“This barrage of systemic crises can only be overcome if we as science as a whole commit to society 4.0. We must move beyond political correctness on the importance of multidisciplinary research; we must really work together. Universities, government, businesses, citizens. Universities should not only analyse the problems but also contribute to the design of solutions. It is time for the universities to take a step forward.” With this speech, Ed Brinksma, Chairman of the Executive Board, opened the new academic year on Monday.

More self-conscious science

Brinksma’s plea for a more prominent role for universities was supported by Kim Putters, Director of The Netherlands Institute for Social Research and professor at ESHPM. “Now is the time to take that step, because science is indispensable in this changing society and politicians do not seem to be willing to take any action.”

Putters calls for science to be more self-conscious. “Science should not allow itself to be cornered by the umpteenth opinion. Science can be the catalyst for policy. So little is learned from the knowledge we have. Precisely at a time of political unrest when an incident quickly results in a parliamentary question, science can bring calm and reflection,” says Putters, who hopes that science will be seen more as a partner by politicians.

‘If we don’t act now, we will be throwing away our future’

Chair of the Executive Board Ed Brinksma

Getting your hands dirty

It is not the first time that Brinksma has propagated the university as a pioneer of change, but he feels the urgency to continue doing so. “Just think of the IPCC report on climate change; it does not get much worse. If we don’t act now, we will be throwing away our future.”

And Brinksma, obviously, sees a role for Erasmus University in this. “Alpha, gamma and beta sciences have an equal role in this. I have worked a lot in the beta sector before this, but technology cannot solve everything. We need social sciences to solve major social problems, not just as a shield around technology.”

It is not just science for science’s sake, but to give direction and solve social problems. “We can no longer maintain the old view that science has to be value-free. In the words of Sartre, even as a scientist you cannot avoid getting your hands dirty sometimes: you can only do the right thing if you do not avoid all risks.”

“You must explain the meaning for society based on the content,” Putters agrees. “The role of science is to give direction, and to provide insight.”


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Patience is running out

Putters and Brinksma not only appeal to science, but also to politics. Brinksma: “Everyone now realises that we have to change the way we organise society: science, companies and organisations; only politics is not keeping up.”

Putters and Brinksma’s patience with politicians is running out. They are disappointed that seven months after the elections, there is still no new government. Putters: “By the time we have a government, a quarter of the government’s term of office will already be over!”

“We need a broadly shared vision of the problems we face, including, for instance, social inequality and a new view of labour in addition to climate change. It should not be about who has the majority,” Putters continues. “Let’s talk about the facts first.”

Brinksma concurs. “If the politicians do not come up with this broad vision, then maybe it is time that we, as cooperating universities in the VSNU, ask ourselves what we are going to do about it. Maybe it is time to get really angry.”

rens bod woinactie ingrid van engelshoven tegenbegroting protest opening academisch jaar – HOP

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