The new strategy places great emphasis on the term ‘positive impact’, the idea that during each phase of your research you consider the (positive) contribution it can make to social problems. However, that must be done in the Erasmian way, Baele explained: socially engaged, cosmopolitan and enterprising.
“Erasmus University has always been very socially engaged and had a close involvement with the city,” said Baele in the Aula on Monday afternoon. “But in this changing world, we have become increasingly distant from society. This must no longer be the case. We must create positive impact. We want to tackle climate change, explore demographic changes, eliminate exclusion. And we must focus on digitisation.”
But when is impact positive? When is a new technology harmful and when not? Based on the example of genetic engineering, guest speaker American philosopher Donna Dickenson tried to shed light on what ‘positive social impact’ actually means. She discussed how radical new technologies can increase social inequality or disadvantage future generations and how you can address that. Here she mainly focused on the application of that technology. Genetic engineering can combat diseases but also introduce genetic defects. Dickenson left it up to the university to decide whether you should explore a technology with possible negative consequences at all.
During the ceremony, five awards were presented. Professor of Corporate Finance Han Smit (ESE) received the education award. According to the jury, ‘his enthusiasm and motivating manner of teaching make him a highly valued lecturer’. In his acceptance speech, Smit encouraged teaching staff to innovate with blended learning: a mix of digital and traditional teaching methods, which Smit feels gives you more time for feedback and contact with students. Maeve van den Aakster won the Prof. G.W. Bruinsprijs for her master’s research into the bird flu virus, her excellent results in that research and her various internships.
The jury presented the research award to Carlos Riumallo Herl for the impact of his research into the economics of ageing and the health economy. PhD student Silvan Licher received the Prof. H.W. Lambersprijs for his excellent study results during the Medicine programme and his exceptional contribution to extracurricular activities during his studies. Finally, Myrthe van Delden was presented with the Rotterdam thesis award 2019 by mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb. The jury described her thesis, A design against crime, about subversive crime in Rotterdam Zuid as a ‘very rich thesis about an interesting and relatively new theme of behavioural influence’.
Rector Rutger Engels closed the meeting with an important new spearhead on his agenda: student welfare. “Many students find their way, but some have difficulties,” Engels said. “One in five students suffers from a mental health issue, such as anxiety or depression. And these problems have been increasing in recent years, due to perfectionism, a demanding environment and sometimes unrealistic expectations.”
“Problems often emerge before they arrive at university. So the university system does not aggravate them, nor does it help.” Engels wants to focus on what students need and remove the stigma surrounding mental health issues. “We need to recognise symptoms better and not wait until it’s too late. And help must be easier to find.” Engels then wished everyone a ‘resilient’ academic year.