FAQS

WHAT IS THE UNIVERSITY OF THE UNDERGROUND?

With the aim of teaching students how to engineer situations, to design experiences and events to best support social dreaming, social actions and power shifts within institutions, companies and governments; the University of the Underground promotes unconventional research practices. The University of the Underground developed a two-year full-time Master programme which is hosted by Sandberg Instituut, our academic partner. We are teaching in the underground of the urban spaces; under the nightclub of De Marktkantine in Amsterdam and under the Village Underground in London. Both venues have partnered with the University of the Underground and donated their time and space to The University of the Underground for the next 100 years.

The University of the Underground is a not for profit Foundation registered in Amsterdam. Registered number: 67932975. We are currently in the process of creating the University of the Underground Charity.

WHAT CAN YOU OFFER THERE THAT I CAN’T LEARN ELSEWHERE?

Students are to be provided with the tools and means to learn to understand their profession as the increasingly multi-faceted and malleable role it assumes in today’s world (which is ever changing and disorienting) – where designers enter the realm of authors, directors, politicians, planners, dreamers, activists, mythologists and musicians. We encourage students to use their own voice, style, tone and aesthetics as manifested in final outcomes of performative product scenarios, products embedded in the context of the built environment and the institutions, or the tangible experience and its implications now and in the coming years.

HOW DO YOU ‘TEACH’ SOMEONE TO DISRUPT THE SYSTEM? 

We don’t think that we can teach disruption. Disruption comes as a result of the groundwork and strategies established by the students in their design work. Indeed, we believe in a bottom-up approach in which through the development of meaningful experiences and a holistic understanding of community, sociology, semiotics and ethnography students can develop projects which will challenge power structures and possibly the message of an institution towards its public and its workforce.  What we provide our students with, are the tools to do this, to appreciate a multidimensional method (inspired by ethnographers like Edgar Morin for example) in the development of their designed outcomes. Now we believe that these tools need to be multidisciplinary and that a designer is also a director and a producer etc. So our curriculum has classes and workshops on the theatrical, filmic, poetic, political, design and music practices.

CAN YOUNG CREATIVES CHANGE THE WORLD?

We believe so. They have the energy, the passion, and most of all the curiosity and naivety that is required to do good work. We don’t think there is an age limit, however. In the case of our teaching team, we think that we are only getting more and more naive every year and that is for the best, as this allows us to take on massive scale productions without thinking twice about whether or not it is sensible to do this. With a deep curiosity as a leitmotif and the goal to reveal power structures in order to better challenge them, we believe that yes, we are on the right path for change. But again, as we said earlier, it has to come from a bottom up approach. We don’t believe you start a project saying “I am going to change the world”, we believe you start from a specific case and put together a strategy to support social actions and then if you have played the performance of politics well, change will take place (this can happen also on a long period of time).

HOW DOES THE UNIVERSITY OF THE UNDERGROUND WORK FINANCIALLY?

The University of the Underground responds to the current trend of increased fees for postgraduate programmes by firstly proposing a model in which students are provided with scholarships to cover their tuition fees. In order to achieve this, we rely on donations from philanthropists, individuals and corporations.

We are committed to making all our finances public and we are transparent in this process. In December 2018, following our first annual return, we will publish our books on our website. Our organisational structure and spending are visible to all. In doing so, we hope to inspire other educative institutions to do the same.

As a not for profit foundation, your support is, therefore, essential to us. Without your donations, we can’t offer students’ scholarships and we can’t develop the University of the Underground internationally. We also aim to run live events, podcasts run by the students, and master classes open to all- but to do this we need your help.

As a creative resistance, we teach students how to engineer situations, to design experiences and events that best support social dreaming, social actions and power shifts within institutions, companies and governments. The University of the Underground is lead by a multidisciplinary team of ‘dreamers of the day’, educators and practitioners who believe that a positive inspiration and disturbance to the current cultural and educative system is required to best support the young generations in their creative and political endeavours.

Join us and support our attempt to modify the status quo through the development of experiential and creative practices in institutions.

Don’t hesitate to contact us for more information:  universityoftheunderground@nellyben.com

WHAT DO I GET BACK IF I DONATE?

As you can see from our donation page – you will be able to access some of our live events, book clubs and master classes by supporting our scholarships, development and activities.

HOW HAVE YOU SELECTED THE ADVISORY BOARD MEMBERS? ARE THEY PAYING TO BE ON THE BOARD?

No, Advisory board members are not paying to be on the board. We have selected them on the basis of their skill sets, experience and knowledge in education, scaling up globally or expertise in design, experiences, music, film and many other disciplines. They have joined the advisory board as individuals, representing their individual research and/or their opinion/views. Their participation and statements in no way reflect the views, priorities or policies of the companies by which they are affiliated.      

