Students and rector Baaijens look to the future

Some twenty students met with rector Frank Baaijens in the University Club yesterday for a two-hour discussion on a wide range of topics that centered around the university’s Institutional Plan 2020-2025. After the rector’s introduction, there followed a variety of comments and questions, including on the importance of sustainability in education and research, and on the university’s ties with industry. Other topics included social safety, performance and exam pressure, and student wellbeing.

photo Bart van Overbeeke

Be more transparent about the university’s ties with industry. That was one of the requests made by a group of students yesterday afternoon. The reason why they wanted more insight into this matter – and on the nature of these ties in particular – is that it will make it easier to investigate the potential impact of the university’s relationship with industry on its educational activities. Rector Frank Baaijens was very clear when it came to that potential impact: “The university decides what kind of education it provides, industry has no say in this whatsoever. We do however try to prepare our students for life after graduation, when they start to work for industry. It’s true that we discuss this with industry, and we always have done so. But when it comes to determining the contents of our education, our independence is always our prime concern.”


Many students also wanted to know what the university’s views are on the importance of sustainability, and how the Executive Board expects to draw more attention to this matter in its education and research activities. As far as the latter point is concerned, Baaijens said that many research projects already contain a component that is in some way related to sustainability, “even though that might not always be immediately clear.” He believes that it is the university’s task to bring this to the forefront more. But he also immediately pointed out that TU/e is a place for other kinds of research too. “Not all our research can focus solely on sustainability.”

He did however agree that there is an urgent need to put more emphasis on sustainability. During the two-hour meeting, Baaijens said several times that he was shocked by the most recent IPCC report’s warning that the world only has eight years left before the impact of climate change becomes irreversible. “We have an enormous amount of work to do in that short eight-year period.”

Baaijens pointed out that an increasing number of aspects of education and sustainability are currently in development, and that Challenge-Based Learning project in particular will be aimed at increasing students’ involvement with this topic. Baaijens: “I see that many departments are intrinsically motivated to put this into practice, but we do have to realize that this is a long-term project.” He also said that the university is currently working on a broad vision on sustainability, but he couldn’t say at this point when that vision will be presented.

Performance pressure

Quite a few students who were present at the meeting also brought up matters related to student wellbeing, ranging from the pressure they feel increasingly more often as a result of overloaded study programs to the sometimes inconveniently scheduled exam periods, as a result of which students hardly have any time left to rest. But the discussion also touched on the difficulties that can arise when students combine a board function with their study program, which regularly leads to burn-out complaints among students. The pressure felt by graduates from industry was also addressed.

Baaijens said that the board is currently consulting with a number of departments on their study programs. “Some departments find it truly challenging to actually fit those 60 credits students are required to obtain into the 1600 hours they have at their disposal.” But he also mentioned students’ own responsibility. “Part of the responsibility also lies with the students themselves, when they have too much ambition.”

Baaijens believes that the program directors have an important role when it comes to addressing these issues. “They are the ones who know best what a student is required to do. We are currently trying to determine whether we can create moments of rest for students during an academic year. One of the things under consideration is whether it’s wise to schedule an exam period immediately after Christmas.”


The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was also discussed. The question was what role online education will play in the future. Baaijens made it clear once more that TU/e is an on-campus university and that the aim is to get as many students to campus as possible. He acknowledged that this will require more facilities. “We will have those in September in Neuron, the former Laplace building, as well as in the low-rise buildings in between the two residential towers for students that are scheduled for construction.” There will always be a need for more facilities, Baaijens said, “but our financial capabilities determine what we can and can’t do.”

The impact of the pandemic on the past two generations of students, who regularly had to study from home, is being closely monitored, Baaijens said. “The group of students who suffered the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic is a large one, and we need to take action when problems arise.”


At the end of the meeting, a topic came up that allowed the attendees to reflect on the meeting itself. How do we make sure that students across the board feel more involved with the decisions that are being made, and how do we get them to participate in a discussion about the university’s future? Baaijens referred to the low turnout for this afternoon’s meeting, and emphatically asked those present for suggestions to make sure that turnout will be higher next time.

Naomi Amsing, former student member of the University Council, suggested that for a start, the meeting should have been announced in a slightly different way. “The words ‘Mid Term Review,’ as this meeting is called, won’t mean much to the average student.” But many of the attendees were well aware that stimulating student involvement isn’t easy. Students tend not to, or only partially, read emails with too many words, and they hardly notice the announcements on screens across campus either. 

Koen de Nooij, who currently serves on the University Council as a student member, gave the rector a tip. “Set up a stand in MetaForum once in a while and address students directly on issues that matter to them. You will make yourself vulnerable, but you will definitely hear students’ honest opinions. That’s what we did last year with our student group during the runup to the University Council elections.” Baaijens said that he would certainly consider De Nooij’s advice for the future, and that he hoped for more interaction with students.

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