one in the life sciences with a focus on evolution, a second in the natural sciences with a focus on information and entropy, a third in the social sciences with a focus on the relations among the sciences, and a fourth course which provides the necessary mathematics. Both the physics and the mathematics courses require use of the computer program Maple for exercises. Thus, the program provides students also with an introduction to the practicalities of studying at the screen.
The mathematics courses were concentrated on Tuesdays, the social science courses on Wednesdays and some of the Thursdays, and the life sciences and natural sciences divided the trimester into two consecutive parts, using mainly Mondays and Fridays. The social science course provided a weekly introduction to one of the participating disciplines.
As an integrating device for the latter course, we chose Robert Heilbroner's Capitalism in the 21st Century (Concord: Anansi Press, 1992). Both students and teachers were asked to read this (relatively thin) book in advance to provide a common basis for discussion. One of us acted as coordinator of this sub-program. A writing and discussion course was added on some of the Thursday mornings.
The chemists and biologists who taught the life science progam used parts of James L. Gould & William T. Keeton's well-known textbook, Biological Sciences (New York: Norton, 61996) as teaching material. The physicists and information theorists produced special course materials for their respective courses. As noted, these materials were to a large extend computer-supported.
Sixty-three students enrolled in the program on 1 September 1996. Fifty-four of them finished the program. Nine students left the program, seven because of a more specific choice of one of the participating disciplines. The results have been satisfying: approximately 70% finished all courses of the first trimester with full grades, notwithstanding the generally felt overload in terms of course requirements. Student evaluations exhibit normal patterns, including complaints and lots of creative suggestions for further improvements.
At the start, a minority of the students opted for this program as a means of resolving their problem of choice. The vast majority saw the beta/gamma-propedeuse as an interesting way to lay a broad foundation for their academic curriculum. Of the 84 students who were interviewed for admission, 12 indicated no initial preference for a field of study, 11 had a preference for a natural science (or mathematics), and 14 candidates were inclined to opt for education in a social science. The latter usually stated that they were finding it hard to abandon their training in the exact sciences.
The profile of students enrolling in this program can be illustrated by the following characteristics:
* 75% were male;
* most of these students had gone through a typical beta-program at high school, including not only physics and mathematics but also chemistry and biology. An active interest in history was also apparent from the choices made by these students in their high-school programs;
* many students gave as a reason for choosing this propedeuse a broad interest in questions of science, as well in social and cultural developments;
* almost all students led an active social life, with activities in school organizations, sports, and culture.
Of particular interest are, of course, the results in terms of choices of further study in the second and third trimester, and how these relate to initial preferences. Table 3 provides an overview of the choices of first and second preferences after the first trimester. Forty-three students combined a social science discipline with a natural science one as envisaged. Eight students asked permission to focus exclusively on social-science disciplines, and one student chose a combination of mathematics and artificial intelligence. Two students left the beta/gamma propedeuse for a definitive choice, in addition to the seven who had done so during the first trimester.
The combination of biology with psychology has proven to be the most popular, followed by the combination of physics with philosophy. When asked at the start, these same students also described these two combinations as attractive, but at this stage the combinations of chemistry with psychology and of physics with economics were also mentioned. Table 4 provides an overview of the preferences formulated during the intake procedure for the 55 students that finished the first trimester. (Because students sometimes ticked more that two choices, the margin total of this table adds up to 58 preferences.)
Although the overall picture has not changed dramatically, both preferences and combinations have shifted considerably at the level of individual student choices. Fewer than half of the students chose in the second trimester the same combination they initially prefered. For example, only four of the nine students who eventually chose the combination of biology and psychology had expressed this as their preference during the intake, with another three students who had opted for one of the subjects within this combination.
In our opinion, these figures show how important it is to allow students sufficient time in the first months of their university education to gather information about their preferences and engage in discussions with university teachers of relevant faculties.
In response to a demand from the university and on the basis of market research among potential student groups, the University of Amsterdam implemented a new entrance program within the otherwise disciplinarily organized scheme of existing curricula. Because of its theoretical focus, the development of this set of courses has been challenging to the teachers and the departments involved.
