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A new approach to an old discipline: Law in Society at VU Amsterdam

Students with a broad mindset and an interest in law often lack opportunity to engage in studies that are expanded beyond respective national law boundaries. Thus, both aspiring and current students seek for a programme that would envelop their interests in law without bogging them down in the nuances and loopholes of national legal systems.

The same applies to Dutch universities: VU Amsterdam, as well as other higher education institutions offer Rechtsgeleerdheid, a conventional study programme centered on law and allows students to enter the legal sector in the future.

While in most Dutch universities law is taught using the traditional approach to public, private, and criminal law, the Law in Society Bachelor’s programme at the VU Amsterdam offers a more interdisciplinary, problem-oriented approach. Instead of studying the theory, such as legal codes, by heart, students of this innovative degree are introduced to law by immersion into the themes of security, globalization of markets, migration and sustainability. The law is then applied to these global issues, using its hands-on approach to provide the students with tools and skills to produce change.

Whereas we chose the programme because of its international nature and the possibility to work in various legal fields in the future, other students did so due to the multidisciplinary approach and the numerous social science courses which are part of the degree as well. The reasons to study Law in Society vary, but in fact, the students all seem to have one element in common: the motivation to have a positive impact on the world – which is urgently needed.

The nature of the programme accommodates the often multi-faceted set of interest of young students and therefore allows them to not only indulge into their current interests, but also diversify them, thus evolving the student into an aware individual.

However, the programme is still very new, with its first cohort graduating in 2022. This brings about questions on whether it offers what it promises to students and whether it is going to fulfill its purpose.

Simply put: has Law in Society been a success for students who are finishing the programme this year? To find out, we interviewed a third year Law in Society student, Merel Gerritse, and asked her about her experience over the past two and a half years.

Why did you choose to study law in society?

Merel Gerritse: I remember visiting many different open days and considering bachelors such as Middle Eastern studies in Leiden, Linguistics at the UvA; but also (Dutch) Law at either the VU or UvA. After a few months of making many unhelpful lists of pros and cons, I was fortunately introduced to Law in Society at the VU. I liked that it was a selective program with a relatively limited amount of students. The content of the program also really stood out to me as it allowed me to study law, while at the same time exploring my interests in social sciences and societal issues such as terrorism, climate change and migration. As a Dutch student, the possibility to do the Civiel Effect program was also a nice opportunity.

How many students in your year were international?

I would say about 25%? We started with around 50 students and I think that there were between 10 and 15 international students. I always describe our year as partially international, partially Dutch and partially ‘in between’ as there are many students who have grown up and/or have lived abroad.

Why do you think the programme is so attractive to both Dutch and International students?

I think it is mainly attractive to both Dutch and international students because Law in Society addresses important societal issues that affect us all. This relates to issues such as climate change, terrorism, migration and AI. Besides these complex societal issues, Law in Society teaches students different branches of international law and this makes the course accessible for both Dutch and International students that are interested in studying law in an international context.

What do you think is the programme’s strong point?

I really enjoy how the different legal disciplines are integrated in the different courses and centred around relevant societal themes/topics. We don’t just get separate courses on criminal law or public law, but we address the specific course topic from the different relevant legal perspectives. This approach is therefore more pragmatic as many societal issues such as Climate Change cannot simply be placed in one ‘box’ or one legal discipline.

Did you gain many opportunities such as internships, extracurriculars or important contacts through the programme?

I have been able to represent Law in Society as a student ambassador on open days and on try-out days. It is also possible for Law in Society students to be part of Amsterdam Law Forum, the student-run ‘International Law Journal’ of VU University. I was a junior editor last year and one of the students of my year is now part of the board. Additionally, lecturers sometimes share interesting vacancies for students and seminar/webinar meetings about relevant topics. Finally, several students of my year are now part of student council(s) at the VU and some have even started their own student associations and/or are very active in student/study associations.

What could be improved in Law in Society?

Although I have enjoyed the social science aspect of the bachelor, I would have preferred to have even more ‘law’ courses in the program. I like applying and learning about the different legal disciplines.


1. Participate in class! It makes the courses more fun and easier to understand. Additionally, participating in class allows for closer relationships with the teaching staff, that might be helpful in getting answers to burning questions or even, in achieving future goals!

2.  Pay attention during the research courses! While they might not seem as exciting, they will be useful later on. It will allow you to confidently complete tasks and assignments, furthermore giving you an advantage in the class!

3.  Retain the acquired knowledge in your long-term memory! The skills will be especially useful for later courses and jobs. The programme is structured towards achieving soft skills necessary for every aspect of your professional life!

4.  Take notes carefully and save them! You can use them in the following years as well. They might helpful to yourself or even younger students, especially if you wish to become a mentor!

5.  Get to know your fellow students! Whether in a hybrid form or in person, you will meet some great people who make studying more enjoyable. You will be surrounded by ambitious and goal-driven colleagues and finding like-minded peers will be crucial to your experience!