Both top students and average students to receive more attention

Strategic Programme 2017-2021


MAASTRICHT. More co-operation across faculty, department and discipline borders, and students being introduced to research from day one. These are the two most striking resolutions from Maastricht University’s 2017-2021 Strategic Programme, presented this week.

Not everything is new: the last five-year plan (2012-16) also considered interdisciplinarity of paramount importance. This now gets a boost. But the focus on the interrelationship between research and teaching, preferably in long-term projects, is definitely new.

The programme, as the Executive Board never tires of emphasising, has grown from the bottom up this time, with as much input as possible from staff and students, including the work of special think tanks. This has also led to a new ‘philosophy’ named CORE, which stands for Collaborative, Open, and ResearchEducation, that last indeed to be spelled as a single word.

This is an ambitious plan, which must be implemented over the next five years. The openness, for example, should lead to the UM’s research infrastructure being made available to all staff and students; results of research projects should be made freely available to everyone.

For the first time, management principles have been formulated, in which the UM is turning against the general trend of the increasingly centralised management of universities. There will be no ‘management thinking’ in Maastricht, it says. The board is taking a modest position: decentralisation is leading, the board being convinced that matters can also be managed properly lower down in the organisation. “We are a high-trust organisation,” executive board member Nick Bos said not so long ago to the University Council, “and as such we take the risk that things may sometimes go wrong”.

A new and remarkable tone can also be found in the education paragraphs. Where not so long ago all attention went to ‘top’ students, room is now being made explicitly for the average student. Whoever needs extra supervision, shall receive it.

The UM will continue, not surprisingly, to strive for the broadest possible composition of its staff and student population. Diversity, certainly with the arrival of the new rector, has been made a top priority. Obviously this means a continuation of internationalisation policies and widespread recruitment of students, although no percentages are mentioned. Until recently, the motto was a minimum of 50 per cent of Dutch students. The current policy speaks of a “balanced composition of the population, representing the region, the Netherlands, Europe and the rest of the world”. There are undoubtedly ideas about what is meant exactly by ‘balanced’. But these ideas have not been expressed in the Strategic Programme.

A last thing worth mentioning is the commitment to promoting the social involvement of students. This can be done through work placements, for which more space should be created, but also by promoting all kinds of neighbourhood activities, possibly even by awarding credits in the curriculum. This is remarkable, because years after the research information centre – set up to enable students and staff to make science available to people and organisations with limited financial means – was discontinued because of cuts, it seems as if the phenomenon is back, this time under the name ‘knowledge shops’.