Studenten op de campus
Studenten op de campus

Academic citizenship: Research on civic education at universities

‘I find the work of Hannah Arendt inspiring. For Arendt, education and citizenship are about learning to act in the world. As an academic, you can also think about what it means to act as an academic in the world.’ This is how Marlies Honingh begins her explanation of academic citizenship. Floor Basten complements her: 'Then it's not just about your place on the job market or how democracy works. No, citizenship is much broader than that. You engage in a diverse society.' But how do you learn to act in the world?

Postgraduate research at Radboud University  

Portrait of Floor Basten
Floor Basten (photographed by Bert Beelen)

Together, Marlies and Floor wrote a research proposal to discover how citizenship develops as a practice at Dutch universities. To this end, Floor will start working as a postdoctoral researcher from 1 March 2023 at Radboud University's Faculty of Management Science and Marlies is actively involved in the research from the same faculty as a sparring partner. They share their interest with the Radboud Teaching and Learning Centre (TLC). For the next six years, academic citizenship is one of the research pillars of the TLC with the aim of boosting teaching innovation and teacher development.  

Critical questions and different perspectives  

Portretfoto van Marlies Honingh
Marlies Honingh

Marlies' interest in academic citizenship comes from her own teaching experience. 'It started itching for me when I started talking to students and I noticed that they sometimes had an attitude of: it is what it is. They saw the situation in the world as a kind of fact of nature. Like if you landed on a rocket in 2023, got off and found the world as given. No, that didn't happen by itself. All sorts of things preceded that. Choices were all made that made it the way it is now.'   

For Floor, this is also an important reason for wanting to do this research. 'Academic citizenship is about being curious, continuing to question, not taking everything for granted and also looking at the world from different perspectives or paradigms. That would be my ideal academy. I don't know if our research is going to find out that this is actually happening in university communities, or if this is more of a nostalgic wish for something that may never have existed, but it would be my preference. In any case, I want to find out who are the people in universities who think it is important to ask critical questions and explore alternative views. Maybe these are mainly lecturers, but maybe also students. For example, a few years back you had a global student revolt against the one-sided neoliberal views on economics courses.'  

Citizenship in the Netherlands: Don't be too critical  

Ideas about citizenship in education got off to a late start in the Netherlands. Only with the demise of the pillarisation did citizenship become a more general theme. Before that, you mainly fleshed out the cultural identity of the pillar you belonged to. Marlies outlines that citizenship in education only really became a theme in Dutch education and educational politics after the murder of Theo van Gogh in 2004. From then on, the question arose of how we could ensure that tensions in society would not become too great, and in what way education could also play a role in this through citizenship education. 

'That was still mainly focused on learning about how democracy works and taking part in the participation society in a way the government likes,' Floor says. Marlies complements her: 'Yes, the rebellious citizen is not really what people had in mind. That's interesting when you think about what roles citizens can have and that it can also be very functional to be rebellious or shine a new light on something. The Netherlands used to be very consensus oriented.'   

How attitudes towards rebellious citizens and critical views at Dutch universities are now remains to be seen from the survey. But Floor's gut feeling says it is still fairly in its infancy. 'The term 'critical' really has a negative connotation in the Netherlands. We find the idea that you can disagree about something a bit scary. It all has to stay a bit cosy and with a dissenting voice you sound like you've come to disrupt the party. In other countries, I notice that this is different. In France, for example, criticism is much more part of French culture and society. There, a debate can simply be about content without disrupting relationships.'

For education  

The aim of the study is to map what citizenship education looks like at Dutch universities. Who is currently engaged in it and in what ways? With this, Floor and Marlies want to provide a good basis for discussing whether the way citizenship education is currently taking place in university communities is the most desirable. Floor has some advice for lecturers who are already actively working on it or will be doing so: "Above all, show students that you can look at the same phenomenon in different ways, from different paradigms. That way, you develop more perspectives for action.' And so, we are back to learning to act in the world.

Contact information

Do you want to discuss this topic or do you have a question? Reach out to Floor or Marlies via floor.basten [at] or marlies.honingh [at]