The development of these courses has made teachers more strongly aware that the sciences are nowadays deeply dis-united at theoretical and methodological levels. The biological scheme of variation and selection cannot be reduced to the deterministic schemes of physics and chemistry without losing perspective on the functional aspects of selection. The reflexive nature of the social sciences contrasts sharply with the sciences that can take their objects ("nature") as a given. However, an awareness that each of the sciences is locked into specific ("paradigmatic") perspectives, and that representations can be translated into each other has coloured our perception of the sciences as achievements of cultural evolution across disciplines.
At the end of the first trimester, many of the students in the first class of the beta/gamma propedeuse expressed a wish to combine more than one perspective also in their future careers. As noted, we are constructing a scheme for major/minor combinations in later years, not only for these students, but including them. The range of combinations deemed most interesting by our students can help us to define priorities in selecting specific combinations at the interface between the natural and the social sciences.
For example, the faculties of biology and psychology will make a serious effort to enable students with interests in brain research to take minors in the other discipline. Equally, we expect a set of potentially flourishing combinations possible between the natural sciences and economics. More traditional combinations, like philosophy with physics, can easily be brought into this scheme.
However, we wish to emphasize that there is no necessary relation between the two envisaged reforms: students are interested in different subjects. Some will wish to enter the university to focus on a single discipline initially, and then gradually develop a wider perspective, while others will wish to sort out their commitments in the initial phase of a freshman year, and yet a third and a fourth group may wish to be purely specialist or generalist. In a pluriform society, in which easy access of a labour market and stable forms of intellectual organization have been eroded, a university may wish to accommodate a wide range of flexible programs for all these categories.
At this moment, we are not yet sure that students from the beta/gamma propedeuse will be able to follow their courses in the second year without additional help. If frictions emerge, this might lead to longer study times. Shortening the study time, however, has been a major objective of most reforms during the last ten years, and an extension through this reform would therefore be unacceptable to the bureaucracy.
We have shown that the project is intellectually feasible. Whether it can be institutionally sustained in an environment characterized by intense competition between faculties is another matter. Next year, we shall focus on further integrating the educational materials that have been produced this year. In principle, the beta/gamma propedeuse has been approved for a trial period of three consecutive years.
The initiative, finally, has stimulated other similar initiatives. The social science faculties, for example, are now seriously discussing a common program for their first-year students that will help them to choose between the various social sciences. The natural sciences have already gone in this direction by making it possible for some options to be switched more easily in the first year of study.
In our opinion, the question is not whether European universities will move in the direction of the American undergraduate, but only at what pace, and, secondly, whether we will be able to combine this transition with the high academic and theoretical standards that European universities have traditionally demanded in first-year introductory courses. By using the theme of "entropy, evolution, and intelligence," we have thus far been able to maintain a standard of quality across existing disciplinary frameworks.
Hofmeister, Jane (1995). Results of Questionnaires among High School Students, Appendix 3 to the Report of the Advisory Committee on the Beta/Gamma Propedeuse, University of Amsterdam, March 1995 (in Dutch).
Lether, Ruud C. D. (1993). Science, Technology & Culture: A market analysis of the course and review of the Department of Science Dynamics (Utrecht: NIMBAS).
Leydesdorff, Loet (1997). The New Communication Regime of University-Industry-Government Relations. In: Henry Etzkowitz & Loet Leydesdorff (Eds.), Universities and the Global Knowledge Economy: A Triple Helix of University-Industry-Government Relations (London: Cassell Academic), 106-117.
Ministry of Science, Culture, and Education (1996). Hoger Onderwijs in Cijfers (The Hague: Staatsuitgeverij).
Ministry of Science, Culture, and Education (1995). Hoger Onderwijs in Cijfers; detailtabellen (The Hague: Staatuitgeverij).
Netherlands Observatory of Science and Technology (1996). 1996 Science and Technology Indicators (Leiden/ Maastricht: CWTS and MERIT).
Tobias, Sheila, Daryl E. Chubin, & Kevin Aylesworth (1995). Rethinking Science as a Career: Perceptions and Realities in the Physical Sciences (Tucson, AZ: Research Corporation).
