Focus on decisive action, recruiting elite talent and cooperation

While TU/e's Executive Board, which this year has seen two new members join its ranks, will be building on the Strategic Plan 2030, it will maintain a focus on the recruitment of elite talent and the ongoing extension of TU/e's cooperation with Utrecht and Wageningen; furthermore, the ability to take decisive action within the organization must be strengthened. All necessary steps if the university is to be kept on track in the future, said Board President Robert-Jan Smits this afternoon at the opening of the academic year.

photo Bart van Overbeeke

Increasing the university's ability to take decisive action will be the special focus area of Vice President Nicole Ummelen. This encompasses a broad field, says Ummelen, “because changes have taken place in all kinds of areas over the past ten years: numbers of students and employees have seen strong growth, on-campus residential accommodation has expanded, our community has greatly diversified, we have more externally financed projects, and more cooperation with strategic partners and industry. And then there's our highly ambitious vision, and much is going to have to change in the area of support and facilities to make that vision possible.”


Much will be asked of the people responsible for achieving the vision, says Ummelen. At the opening of the academic year this afternoon she referred to the process of continued professionalization as both “a challenge” and “an opportunity” for getting the best out of the campus and the organization. “And so we will be investing in our support staff. In addition, the processes supporting our education offering and our research are also in need of change.” At this point, by way of a shining example, she mentioned the TOO project (Future-oriented Education Organization, ed.), as part of which two years ago the work of various education support services was reviewed to avoid overlap and gaps.

According to Ummelen, it won't be a case of tackling everything in one go and chaos ensuing. “No, we'll first be making a detailed study and giving the matter some careful thought, just as we did for the TOO project. But if we are to carry out what we agreed we want to do in the Strategic Plan, this is very necessary; the foundations must be solid. The whole organization must be involved - and grow - in this process.” Another point she considers important is the creation of a safe, social and inviting community. “For everyone who studies or works here, TU/e must be the place to be.”


Board President Robert-Jan Smits, who before a crowded Blauwe Zaal emphasized once again how happy he is to be working here, covered the topic of cooperation. Adventures in distant countries he dismissed as an option for TU/e; to his mind TU/e's first priority must be its cooperation with industry in the Brainport region. "Because it was with this intention that the Technical College was once founded," said this son of Waalwijk. Smits pointed out to his audience that 81 percent of TU/e graduates find work in the Brainport region. Contrasted with Delft (12 percent), Twente (5 percent) and Wageningen (2 percent), this figure makes the importance of his university abundantly clear, he feels. “We are an international university with deep roots in this region. We are keen to further develop our cooperation with industry and to boost significantly both the number of PDEng graduates we produce and our Impuls programs. We are also seeking greater cooperation with municipal and provincial government, with medical institutions and with Fontys.”

In the national arena, a stronger alliance must be forged with our partner institutions in Utrecht, both the university and the medical center, and with Wageningen so that major issues affecting civil society can be addressed, explained Smits. “It is our responsibility to come up with the necessary solutions.” On March 11, 2020 the three institutions will give a joint presentation about their further-reaching cooperation going forward. Within Europe, Smits sees plenty of prospects for the EuroTech alliance. “In this context, we are cooperating with five other elite European institutions. There are numerous opportunities for joint research activities, for student and staff exchanges and for setting up a European science/technical degree granting the status ingenieur.”

Personal learning tracks

As the person charged with education and research, Rector Magnificus Frank Baaijens concluded the Executive Board's contribution to the proceedings. According to Baaijens, the current generation of students, who have grown up in the digital and mobile era, presents the university with the opportunity to implement unique pedagogical changes, such as providing greater flexibility and learning tracks tailored to the individual. “Our current students are experts when it comes to working on online learning platforms, and our innovative BOOST program will make a significant contribution in this respect.”

Challenge-based learning should, he believes, become the basis by which students are taught the skills demanded by today's' industry. “This teaches the skill to solve complex problems, to be able to do that within a multidisciplinary team, and to be able to communicate well about this work. It aligns neatly with our ambition to educate T-shaped ingenieurs. Scientists and technicians with broad-based knowledge and the ability to work in-depth in a particular field.” Baaijens revealed that a group of researchers, drawn from all departments, is already working on converting existing basic courses in line with this new educational approach. With a limited number of students, about ninety in total, it should be possible to trial this innovation this coming academic year (2020-2021).

Naturally, on the topic of research Baaijens was still fervent about the founding of the Eindhoven Artificial Intelligence Systems Institute (EAISI), which today moves into Gaslab. According to Baaijens, AI will be the all-important factor for very many research fields, and it brings closer together three of TU/e's six CRTs (Cross-disciplinary Research Themes). The most important areas of application he named as being ‘intelligent machines’, ‘digital healthcare’ and ‘mobility’. “This choice distinguishes us clearly from other AI initiatives in the Netherlands and Europe and will fit very comfortably into our own ecosystem.” Baaijens revealed that opportunities for education in this field will also be examined.


Finally, he addressed the planned changes for the recognition and remuneration system for academic staff. According to Baaijens, a diversity of career paths is very much needed for scientists “because an individual scientist cannot perform equally well in all phases of his or her career in the four most important fields - education, research, impact and leadership. It must therefore be possible for a scientist to take career steps based on excellence in one of these fields, while fulfilling the basic criteria in the three others.”

This should involve giving priority to education and research, said Baaijens, something that has also been shown by an internal study among scientists, he reported. In this area too, a group of scientists is busy setting up a new recognition and remuneration system. An essential element of which, Baaijens feels, should be respect for one another's work and activities.

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