Kristel Baele has been appointed the new President of the Executive Board of Erasmus University. On 1 December, she will succeed Pauline van der Meer Mohr. So who is Ms Baele and why is she coming to Rotterdam?

“I’m really looking forward to starting”, says Kristel Baele (1959). “It’s a really interesting university. People are result-driven, love the university and are proud of it. I think it will be great to be part of that.” Although she currently still lives in Lathum (near Arnhem) – with a pied-à-terre in Leiden – she plans to move to Rotterdam in the near future. “As a member of the board, I feel that you belong to the region. So I’m moving to Rotterdam.”

Among her reasons for coming to Erasmus University, she mentions the profile of EUR, its international orientation and the connection with a metropolis like Rotterdam.

What do you find so interesting about this university’s profile?

“It has a solid tradition and track record in terms of both health care and economics and business. I feel that it is a very enterprising university. The connection with the city is particularly interesting. Rotterdam has a reputation for being hands on and getting things done, and I think that’s right. I really like that approach.”

How would you describe yourself as a board member?

“I’m not an Ivory Tower manager; I prefer to get involved in the organisation. And by that I don’t mean just with the deans and directors, but above all with students and staff. So you will regularly find me among them on campus. I need that association too, because I want to be part of the community and be fed by it. I am also a very active networker, because it’s important to know what concerns parties who are important to the university.”

On the subject of networking: at HAN, you worked with Ron Bormans, who is now head of Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences. Will you be looking to work with him?

“Cooperation on education and research primarily belongs to the rector’s portfolio, but I’ll obviously have a coffee with my former colleague Ron.”

Should universities and universities of applied sciences work more together?

“I think that they can complement each other in a number of areas. Research at universities of applied sciences is very practically oriented. A research question in higher professional education always originates from the work field and must result in usable products. Valorisation is deeply embedded in professional education programmes because knowledge automatically finds its way to professional practice. That practical orientation and link to the work field which is a feature of a university of applied sciences can add value to a university.”

In recent years, you’ve mainly worked in professional education. Why do you want to return to a university?

“It’s not so much that I want to return to a university; it’s more that I specifically want to come to this university. The EUR has several things which really appeal to me, such as its connection with a city like Rotterdam and the opportunities I will be given here to promote internationalisation. Universities are traditionally much more international than universities of applied sciences. That’s the difference which interests me.”

Besides the international focus and practice-oriented research, are there other important differences between universities of applied sciences and universities?

“The main process is different. At a university of applied sciences, education is the most important activity, while research plays a much more important role at a university. In the past, research used to take precedence over education, but you can now see a counter movement has begun.”

Does a university require something different from a board member than a university of applied sciences?

“I haven’t experienced that. We are all professionals, whether we are engaged in education or research or combinations doesn’t really matter. What is important is that education takes less time. Research takes years and has a long horizon, while education has a yearly calendar divided into shorter periods. That means a different dynamic.”

What does that mean for your role as president?

“It doesn’t affect my role as such, because I have experience with both. That means I can switch more easily. Both the long term strategy and the realisation that issues can be short term and urgent.”

What drives you personally as an education manager?

“I feel that education and research are the engines of innovation. At a personal level and a regional or international level. Innovation is one of my drivers, as is pushing boundaries. Good education is an important gift in a human life. Personally, I have had the privilege of having had a wonderful education (Baele studied Social and Political Sciences in Ghent and Antwerp, eds.) and that has benefited me in my life. Ghent is a very classical, broad university, which devotes a lot of attention to personal and academic development as well as the subject content.”

Surely students these days don’t have time for that any more?

“To give you an idea: I graduated in four years and had a job at the same time. And I enjoyed my student life too.”

Kristel Baele was born in Belgium and studied Political and Social Sciences in Ghent and Antwerp. Since 1991, she has been living and working in the Netherlands. She started at Delft University of Technology, where her posts included board member of the university library and faculty director. From 2008 till 2014 she has been vice-president of Hogeschool van Arnhem en Nijmegen and at the moment, she is working as interim-president of Hogeschool Leiden. Baele is not married and has no children.