Interim Chair of the Executive Board Hans Smits expects the partnership to yield ‘ground-breaking solutions’ and promote ‘the social embedding and acceptance of new technological and medical developments’. Among other things, the three institutions intend to set up a HealthTech Campus at a location adjacent to the Erasmus MC.

The new collaboration comprises three initiatives: Sustainable Rotterdam Delta, the HealthTech Campus and 30 laboratories in the region that will concentrate on research into artificial intelligence. The three institutions have drawn up a total budget of half a billion euros for the next ten years. They hope that the private sector and the government will be interested in investing in the partnership.

Social challenges

The two universities and the hospital want to jointly take on major social challenges in the areas of health, sustainability, urbanisation and digitalisation. Researchers working in the fields of medicine, health sciences, technical sciences and the social sciences will be collaborating in this context.

“Over the past forty years, new developments in healthcare primarily originated in biology, genetics and pharmacology,” says Ernst Kuipers, Chair of the Executive Board of the Erasmus MC, in NRC Handelsblad. “Today’s knowledge and expertise are also encountered in mathematics, artificial intelligence, robotics, optics (optical and lens technology) and domotics (home automation). We can provide the medical-substantive knowledge, Erasmus University offers economic and social-scientific insights and Delft is a premier source of technological expertise.” At the planned HealthTech Campus, researchers will be working together to make healthcare more effective and improve people’s quality of life. It will take some time before this campus opens its doors, however, since the old Dijkzigt hospital building needs to be torn down before the site can be prepared for construction.

Within the Sustainable Rotterdam Delta initiative, the partners will be studying issues in Rotterdam and the surrounding region. The various studies will centre on social problems in today’s metropolitan areas. Researchers will be focussing on matters like the energy transition, traffic and transport, equal opportunity and employment.

Artificial intelligence

The universities in Leiden, Delft and Rotterdam can already look back on seven years of collaboration. While Leiden won’t be joining the HealthTech Campus, it will contribute in the field of artificial intelligence. In the future, the three universities will all be including knowledge about data science and artificial intelligence in all their students’ curricula.

“At both our Economics faculty and RSM, you can already find a wealth of knowledge relating to data science and artificial intelligence,” notes EUR’s Rector Magnificus Rutger Engels. “But beyond these faculties, we also see a strong research focus on the real-life impact of new technologies. From interactions between humans and machines to deep fakes, and from data-driven improvements in care to the avoidance of biased appraisals in HRM and selection.”

The future

The business plans for the three initiatives will be fleshed out in the months ahead. Academic staff are already allowed to submit research and education proposals to the three institutions involved. In addition, the universities have already started to recruit 34 post-doc researchers. The partners are still working on their application to Rijksinvesteringsfonds. This national organisation awards funding to projects that are intended to strengthen the Dutch economy.

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