UC | Growing pains or gains?


In 1920, the municipality of Eindhoven counted 43.000 inhabitants. In the period of a hundred years, it grew five times in size, and, because of Philips, Eindhoven became the fastest growing city in the Netherlands. Now, the city and the region are on the brink of even more growth. This time, not because of a single company, but because the entire region is booming. Should our university grow along?

If you've read the Eindhovens Dagblad (the regional newspaper, ed.) in the past weeks, you have probably seen some articles related to the projected growth of the Brainport region, our Eindhoven itself, and the facilities that come with it. ASML alone wants to grow by 15,000 employees in the coming years, Eindhoven Centraal wants to expand, and there are many investments in the development of housing.

Societal challenges, like tackling climate change and working towards responsible consumption, have become much more urgent and often rely on technology for solutions. Considering this, it’s not surprising that our region and university have become much more attractive. Catering to that demand could mean doubling in student numbers. So, should we actually do it?

When I talked to people about this, I was posed a question in return: “What if we don't grow?” That take on the dilemma surprised me. Growth will take place somewhere and why not let it happen here? It promises to bring more collaboration with industry, enable us to do more research and become leaders in technology on a European level. Executive board president Robert-Jan Smits recently talked about it and posed four boundary conditions.

Smits wants guarantees for funding, facilities, and housing, while maintaining our quality and keeping the workload manageable. Although still abstract, his conditions do cover the most important aspects. Next to these conditions, there are a few aspects that need to be looked at. What changes does this growth actually bring for our university? What are the things we should keep an eye on during this process?

Growing by thousands of new students and staff creates a massive challenge, since those people will need the facilities to research, a space to study and work, as well as a roof above their head. The university and the municipality have had their difficulties in the last years to ensure these, so improving this situation will be key. But as far as I've heard, there is much willingness from the university, the municipality and the industry to invest in this.

Then the question: how do we want to grow? Do we expand through existing programs, or create relevant new ones? Employability in the region is one thing to consider but ensuring that our engineers can work on those urgent societal challenges is also important. Anyhow, the departments of this university should be able to absorb the inflow smoothly. Teaching and support staff might have to tweak their programs and fundamental courses will need to greatly expand. If the latter is compatible with our challenge-based learning ambitions is still up for discussion.

In order to keep our quality of education, research and working at TU/e high, we should protect the aspects that make our community happy and satisfied. This includes keeping the student-to-staff-ratio low, looking out for our staff and their workload, and continuously evaluating the work environment. We should therefore periodically assess how safe and welcome people feel and how manageable their workload is. This way, an internally healthy and happy university will be able to boost and stimulate students even more.

And last, I think we'll need to re-adjust our view on internationalization and our approach at attracting new students. Further growth will mean that the share of international students will increase. That means that we'll truly need to become an international university, not just an English-speaking one. However, our university also carries the responsibility of educating Dutch students and their inflow has stagnated over the years. With this growth, I'd therefore like to see the university make a serious effort in engaging high-school students more, letting them experience the wonders of technology, and convincing them to come to Eindhoven.

A growing university will create new opportunities, which I look forward to. Although there are definitely challenges ahead, I'm confident that with the right conditions and care, we are capable of sustainable growth while still keeping the qualities of our ‘old’ TU/e.

Main photo | Pixel-Shot / Shutterstock

Share this article