New Year's Wish


Shortly before Christmas two articles appeared on the Cursor website that gave me food for thought over the holiday period. The first was a lighthearted piece about why Boxing Day is so important in the Netherlands. I'd always thought that December 26 was celebrated because it's my birthday, but apparently there's more to it than that.

The second piece was a somber Christmas message from our Executive Board President. Given the current political climate, he foresees a difficult year ahead. While their international intake is the very thing keeping them afloat, universities will be required to become less international, was the takeaway as I understood it. It's a message we're also hearing from businesses in our region.

For me, this triggers a whole host of questions. If our region so badly needs engineers, why do nearly half of them leave their jobs within eighteen months? Are they perhaps needed elsewhere even more acutely? Or are these companies offering such poor conditions that their staff set off in search of better opportunities? Or is this the problem: that new graduates are unable to put down roots because while they're students absolutely nothing is done to encourage them to settle into the local community?

And if their only real importance is to a number of high-tech companies in the region, why should the Dutch government have to subsidize all these international employees and students? Shouldn't these companies themselves be required to invest in these employees? Perhaps by offering students performance-related grants. We'll fund you through college, and once you have your degree, you'll be obliged to work for us for a certain number of years. That would be a win-win-win: the companies get their engineers, TU/e gets motivated students, and the students will stay and work in the Netherlands for at least five years.

But the government has a duty to the electorate to make choices based on what our society as a whole feels is acceptable. The election result shows that the average Dutch citizen attaches greater importance to ensuring that their own children face an affordable future than to subsidizing the umpteenth international student or employee. Which I can totally understand. Our doctoral candidates are now finding this region unaffordable. What on earth must it be like for our hairdressers, school teachers or garbage collectors? And we need these people way more than all those engineers.

And so it is my New Year's wish that as TU/e we become more aware of our place in society. We aren't a factory for producing engineers for local industry. Our job is to develop knowledge, in the interest of our society and in harmony with that society. This means that we must tailor our ambitions to suit the possibilities available in the current environment.

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