TU/e prepared to grow, under certain conditions

The ongoing growth in the Brainport region has to come to terms with enormous upscaling: thousands of vacancies need to be filled by 2030. "There is a huge need for highly educated talent," says TU/e's Executive Board president Robert-Jan Smits. "The region has asked us if we are willing to grow with them by educating more students. So, of course, we are willing to explore how we can manage to educate more engineering graduates." But Smits emphasizes that it would mean breaking with the Strategy 2030 and sets four conditions for it.

photo Vincent van den Hoogen

An enormous wave of upscaling is coming to the Brainport region. ASML, for example, will grow by 15,000 additional employees in the coming years. As a result, suppliers must also grow and need qualified personnel. We are talking about tens of thousands of additional jobs. What does this mean for the TU/e?

Smits: "This huge wave of upscaling that our region is facing is recognized by the political powers in The Hague. The Brainport region is the only region specifically mentioned in the coalition agreement. A special group of ministers has even been set up under the leadership of Micky Adriaansens, Minister of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy, to investigate how the Brainport economies of scale can be facilitated. Think of housing, healthcare facilities and mobility. The entire infrastructure has to mirror that growth."

Huge challenges

“The region has also presented us with the question: is the university prepared to grow along with the region in order to educate considerably more students to help make this upscaling possible? In addition, we are also being approached at the national level. Because of the transitions in climate, energy and nitrogen, our society is desperate for system engineers. These are huge challenges that require engineers."

Furthermore, TU/e is also being viewed in a European context, says Smits. "Europe wants to be less dependent on, for example, China for the production of chips. The total chip industry in Europe is now 8.9 percent on a global scale. The goal is to make that 20 percent. There too, we can make a huge contribution with our knowledge and skills."

Smits knows that this will demand a lot from the university, but is convinced that it can be done: "In the past ten years we have doubled the number of students, from 6,500 to 13,000. We have proven that we can do it, and we are proud that we have achieved this together. Further growth is also a huge opportunity for our university to make ourselves stronger and gain an even more prominent position." Moreover, Smits believes that our university cannot leave the region to which it owes so much out in the cold.

"We have discussed this openly and honestly within the Executive Board and with the deans. We are willing to take responsibility and grow, but with conditions."

Four conditions

According to Smits the university has set out four conditions for making more growth possible. Upfront funding from the central government to facilitate growth and to keep the current workload from increasing further. Growth should not come at the expense of excellence and it should be gradual to keep the workload manageable. The last condition is that the region must ensure that infrastructure and facilities are in place. Smits: "We think of the last point first of all, of course, as additional student housing." He emphasizes that all four conditions must be met: "For us, all four are dealbreakers."

Should we include other major educational institutions in Eindhoven such as Fontys and Summa in this initiative?

"We have excellent cooperation with the presidents of the boards of Fontys and Summa, and of course we have talked about the upscaling. After all, the region is not only craving university talent."

Where will the growth in our student numbers come from?

"We will need to interest more Dutch students in science and engineering studies, but the real growth will come mainly from abroad," says Smits. "That means we will also witness a change in character and become more than ever a truly international university."

How is the stay-rate of our internationals? How do we ensure that they stay here and that we don't train for a brain drain?

"The capacity of our region for absorption is enormous: ASML, NXP, ProDrive and VDL are looking for thousands of new employees. These are all nice, high-paying jobs," says Smits. He refers to a report by internationalization organization NUFFIC about the so-called stay-rate of international students in the Netherlands, i.e., how many of them stay in our country. This shows that TU Eindhoven has the highest stay-rate of all universities in the Netherlands: 52.1%.

"More intensive cooperation with companies in the region may be an important tool in giving the stay-rate a further boost." This would allow more students to complete their graduation within companies, and thus also easily move on to jobs.

"Moreover, over 80 percent of the engineers in Brainport come from TU/e. So, investing in TU/e is a wise choice for the central government in providing Brainport with the highly trained engineers that are so desperately needed for the region to become an even stronger engine of the Dutch economy."

When is all this going to play out?

"On June 15, the first consultation of the ministerial group took place on the upscaling of Brainport and what is needed for it. So we are still at the early stage. There will probably be official working groups in The Hague to work things out in more detail."

The TU/e Spring Memorandum already anticipates the growth: it states that we are expected to grow to 14,600 students in the coming years. "We have received so much extra income from, among others, the Growth Fund and the Sector Plans that, on this basis, we can already grow to 14,600 in a responsible way and with a healthy student-staff ratio," says Smits.

The potential for growth will be on everyone's mind. What message do you want to give our community?

"Whether we are actually heading toward doubling student numbers after 2030 is far from certain. Of course, we will include our community in this process as much as possible. Because when the time comes, we'll be counting on everyone to step up to the plate: the employee participation body, the departments, the services, everyone. Because let's face it, it's a huge challenge, but at the same time also a huge opportunity for TU/e."

Still, you don't look too much at ease.

"And there's every reason for that. Look at the problems with student housing, the GP and dental practices that no longer want to take on new patients, the shortages of teachers and in healthcare. And now also the alarm being sounded by the operators of the electricity grids. Look at the number of Ukrainian refugees that need to be taken in. Congestion is jamming Brainport and not only in Brainport. We have in any case indicated that we are prepared to take our responsibility towards our region, but we can only do so if the right conditions are created."

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