Stenden University of Applied Sciences and NHL University of Applied Sciences have merged on 1st of January and is now NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences. For the latest information on the university, the courses and application procedure please visit our new website:

Stenden University of Applied Sciences is merging with NHL University of Applied Sciences. Visit

University of Applied Sciences

Empowering People with Moderate Learning Disabilities

People with moderate learning disabilities are more likely than others to develop behavioural problems, become the victims of abuse, or develop various types of addictions. In addition, they also tend to have low self-esteem, be easily influenced, and have trouble setting boundaries in their interactions with others. The “Empowering People with Moderate Learning Disabilities” Department researches how these people can learn to better defend themselves, what type of care and support they need, and what effect empowerment programmes have on their lives, with the ultimate objective of providing this vulnerable population with the coping skills they need to get ahead in life.

In addition to its research, the Department is also involved in developing new support and education programmes. Its objectives are preventing problems from arising by intervening at the earliest possible stage and closely involving members of the client’s social network (including their family, partner, place of employment or educational institution) in their care and support to the extent possible.

Cooperation with sector partners

We are supported in these efforts by a total of seven healthcare institutions located in the provinces of Groningen and Drenthe: Cosis, De Zijlen, Vanboeijen, De Trans, Humanitas DMH, Koninklijke Kentalis and Phusis/Flinq. They provide input for our research, as well as being involved in setting up and assessing various support programmes.

Relationship with education

Lecturers and students at Stenden University of Applied Sciences are also closely involved in our research efforts. The “Empowering People with Moderate Learning Disabilities” Department is a division of the School of Social Work and Arts Therapies. We are involved in implementing reforms in the education system, including by incorporating the topics of prevention and a system-based approach (that is, involving the client’s social network in the support services provided) into the curriculum. Additionally, we have also developed the “Trauma and Aggression” minor and provide cases for Problem-Based Learning.

If you are currently enrolled in the Educational Social Work programme and are interested in the various complications involved in empowering this population, you have the opportunity to contribute to our research in a significant way and, through various practical assignments, become involved in setting up, implementing and assessing support and educational programmes.


The Department is currently involved in a range of projects focusing on issues such as aggression, sexual abuse and social media usage among people with moderate learning disabilities. We investigate what type of support clients need in terms of education, work and sheltered employment, personal care, managing finances and developing social skills. We also measure the effects of various support programmes, for which we use the Systemic N=1 method, a metric developed by the Department of Social Work & Arts Therapies at Stenden University of Applied Sciences.

Research Group

The Research Group forming part of the department is headed by Dr Piet Geert Nicolay, while the other members include lecturers from Stenden University of Applied Sciences and professionals in the field who are employed at the Department’s partner institutions. The Research Group is in the process of being established.


If you have any questions about the Research Group or would like to receive more information, please contact our Administration by phone at +31 (0)06-53710217 or by e-mail at

Professor of Applied Sciences

Dr Piet Geert Nicolay

Professor Nicolay began his career as a primary school teacher and started working with people with intellectual disabilities in 1983, being employed at various stages of his career as a policy officer, behavioral expert and manager at the NOVO health centre in Groningen. Nicolay earned a PhD in Psychology, Education and Sociology from Groningen University in 2003 and was appointed Professor of Applied Sciences in the “Empowering People with Moderate Learning Disabilities” Department in 2014.

Inauguration speech

Dr Nicolay was appointed Professor of Applied Sciences at the end of 2014 and delivered an inauguration speech on his inauguration on 3 June 2015.


  • Nicolay, P.G.T. (2003). Het bevorderen van begrijpend lezen bij mensen met een verstandelijke handicap (Academisch Proefschrift, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen) Groningen: Kinderstudies.
  • Nicolay, P.G.T., Nakken, H. & Bos, K.P. van den. (2008). Begrijpend lezen voor mensen met een verstandelijke handicap. Rotterdam: Lemniscaat

Overview of all publications by this research group.


School of Social Work and Arts Therapies
Postbus 1298

Rengerslaan 8
NL-8900 CG Leeuwarden, the Netherlands

Administrative Assistant in the “Empowering People with Moderate Learning Disabilities” Department: Ms Trienke Wolters
T: +31 (0)6-53710217

Office Manager ESR/Academisation Office: Sonja Schuil
T: +31 (0)6 19 28 13 29

Stenden University of Applied Sciences and NHL University of Applied Sciences have merged on 1 January 2018 and are now NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences.

For the most up to date information about the university, the courses, and application procedure, we would like to refer you to our new website

The latest news and information about our research activities are both still accessible on