Europe first, students second


Brainport is well on its way to becoming the driving force behind the Dutch economy. A fact that none of the students present during the opening ceremony of the new academic year will have failed to notice. Europe first, students second. No, I’m not quoting comedian Arjen Lubach, it’s the result of a simple addition. Just add the numbers with me.

Europe > 90
Europe > 90

During the opening ceremony of the new academic year in the Blauwe Zaal on September 5, a delegation consisting of a European Commissioner, the minister of Economic Affairs, the CEOs of our nation’s leading companies and the (departing) mayor of Eindhoven took to the stage. This is entirely due to one man’s efforts: executive board president Robert-Jan Smits. Over the past years, he set the bar where it should be at. Stronger through collaboration. As a result, this region is now in the best position to play a relevant role on the world stage in the coming years.

Semiconductor/chips ≈ students

That relevance is reflected primarily in semiconductors, better known as chips. It’s no coincidence that the word ‘chip’ was heard almost as frequently as the word ‘student’ during the ceremony (see the table above). Peter Wennink, CEO of ASML, prefers to see the number of students quadruple, simply to meet his own company’s labor demand. ‘Industry demands, we deliver,’ that seems to be the motto behind this significant increase. The major question, however, is how do we accommodate all those new students.

Government > 15

‘Living in a student room in Poppel,’ a headline on Studio040’s website read three weeks ago. The local broadcaster referred to the following words spoken by board president Smits, quoted in the Eindhovens Dagblad: “For Americans, travelling from Weert to Eindhoven feels like the commute between two consecutive metro stations.” In that case, commuting between Eindhoven and the Belgian village of Poppel shouldn’t be a problem either. But that argument doesn’t quite hold up. To Americans, distance is a relative concept. And public transportation is an equally relative concept. Approximately fifty percent of Americans travel to university by car, and one in ten travels by public transportation. In the Netherlands, these figures are reversed. There’s a good reason why minister of Economic Affairs Micky Adriaansens got a clear message to take with her to The Hague: invest in this region and in this university. And don’t just invest in new technology, such as photonics, but also in the construction of student accommodations and public transportation, even though that topic came up only once.

Of course, not a single student will end up living in Poppel. Nevertheless, that headline is appropriate for the region’s ambitions. Just look at Silicon Valley (figure 1) and Boston (figure 2), and compare that to Eindhoven (figure 3). The comparison on equal scale between these regions with similar ambitions, illustrates the challenge we’re faced with when it comes to housing and infrastructure.

In short, the bar is set at place that befits this region’s ambitions, but apart from investments in housing and infrastructure, it will also require the commitment from other educational institutions – such as Fontys and the Design Academy – to TU/e’s increase in scale if the balance in the ecosystem is to remain intact. And then there’s the question of how do we retain all those recruited people? How do we make their lives as comfortable a possible to prevent them from moving to another city that has more to offer culturally?

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