Campus Fryslân, located in the former stock exchange in Leeuwarden

Is there a future for Campus Fryslân?

Praise galore, very few students

Campus Fryslân, located in the former stock exchange in Leeuwarden
Campus Fryslân isn’t exactly overrun with students. What does the future hold for the UG’s youngest faculty now that the university is completely responsible for its losses?
14 February om 11:58 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 21 February 2024
om 11:12 uur.
February 14 at 11:58 AM.
Last modified on February 21, 2024
at 11:12 AM.
Avatar photo

Door Rob van der Wal

14 February om 11:58 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 21 February 2024
om 11:12 uur.
Avatar photo

By Rob van der Wal

February 14 at 11:58 AM.
Last modified on February 21, 2024
at 11:12 AM.
Avatar photo

Rob van der Wal

Eight hundred to a thousand students: that’s what the UG was hoping for with Campus Fryslân in 2016, two years before the university’s youngest faculty started. The province of Fryslân, which hoped to retain Frisian students with university education, invested 17.8 million euros; the municipality of Leeuwarden put up another 3.3 million. 

They tried to recruit students with money. All secondary school students who enrolled in University College Fryslân (UCF), the first bachelor programme at Campus Fryslân, were eligible for 1,600 euros in grants for all three academic years. 

This special offer ends after this academic year, but it hasn’t been particularly successful. In 2022, there were only five Frisian students at UCF; in the two years before that, there were thirteen and ten, respectively. 

Fewer first-years

The UG also isn’t satisfied with the total number of students at Campus Fryslân, 438. The adjusted long-term goal for 2027 is now at 630 students, a little more than the 600 UCF students the faculty initially wanted. But because the number of first-year students will be slightly decreasing over the next few years, it will be a challenge to keep growing. The government doesn’t expect the numbers to go back up until 2027-2028.

For the first few years, Leeuwarden simply wasn’t known as a university town

On top of this, the disappointing student numbers means Campus Fryslân is in the red. In 2023, it had a deficit of 750 thousand euros on its annual budget of nine million euros. This year, that deficit is expected to go up to 1 to 1.5 million. With the province and the municipality ending their subsidising of the campus this year, the UG is responsible for the deficit.

This gives rise to the question of whether there’s even a future for Campus Fryslân.

Friso Douwstra, representative of the province of Fryslân, says there is. While he initially was worried about the meagre number of Frisian students, he’s since changed his mind. ‘I thought ten Frisian scholarship students in 2019 wasn’t very much, but I now prefer to look at the total number of students on campus’, he says. ‘If they moved to Friesland to study here, they count as Frisian students.’ Besides, at thirty-six, the total number of Frisian students at the faculty is higher.

Central hall (2019) Photo by Félipe Silva


Interim dean Caspar van den Berg also sees good things for the future. He has an explanation for why there were fewer enrolments than they’d hoped over the past few years. ‘For the first two or three years, Leeuwarden simply wasn’t known as a university town. We have to establish ourselves.’ 

Then the pandemic happened, and the faculty had to focus on keeping itself going. They were also unable to recruit external students. This is reflected in the 2022 student numbers, which suddenly stagnated after years of growth.

The faculty has also focused on smaller study programmes, which attract fewer students. ‘That’s in part so we can provide quality education, but it’s also a simple matter of reality’, says Van den Berg. ‘We can’t get in the way of the big Groningen faculties. They already have study programmes that easily draw large numbers of students.’


He knows the faculty will have to face some challenges. Campus Fryslân won’t be able to escape some intense cutbacks. Four of the fifteen FTEs at UCF will have to go, they will no longer finance their own PhD positions, and several UCF courses will be merging. The goal is to break even by 2027, a year later than other UG faculties.

And let’s not forget the government’s plans to curtail the number of English bachelor programmes in an effort to attract fewer international students. That potentially spells trouble for Campus Fryslân; the UCF is an English-language programme and its bachelor in data science and society is also in English.

We can’t get in the way of the big Groningen faculties

But Van den Berg doesn’t think it will be that big of an issue. ‘Almost every exception in the Internationalisation in Balance Act applies to us. Our bachelors are in fields that are suffering from shortages, and English is an important language for our particular programmes. But there is a lot at stake for the UG as a whole. And if the UG is in trouble, so are we.’

Any trouble the faculty gets certainly can’t be blamed on the quality of its study programmes. The Keuzegids has called the UCF programme global responsibility and leadership the best bachelor in the Netherlands for three years running. Data science and society, which was added only two years ago to draw more students to the campus, has already been named a top-rated programme: the best study programme in the field.

The faculty is also doing pretty good when it comes to research grants. In addition to several hundred thousand in regular subsidies, the faculty was awarded 15 million euros by the National Growth Fund, for a project by professor Gjalt de Jong that will develop more sustainable agriculture methods. ’Considering the size of our faculty, that’s an enormous amount’, emphasises Van den Berg. 


One of the Frisian campus’ raisons d’être, and the reason the province subsidised it in the first place, is the many partnerships with local parties. History institute Tresoar is one of the parties partnered with the master in multilingualism, which is organised by the Faculty of Arts and hosted by Campus Fryslân. 

Groningen has the House of Connections, but you could call us the Faculty of Connections

Tresoar director Arjen Dijkstra is very happy with the partnership. ‘Together, we provide lectures for secondary school students, the Leeuwarden UB’s pick-up point is here, and we often have UG students working in our library’, he says. ‘We also organise Studium Generale lectures together with the campus. 

He sees the advantages of a small-scale faculty like Campus Fryslân. ‘Relative to Groningen, we’re a small institute that’s far away, but relative to Leeuwarden, we’re like a big brother. That makes the partnership feel rather equal.’

Study areas in the former stock exchange (2019) Photo by Félipe Silva

Campus Fryslân worked with the Fryske Akademy, the academic research institute for Frisian language and culture, to set up joint promotion tracks, and the faculty has also partnered with NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences. ‘We have a master in voice technology, and they have a programme about computer visualisations’, says Van den Berg. ‘They’re both about how to apply all this new digital technology, so it’s a great match.’

Datamaran, a company that drafts company’s sustainability scores for its investors using artificial intelligence, even came to Leeuwarden because of the campus, according to Van den Berg. 

Frisian bachelor

There are plenty of plans for the future. In an effort to grow more, the campus will focus on further training for people who already have a job. ‘We’ve seen a great need for that here in the north’, says Van den Berg. One of the courses they developed, on strategic policy consultation, has already seen 120 students. ‘We don’t count those for our bachelor and master student numbers, but they’re there.’

The cherry on top would be a new chair and a Frisian bachelor, which the Lower House voted in favour of last month. ‘There’s been a lot of enthusiasm’, says Van den Berg. ‘It makes sense to have part of the Frisian programme in Friesland. But there are also good arguments for doing it in Groningen, where it can dovetail with existing language education.’

One thing is certain: Van den Berg has seen a shift in attitude towards Campus Fryslân. ‘Initially, the other faculties weren’t quite sure about us. But we’ve shown to be interdisciplinary and that we add a lot of value to the rest of the province. Groningen has the House of Connections at the Grote Markt, but you could call us the Faculty of Connections.’

Read more: