Programme In Focus: Joint UvA-VU Master's in Artificial Intelligence

November 9, 2016

Interview with Maarten van Someren (UvA) and Evert Haasdijk (VU), programme directors for the joint Master’s programme in Artificial Intelligence. ‘We are now able to offer a complete and wide range of subjects, an incredibly strong proposition for the programme.’

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Maarten van Someren (UvA) and Evert Haasdijk (VU), programme director’s for the Master’s in Artificial Intelligence, talk about a new step in the collaboration between UvA and VU. As of the 2015-2016 academic year, VU participates in UvA’s Master’s programme. VU lecturers now also teach in the UvA Master’s Artificial Intelligence.

Multiple approaches

In this UvA-VU collaboration within UvA’s Artificial Intelligence Master’s programme, the strategy was to offer the widest possible course portfolio while making optimal use of both universities’ specific expertise. The UvA has a more statistical and mathematical approach with an emphasis on data-intensive methodology. The VU’s strength is symbolic artificial intelligence: the modelling of reasoning processes. By offering these courses in a single Master’s programme, students now receive a mixture of mathematics, technology and applications during their education. ‘A splendid combination,’ says Van Someren. ‘Because I truly believe that the solutions to problems and questions involving artificial intelligence require both approaches.’

Working with research groups

Haasdijk, too, sees only advantages. ‘Now that courses within UvA’s Artificial Intelligence Master’s are taught by both UvA and VU researchers, there are more lecturers available. For students, this means that classes will always be taught by someone whose day-to-day work is on the subject matter at hand,’ he explains. ‘Also, when writing a Master’s thesis, students can work with research groups involved in that specific topic. To me, that’s a tremendous strength of this Master’s programme.’

The first six months of the two-year Artificial Intelligence Master’s programme consists of five compulsory core courses. Next, students may take electives. ‘This way they can immerse themselves in exactly the topics that they find interesting,’ says Van Someren. The second year also includes required courses, supplemented by writing a thesis.

Differences in teaching

By now, feedback has been collected from the first class of students in the joint programme. The most prominent revelation pertained to the differences in teaching, say the programme directors. ‘According to the students, UvA lecturers are conventional, with lectures and assignments, whilst VU lecturers teach more interactively and stimulate discussion,’ says Van Someren. The evaluation shows that students do not find this the least bit problematic. ‘They indicate that they like being taught in different ways,’ says Haasdijk. ‘It is perceived as enriching.’

Interest from employers

With respect to the students’ future prospects, the programme directors have no worries whatsoever. ‘Based on what I see now, the biggest risk is students starting a job before they obtain their degree. Companies such as Google, Microsoft and Ernst & Young as well as banks are eager to collaborate with Master’s students on projects involving data analysis,’ says Haasdijk. Van Someren confirms this. ‘There is a lot of work in this field and interest from society. Artificial Intelligence graduates can easily find a job.’