Interview with Carel Stolker, chairman of the Steering Group
‘I’m becoming more enthusiastic by the day about this partnership,’ commented Carel Stolker, President and Rector Magnificus of Leiden University and currently chairman of the Steering Group for the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus alliance. The Steering Group is made up of the full Executive Boards of the three universities.
‘This is the only real way forward,’ he continued. ‘All over the world you see universities working together, and that’s just a foretaste of what’s to come. Multidisciplinary issues call for multidisciplinary solutions. We can achieve so much more by working together because we have so much more mass. I hear the same thing from everyone I talk to, academics, emeriti professors, politicians, town councillors: three universities located so close to one another and with such a complementary set of resources... It’s just plain logical for us to combine forces.
‘Working together isn’t just attractive and inspiring; it’s also becoming increasingly important. In the course of 2015 the so-called Dutch Research Agenda will be published,in which all the Dutch universities will indicate where they intend to focus their attention. And that will be followed by a Framework Agreement with the Minister for Education. Given these developments, it’s sensible for our three universities to work together where that will have clear added value.
‘This collaboration will make each of us more attractive in the international arena. I have just returned from a visit to China with a large academic delegation. This kind of visit makes it very clear how much more attractive Leiden, for example, will be if we can talk about our collaboration with Delft. And the same applies for Delft too.’
The alliance started in 2010, when the three South Holland universities sat down together to talk about their intention to collaborate more closely. They had already been working together for years, in joint science programmes and in Medical Delta, for example. In 2011 they presented a research agenda to the Minister for Education, Culture and Science. Last September this was followed by a Common Regulation.
‘It soon became clear that one collective university wasn’t on the cards,’ Stolker explained. ‘That idea simply caused too much fuss. We decided to opt for a bottom-up approach as much as possible – also because it’s an approach that’s much more suited to academia. The best part is that you don’t actually need to direct it. Our academics themselves are the best people to identify the opportunities and to act on them.
‘We have set up eight multidisciplinary centres focused on different fields, each of which has clear societal relevance. With the technology of Delft, the humanities and sciences of Leiden, the whole economic and public administration side of Rotterdam, and two academic hospitals, we are well placed to address many of the problems facing science and society today. You can see a lot of amazing things now happening in these centres: new fields of research are appearing, new minors and MOOCs are being organised, funding for projects is being applied for.
‘With the existing partnerships in the science and medical science fields, such as the joint programmes at Leiden and Delft, and of course Medical Delta, we are making good progress, and we’re always looking for new opportunities for the three of us, or for two of the three if that seems more appropriate. Medical Delta is truly inspiring. This year we have appointed 11 joint dual professors and they will certainly not be the last.
‘In teaching, too, we are doing more things together. We want our minors to be as accessible as possible for one another’s students and we are creating new minors and honours classes. There are some complex issues to be dealt with; it’s a fact of life that our universities have different systems and timetables, and the legislation doesn’t always work in our favour either. We are all aware that education is subject to tight controls, but we’re very keen to make this alliance work. Universities have a really important job to do. It is up to us to show the outside world how valuable and necessary this work is. We have to keep the Dutch education system up to scratch.
‘Our alliance is moving ahead step by step, with all the usual ups and downs. But what’s interesting is that the more you work together, the more you learn about different aspects of one another’s university: areas such as real estate, and personnel policies, for example. We now have a joint trainee programme that gives young professionals the chance to gain work experience at more than one university. We also have a joint training programme for our staff.’
The Steering Group for the Alliance comprises the three Executive Boards of the universities:
Leiden University: Carel Stolker (Rector Magnificus and President), Simone Buitendijk (Vice-Rector) and Willem te Beest (Vice-President)
Delft University of Technology: Dirk Jan van den Berg (President), Karel Luyben (Rector Magnificus), and Anka Mulder (Vice-President)
Erasmus University Rotterdam: Pauline van der Meer Mohr (President), Huibert Pols (Rector Magnificus), and Bart Straatman.
The Project Manager for the Alliance is Jacqueline Dekker.