MAASTRICHT. The university is not always working on urgent social issues, there is not enough mutual co-operation, and passion among students and staff is less than in the past. These were the first ideas from the ‘education think tank’ to reach the outside world on Monday.
This think tank is one of four, set up by the Executive Board to prepare the new Strategic Programme 2017-2021. This week, the debate on the topic reached the stage of public meetings with open access, one in the city centre and one in Randwijck. In a month’s time, the think tanks will publish their final advice, based in part on the comments made during the open access meetings about their provisional points of view.
Provisional or not, professor Rolf van der Velden - on behalf of the education think tank - dropped another few bombshells last Monday. According to Van der Velden, director of ROA (Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market), there is plenty of room for improvement. This requires a new ‘philosophy’. Its core elements include: education and research have grown too far apart and need to be integrated again, for example in open learning labs; Problem-Based Learning works well, but the quality of lecturers is not up to scratch; stop using lecturers merely as process supervisors, make them inspiring mentors again; and allow faculties, from the bottom up, to come up with remedies to shape PBL and the integration of research into education, then maybe passion will return to students and staff. Central dogmas on what PBL should look like are a thing of the past.
On behalf of the four think tanks, Van der Velden presented a new mantra for the coming years: CORE, which stands for Collaboration, Open, Research, Education. The first two concepts, collaboration and openness, should determine the UM agenda. Collaboration across disciplinary borders, so interdisciplinary research; this would be repeated a little later by the spokesperson of the second think tank, the one for research. If there are any organisational impediments in this field – criticism that came from the audience– then these should be removed. Collaboration with and openness towards the outside world? That can also be improved upon.
There was more criticism from the audience. Are there really no inspiring lecturers anymore? Yes, there are, Van der Velden acknowledged, but mainly in the master’s phase. And also: we do enough socially relevant research, the problem is that not everyone knows it. The point was also emphasised strongly by the research think tank: more communication within the UM is necessary, because researchers have no idea what kind of cool research is done ‘across the corridor’, but the outside world should also be served better. Researchers could use some help in this area, it was said. President of the Executive Board Martin Paul confirmed this. Researchers who explain things on television often look like they are figuring in a ‘hostage video,’ he said. In other words: as if a gun is being held to their heads, so oppressive.
Other ideas from this think tank: create a knowledge institute for public-private-partnership; there is a need. And, bearing in mind the CORE mantra: set up a research infrastructure that is open to everyone, for people to join in. Exactly how remained unclear, because it did not get any more specific than that.
Long list of wishes
The list of wishes from the third think tank - on internationalisation - was long, with one common denominator: ensure that internationalisation is embedded in everything. So, pay more attention to intercultural competences in education, create more possibilities for international mobility of staff, be less modest in creating one’s image to the outside world, and do something with the theme of globalisation. The length of the list gave rise to the comment that the UM should choose what really distinguished it from other universities, but this think tank won’t go there. Everything is important, everything is interconnected, the spokesperson said.
Lastly, from the ‘social engagement’ think tank, there was the message that, notwithstanding the idea that students today only focus on themselves, when there are specific social projects they actually line up to participate. Take, for example, the initiative to help refugees, “for which 200 students signed up”. In short, those who are looking for social involvement, will have to come up with specific projects. This think tank had not developed many other clear ideas.
With his closing speech, Martin Paul undisputedly earned the prize for the best joke of the day: “Someone once said that changing the course of a university is like moving a graveyard: you get very little help from those inside. Fortunately it is not as bad as that here.”