“The gap is considerable,” says Max Wagenaar, a philosophy student and Erasmus Verbindt (‘Erasmus Connects’) project manager. “Despite everyone’s good intentions and increased attention for the subject, academics simply don’t have enough time to focus on these things. Higher education institutions are receiving less and less funding, even though the number of students only keeps rising. Academics are aware of that and are raising the alarm more and more often. At the same time, we have found that today’s students are incredibly eager to learn and are very enterprising and socially engaged. People are calling for an interdisciplinary approach and for collaboration between academia and society at large, and we think students have a great role to play in that process. Because we do have time to focus on these things, and, moreover, we may learn some things that will benefit us for the rest of our lives.” That, in a nutshell, is what Erasmus Verbindt is all about. “In other words, we’re killing two birds with one stone,” says Wagenaar.

Innovative solutions to local issues

Erasmus Verbindt employs a three-step procedure. In the ‘Stadswandelingen’ (‘Walks in the city’) series of podcasts broadcast by Omroep Rijnmond, EUR-affiliated academics and locals discuss subjects that are topical to particular Rotterdam neighbourhoods, such as the learning deficit that characterises many people in Rotterdam Zuid and the energy transition that is going on in the Port of Rotterdam. “That’s step number one,” Wagenaar explains. “An exploration.”

Step number two is about connecting people. “In our capacity as an interdisciplinary team of students, we get academics, non-governmental organisations and Rotterdam-based stakeholders to talk about urgent issues and clearly defined solutions,” says Wagenaar.

Step number three is about getting students involved. “Through work placements and interdisciplinary projects, they will cooperate with others in the city,” Wagenaar further explains. “Perhaps they will support new social enterprises with legal advice and advice on business administration, or perhaps they will come up with innovative solutions to the local issues encountered by the municipal authorities. If we students can make a positive contribution, we will always grab the opportunity to do so with both hands.”

Roll up your sleeves and get busy

In addition to Wagenaar, Erasmus Verbindt’s board is made up of philosophy student and co-initiator Eddie Adelmund – who is currently busy interviewing new ‘connectors’ who have applied for a position on the team – and psychology student Emma Peters. Peters joined the team later, but is every bit as motivated as the other two. “As a student, you can be active in many different ways,” she tells us. “Of course it’s really nice and fun to organise a skiing trip [for the members of your society], but I want to broaden my horizon, roll up my sleeves and do something genuinely meaningful for the world around me.”

Erasmus Verbindt’s mission is to strengthen the science/society/students triangle. “Our goal is to combine these three components smartly,” says Peters. “If we manage to do that properly, all three components will be positively impacted, and everyone will reap the benefits. By allowing us to get them in touch with the city, academics will gain knowledge, information and networks that will be useful to them in their research. It will cause them to focus more on their own social responsibility and get them to act on their sense of urgency. In addition, they will be able to share their knowledge with people who will actually benefit from it in a practical sense.”

Among the people

“Which is important,” says Wagenaar. “Because after all, many everyday issues aren’t discussed in scientific journals, but can be found among people, outside, in the streets, in the neighbourhoods and in the houses.” Take, for instance, the loneliness experienced by many elderly people. “This is a very common problem in Rotterdam,” he explains. “Erasmus Verbindt seeks to build a social network that is closely tied up with this subject. We are in touch with several foundations and healthcare institutions such as Humanitas, which seek to eliminate loneliness among the elderly. But we are also in touch with policymakers and academics who focus on this particular subject. By talking to all parties involved and creating meaningful connections, we seek to convert scientific knowledge and understanding into a basis for meaningful actions in real-life situations.”

Pretty interdisciplinary

Students, too, benefit a great deal from working with Erasmus Verbindt. “It’s comparable to the experience you gain on the board of a student society,” Peters explains. “Only this is really designed to create a social impact and address complex issues. You get to bridge the gap between the city and academia, while learning a thing or two yourself.”

Another thing that is interesting about Erasmus Verbindt is the fact that you get to collaborate with students, partner organisations and academics from various backgrounds. “So it’s pretty interdisciplinary, and this is reflected in the job interviews,” Peters goes on to say. “Everyone has their own reasons to join and their own ideas on how to solve a problem. Which is precisely Erasmus Verbindt’s strength.”

Do you want to know more about Erasmus Verbindt?

For more information, refer to eur.nl/erasmus-verbindt