Rector Baaijens looks to the future and acknowledges the past

Rector Frank Baaijens emphasized at the Opening of the Academic Year yesterday the importance of the four TU/e research institutes. The creation of a socially safe environment for students and employees is, he says, another item high on the agenda. And the new appraisal system for academics must now take shape in practice. He also looked back on eighteen months of corona. “Colleagues fell sick or lost family or friends, and the well-being of our students declined significantly.”

photo Bart van Overbeeke

Rector Frank Baaijens remarked right at the start of his speech that the number of ECTS achieved by students during the corona crisis had not declined compared to previous years. “And similarly our output in terms of research remained unchanged.” But, of course, corona has had a considerable impact, he told his audience in the Blauwe Zaal and via the live stream. Especially where the personal well-being of students and employees has been concerned, there have been instances of great suffering, including the illness or loss of loved ones.

That for the TU/e community the on-campus experience is irreplaceable, is now beyond doubt, he said. “Moreover, in the recent period we have gathered valuable information about the possibilities for blended learning we would like to offer our students in the future.”

Research institutes

Emphasis on the importance of the TU/e research institutes, which yesterday added the Eindhoven Hendrik Casimir Institute (EHCI) to their ranks, was a strong element of Baaijens's speech. Key to this, he said, is thinking in terms of systems: molecular systems, systems for renewable energy, AI systems and quantum and photonics systems. “Within complex systems of this nature, hierarchical strata can be identified and within these strata fundamental research is needed. Research into materials, into system architecture and into the impact of these on our society. System thinking must become our university's strength and it is ideally suited to the Brainport region.”

Three essential conditions are needed to achieve this, says Baaijens. The four research institutes will be academically independent of the departments. One benefit of this should be that international high-fliers are tempted to come to Eindhoven. “High-fliers do not want to work for someone, they want to develop their own niche in cooperation with other academics.” Additionally, he said, critical mass must be created in a number of selected fields. “We have asked the departments to designate three or four domains in which they wish to excel. For these domains, teams of academics will be created, sharing a vision and infrastructure and assigned a collective responsibility for education tasks.” In addition, says Baaijens, cross-disciplinary research will be encouraged, “because it is there that the ground lies where the magic happens.”

Recognition and Rewards

Baaijens announced that dedicated effort will be invested in the new appraisal system for academics, which is already known as ‘Recognition and Rewards’. He spoke about this before the summer vacation, and this academic year the first steps will be taken to introduce the system in practice. This will be the remit of a new task force.

“This system is underpinned by the principles that we wish to work in a culture built on trust and appreciation and that realistic goals will be set for each individual academic, goals that are appropriate given his or her competences and ambitions,” said Baaijens. He also said, however, that every academic must always continue to combine research and education. “No one can escape this, but a study within the departments has shown that performance in the field of education must be given greater weight in appraisals. In view of this, we will be looking into whether, for those who are giving more emphasis to their teaching tasks, career paths can be made available.”

Social safety

Baaijens also informed his audience that this month sees the start of a campaign at TU/e designed to draw attention to social safety. “This is one of our top priorities, as well as being a shared responsibility. We are taking various forms of action, like clarifying and changing certain procedures. Additional confidential counsellors have been appointed and we will gain an ombudsperson.” But at the end of the day, says Baaijens, social safety is not about the procedures: “It's about the culture. We must treat each other with respect, and I know that this is the norm, but exceptions do exist.” He appealed to his audience always to report unacceptable conduct and not to remain passive if they witness it.

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