The aim of the strategy is ‘creating positive societal impact’, and ‘we’ do that in the ‘Erasmian way’. Which of the five associated values – socially engaged, world citizen, connecting, enterprising and open-minded – fits you best personally?

Kristel Baele: “What I like most is the world citizenship. Because I spend much of my life working in a different country and in a different culture and my whole working life has been about internationalisation. And enterprising in a broad sense: enterprising in attitude and mind, that appeals to me.”

Rutger Engels: “This isn’t just a top university, but a top university in a diverse city. I hope that staff and students will increasingly start to realise that and radiate the fact that they live and work in a very diverse city.”

‘In the new strategy, research, education and working on social impact are therefore given equal footing,’

Kristel Baele

The new strategy is being called a ‘fundamentally recalibrated direction’. What has fundamentally changed?

KB: “The complexity of the issues facing society is increasing, both internationally and locally. And more than was the case five years ago, for example, people are looking at universities to come up with solutions. In the new strategy, research, education and working on social impact are therefore given equal footing. In terms of time and money, these three issues are equally important.”

rutger engels opening academisch jaar 2019 foto ronald van den heerik (73)
Rutger Engels at the opening of the academic year 2019. Image credit: Ronald van den Heerik

RE: “When I returned to the university last year, after spending four years largely outside the academic world, I noticed that engagement has returned among students. Unlike fifteen or twenty years ago, I see that students feel responsible for social problems. They realise that they must and can play a role in resolving them. In my view, that’s what a university should be. That something needs to happen with all that knowledge and that we must facilitate that.

“Not every researcher needs to be practically involved. But as a research team or faculty, you can no longer merely focus on top publications. We must look for a balance. We will therefore appeal more to research groups and reward them for their team performance. For example, in the form of money or awards.”

‘Not every researcher needs to be practically involved. But as a research team or faculty, you can no longer merely focus on top publications.’

Rutger Engels

Impact is the key word in the strategy, but it’s still unclear what exactly that is. How will you assess the impact of academic work?

RE: “Last year, I learned that this takes time. We studied various international models that measure impact. In the coming period, we’re going to see which model best suits which discipline. It’s obviously no good counting the number of patents for a subject like psychology. Equally, someone can give a lot of lectures, but that doesn’t mean that you have much social impact. So, you have to see what fits each discipline and how you can evaluate interdisciplinary teams, like with the Erasmus Initiatives. How will you weight that? We’re going to take our time for that. And at some point use pilots to see how it works. Such evaluations are linked to the university’s HR policy, and you can’t just turn them on their head. So, it won’t happen overnight. We’re also working together with NWO and VSNU based on the Erkennen en Waarderen report [Recognising and Evaluating report].

KB: “As a university, you can’t do this alone, or even with the VSNU. You also need to involve the investors at home and abroad. Everything is interrelated, so we need to embark on that new direction together.”


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To make things slightly more complex, the university has chosen to aim for ‘positive’ impact. How do you determine whether your impact is positive?

KB: “When exploring new technologies, for example, by looking at your research from a different perspective from the start. What are the effects of that new technology on privacy, security or inequality, for example?”

RE: “And by now already identifying it in the strategy as a positive impact, you create awareness among scholars. I also feel that the advantage of interdisciplinary teams is that they include ethicists, philosophers and social scientists who look at technology in a different way. Ultimately, history determines whether research has a positive or negative impact, but we can already make people aware of it.

KB: “I recently heard about an algorithm that had been created to determine where you could best drop food parcels in war zones. That’s obviously great, but this algorithm can also be used to identify where most people are to bomb them. That insight was obtained at an early stage. And that raises the question about who you should share your knowledge with and who your allies are. In the past, you only thought about that later.”


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The development of the new strategy was called a unique process. Afterwards, many students and staff members considered the implementation of the strategy. What happens now?

KB: “The University Council will definitely continue to be involved, as it was during the development of the strategy. Ten projects are now starting this year, and we’ll see which approach suits each subject. I’m sure that we’ll use design labs again. Having different work methods and a diverse group in terms of background and ideas was very useful.

“For me, the fact that so many people support this direction is the best thing about the current strategy. We’ve become more like one university.”

RE: “I agree. It’s a massive result that the academic community has been so widely involved in developing the strategy. We’ll certainly continue like this. For example, in the allocation of 75 million euros for the quality agreements

“The nicest thing about the strategy, I feel, is that I hear from people around me that the university is now much more at the heart of society than before.”

Facts and figures

1 mission, 5 ‘Erasmian’ values, 7 pillars, 4 themes and 10 projects

During the Opening of the Academic year, the university’s new strategy for the period up to 2024 was presented with the title: ‘Creating a positive societal impact, the Erasmian way’. Key to the strategy is a sharper focus on creating positive social impact.
Educating students to become socially engaged thinkers, renewing teaching methods, excellent research and more cooperation with external partners are thus some fragments from the new strategy. The entire strategy is available in full here and summarised here.

The starting points for all this are the five ‘Erasmian’ values: socially engaged, world citizen, connecting, enterprising and open-minded.

Besides the mission, the strategy has seven priorities, which were presented last year, and which were further developed last year. The study focuses on four themes. Three of these so-called Erasmus Initiatives had already been launched previously (sustainable growth and distributing welfare, smart choices for better health care, maintaining the quality of life in big cities). The fourth Initiative emerged from the creation of the strategy: the application of digitisation in society. For this year, ten projects have already started that are intended to develop and implement the plans of the strategy.