Rather exciting news for all Rotterdam residents who do not work or study at EUR! The university is coming to them. The university’s Executive Board has rolled up its shirt sleeves and has made all the preparations. And everyone’s on the same page. Go west, young (wo)man, is the task for students until at least 2024. Cross Honingerdijk and Oostzeedijk on the Swapfiets and investigate how, as prospective scientist, you can be of service to your co-residents in the rest of the city.

The torch of the new faith was officially lit on Strategy Live, a direct TV broadcast from the Media Support Centre on campus. Among those seated around the studio table were Rector Magnificus Rutger Engels, Online Education Programme Manager Farshida Zafar, Professor of Behavioural Sciences Semiha Denktas, Entrepreneur and Chair of Erasmus Trust Fund Michiel Muller, Director Strategy Noor Lourens and Deputy Mayor Michiel Grauss (Christian Union/SGP), who has poverty eradication in his portfolio.

Holy flame

The holy flame was already held high in that company. Core concepts such as the Executive Board’s policy vision announced in ‘the Erasmian way’: social involvement, seeking connections, building bridges, entering neighbourhoods, making impact, proposing solutions; in short: deeds instead of words. Because, as Noor Lourens said: ‘in the end something really needs to fly’ to create the connection between the university and the city. Silly but true: every time this metaphor was used in the hour-and-a-quarter-long broadcast, a loud bluebottle also simultaneously took flight in the Media Support Centre.

The group session couldn’t emphasise strongly enough that, certainly in Rotterdam, ‘truly the poorest municipality in the Netherlands’, young researchers and professors have got a huge amount of work to do. During the warm-up, group facilitator Jet Sol noticed all the ‘happy people’, ‘pride’, ‘dynamism’ and ‘excited faces’ of exhilaration among the distinguished participants. After all, a ‘dashboard of opportunities’ is awaiting first-year and more advanced students to make themselves useful locally with their engagement, effort and knowledge.

Semiha Denktas mentioned a ‘stress reduction project’ among women in Crooswijk (‘with less smoking as by-product’) that was initiated partly by EUR. Michiel Muller saw tremendous opportunities in the city for a cohort of business administration students who no longer aim for a career at Shell or Unilever per se, but aim to make the difference with innovative start-ups. On Strategy Live, Farshida Zafar already started thinking aloud about a Mindcraft-like community that her students could build for the whole of Rotterdam. In the crises we’ll be facing after the coronavirus, we’ll still at least have virtual places where we can continue to meet each other.

At home in the province with mum and dad

Wow, concluded this outsider at the end of the talkshow, still extremely surprised: maybe something will really come of this. That Rotterdam will become a vibrant student city, just like Amsterdam, Nijmegen, Groningen and Utrecht, for instance. With a similar cultural and intellectual climate and, moving forward, also with a significant dose of the hands-on mentality we collectively ascribe to ourselves. It could, in any event for me, remove the impression that the majority of EUR students still live at home in the province with mum and dad and ‘after uni’ have little or nothing to do with Rotterdam.

During the TV broadcast, Jet Sol briefly touched on ‘the pain’ the EUR community could perhaps feel in other respects now that the university management has decided that everyone suddenly needs to get out onto the streets, bringing an end to the splendid isolation of the lab and lecture hall. Although Rutger Engels confirmed that there was certainly some resistance, particularly among professors, on Strategy Live it was not clear how this resistance is surfacing and how it will be dealt with. Just one comment on this from the Rector Magnificus was enough for the topic to ‘take flight’ outside when the words had just left his lips.

In this respect, it’s a pity that the live broadcast was for internal consumption and only included advocates of the announced changes. An educational institution that wants to enter society with an ‘excited face’ will certainly benefit if all the pros and cons of such a step have been well presented right from the start. For example in a talkshow with a heavyweight as anchor, and with a few critical questioners around the table from EUR. The university already has a professional TV studio. Perhaps now is the time to utilise the journalistic impact of this.