Origins (1880 CE)
The VU was founded in 1880 by a group of orthodox-Protestant Christians led by Abraham Kuyper as the first orthodox-Protestant (Calvinist) university in the Netherlands. Kuyper was a theologian, journalist, politician, and prime minister of the Netherlands from 1901 to 1905. He was a professor of theology at VU as well as the university's first rector magnificus (academic president). Kuyper's worldview and philosophy is referred to as Neo-Calvinism. As a reflection of his beliefs, Vrije Universiteit literally means 'Free University' (or 'Liberated University') to signify independence from both government and church. Teaching at the Vrije Universiteit started in 1880 in a few rooms rented at the Scottish Missionary Church (now the Kleine Komedie theater), along the Amstel river in Amsterdam's city centre. Here, Kuyper and four fellow professors began lecturing in three faculties: theology, law, and the arts.
Expansion (1900s - 2000s)
By the turn of the 20th century, the Scottish Missionary Church became too small for the growing number of students and the university bought its first building, located at Keizersgracht 162. In the following years, the university acquired more buildings throughout the city. In 1905, VU was formally accredited and granted the legal right to award academic degrees. New faculties were subsequently added to the original three, including a science faculty (1930) and a medical faculty (1950).
Funding for the university was provided through the VU Association, the Christian organization founded by Abraham Kuyper, which was firmly rooted within the reformed Protestant community in the Netherlands. By the end of the 1960s, the university received financial support from more than 200,000 private contributors. Many were making small coin donations collected by some 10,000 (mostly female) fundraisers, who going door to door with the quintessential green VU collecting box.
It was in this period of time, the end of the 1960s and into the 1970s, that the university's profile changed significantly in many respects. From 1968 onwards, the university relocated from Amsterdam's city centre to a new, functional campus in the southern Buitenveldert neighbourhood. In order to strengthen academic research, university administrators decided to apply for public funding on parity with public universities, which is guaranteed under the Dutch constitution, and no longer opposed admitting non-Protestant professors and students. As a result, the number of students grew substantially. Against the background of increasing student activism at universities around the world, new student organizations were formed demanding a more democratic academic culture at VU. By the end of the 1970s, the small, elitist Christian institution had all but disappeared and had become a broad, research-oriented university, open to students of diverse backgrounds.
Expansion and Reform (2000s - present)
Student numbers continued to grow rapidly in the 21st century: from 15,700 students in 2002 to about 25,000 in 2011, causing growing pains which have resulted in lower student satisfaction and budgetary constraints. The university has embarked on an ambitious reform agenda, including a large-scale renewal of campus facilities, austerity programmes and staff reorganizations, which in turn were met with opposition and legal action from trade unions as well as a newly formed grassroots movement of staff and students.
Today, the university's Christian heritage is reflected through a continuing focus on social, cultural and philosophical perspectives within its various academic programmes. The VU Association, which had founded and funded the university for almost a century, now serves as a social network to promote the relationship between society and scientific research, higher education and patient care, with a special focus on subjects of philosophy, culture and society. In pursuit of these goals, it provides for lectures, debates and other activities connecting science and society throughout the Netherlands under the name 'VU Connected'.