To give an example, Damian Bradfield (WeTransfer), Camille Lindbom (WeTransfer), Alex Schleifer (Airbnb) and Sola Biu (Airbnb) have joined as individuals, not as representatives of the companies they are affiliated with. Course director Dr. Nelly Ben Hayoun selected them to join the advisory board because of their expertise in a given field that she believes will help the university to develop and grow. Nelly also has worked individually with all of them as a consultant and feels very confident and honoured to have them join the advisory board as volunteers to help her and her team develop the university. 

At the same time, for example, WeTransfer is donating to the University to cover some of the students’ scholarships but they did not expect to have one of their employees on the board because of their support. To this date, Airbnb has not donated to the university. However, we are hoping that Airbnb and many others might donate to us in the future.


As Nelly’s puts it in her earlier release, “It is my great pleasure to announce that Damian Bradfield accepted to chair the advisory board. We were thinking of developing committees in the advisory so that we can address specific questions in gender studies, music, film, design, postgraduate studies and more. Damian and I have been working together for the past 4 years at WeTransfer and he will bring the right level of expertise both in coordination but also in our fundraising effort, development and marketing plans. We will need this very much since we are working on a model where students do not have to pay for their tuition so the foundation needs to be able to cover such costs- long term (100 years of education is what we are talking about). A graduate of London School of Economics, Damian has worked with companies over the world to develop what he does very well: long-term thinking, marketing with a purpose and an ethic and supporting creatives. Damian is passionate about education and I am so grateful that he accepted to share his expertise as a volunteer with us”.

As mentioned earlier, all our support and finances are in the public domain as soon as we have filed our year return in December 2018. It’s a transparent process.


You can read about Damian, Camille, Alex and Sola here, but also hear about all our advisory board members here.

WAIT…SCHOLARSHIPS!?

Yes. The University of the Underground is making steps towards a new, ambitious model to support students but also to support research. The University of the Underground is hoping to provide students with support by donations (80%) and governmental grants (20%). By hosting the University of the Underground the Sandberg Instituut is also looking at new ways to fund and research.

We are fundraising as we speak and we will keep doing so in order to maintain our Foundation and the scholarships we offer our students. The funds will also be used to develop abroad and grow our research practices and activities such as live events.

DO STUDENTS OWN THEIR WORK? 
WHO OWN THE INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY?

Yes. In the University of the Underground, we believe in freedom of learning. This means that, as educators, we respect our students’ rights and works. They own all of their doings. We do not own our students’ intellectual property and do not support partnerships which will mean that they get deprived of them.

The concept of the University of the Underground, the writing of the programme and its curriculum, the artwork produced on this website is owned by Dr. Nelly Ben Hayoun and Nelly Ben Hayoun Studios Ltd.

ARE YOU NEO-LIBERALIST?

Absolutely not. You could call us Post-Capitalists. But surely NOT neo-liberalist. We are intelligent agents navigating artificial systems… This sounds more like us.

WHAT ARE THE PROGRAMMES COMPRISED OF? WHAT WILL THEY CONTAIN?

The programmes are concerned with a contemporary and strategic foresight implying politics, sustainability, institutions, new technologies and scientific developments both in artificial intelligence and in the current digital ecosystems. It makes innovative use of design, linguistic, experiential, mythological, musical and filmic practices as tools to engage members of the public with the experiences and the debate created.

WHY DO YOU NEED US TO DONATE YOU BOOKS?

We need books! We need books for our students to learn but we also want to develop a library of dreamers and therefore we want to curate some readings and open a book clubs in our underground space in Amsterdam. As a member of the Underground, you will be invited to join such events.

We will tag the books you offer us with your name and it will stay with us for the next 100 years.

You can donate now by buying us books on our amazon wish list. 

HOW DO I BECOME A MEMBER OF THE UNDERGROUND? CAN I BE A PART OF THE UNIVERSITY OF THE UNDERGROUND IF I AM NOT ONE OF THE STUDENTS?

You can donate to us here: http://universityoftheunderground.org/donate/ and you will be invited to events, master classes and book clubs that we will run for the public. We will also develop podcasts and interviews which will be accessible on our website.

HOW IS IT UNIQUE WHEN COMPARED TO OTHER UNIVERSITIES?

In the University of the Underground, we believe that it is most urgent to equip young designers with the learning that allows them to use their knowledge of the material world within the navigation of governmental systems, institutions and power structures. We are concerned with the modelling and physical existence of students’ dreams, beliefs and myths. We believe in social dreaming becoming the fuel for social actions. In the punk tradition, we believe that there are no more heroes and we wish to democratise the experience of the institution. If nothing else, experiences and events make you feel alive and connected to the world around you. Music can do just that, but many other artistic forms too, and it is within this realm that we will be experimenting with in the University of the Underground.