Percentage enrollment in the Natural Sciences and Engineering (Source: Hoger Onderwijs in Cijfers, detailtabellen, 1995)
&n bsp; Natural Sciences, Engineering, Medical Science, &nb sp; Mathematics, Transport, Trade, Health &nbs p; &nb sp; Computer Sciences Craft, Planning, & nbsp; &nb sp; Communications & nbsp;   ; Netherlands 2.7 17.6 9.0 Belgium (1990) 4.0 17.4 13.1 Germany & nbsp; 12.8 22.1 10.5 France &nbs p; 14.5 3.3 11.3 UK 12.2 14.8 12.0Table 1
Students enrolled in higher education by field of study, as a percentage of the total per country, 1991. (Source: Science & Technology Indicators 1996).
&n bsp; &nb sp; &nb sp; beta & nbsp;   ; gamma   ; &n bsp; Physics &nb sp; Political Science &nb sp; Astronomy &nb sp; Sociology & nbsp;   ; Chemistry &nb sp; Psychology &nb sp; Biology &n bsp; Economics &nb sp; Mathematics   ; &n bsp; Econometrics/ Operations Research/ Computer Science &nb sp; Actuarial Sciences &n bsp; AI & nbsp;   ; Social Science Informatics Industrial Statistics &n bsp; Philosophy &nb sp; &nb sp; Science & Technology Studies &nb sp;Table 2
Programs participating in the beta/gamma propedeuse
beta biology physics computer artificial math-emat chemistry \ &nbs p; & nbsp;   ; &n bsp; ics & nbsp; gamma   ; &n bsp; sciences intelligen & nbsp;   ; &nb sp; &nb sp; ce & nbsp;   ; psychology 9 2 1 1 1 &n bsp; 14 philosophy 5 1 &n bsp; 2 1 9 economics 2 1 4 &n bsp; 7 economietri &nb sp; 2 1 &n bsp; 3 cs & nbsp;   ; &n bsp; &nb sp; sociology & nbsp;   ; &n bsp; &nb sp; political 3 1 &n bsp; 2 6 science &nb sp; &nb sp; &nb sp; social &nbs p; & nbsp; 1 2 &n bsp; 3 science &nb sp; &nb sp; &nb sp; informatics &nb sp; &nb sp; science & &nb sp; 1 &n bsp; &nb sp; 1 technology &nb sp; &nb sp; studies &nbs p; & nbsp;   ; &n bsp; &nb sp; 14 10 7 5 4 3 43
gamma psychology econometrics &nbs p; beta artificial \ &nbs p; & nbsp;   ; \ intelligence gamma   ; &n bsp; beta & nbsp; sociology 1 &n bsp; mathematics 1 philosophy 2 &n bsp; &nb sp; economics 4 1 &n bsp; &nb sp;After the first trimester, one student has chosen definitively mathematics as a regular curriculum, while a second switched to philosophy. A third student did not register his preferences. (N = 55)
Choices of combinations after the first trimester
beta biology physics computer artificial math-emat chemistry \ &nbs p; & nbsp;   ; &n bsp; ics & nbsp; gamma   ; &n bsp; sciences intelligen & nbsp;   ; &nb sp; &nb sp; ce & nbsp;   ; psychology 6 3 2 3 2 6 22 philosophy 4 3 1 2 2 12 economics 2 5 2 &n bsp; 2 &n bsp; 11 economietri 1 3 &n bsp; 1 &n bsp; 5 cs & nbsp;   ; &n bsp; &nb sp; sociology & nbsp; 1 &n bsp; 1 1 &n bsp; 3 political 1 1 &n bsp; 1 3 science &nb sp; &nb sp; &nb sp; social &nbs p; & nbsp;   ; &n bsp; - science &nb sp; &nb sp; &nb sp; informatics &nb sp; &nb sp; science & 1 1 &n bsp; &nb sp; 2 technology &nb sp; &nb sp; studies &nbs p; & nbsp;   ; &n bsp; &nb sp; 11 18 7 5 8 9 58Table 4
Preferences for beta/gamma combinations as scored during intake
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