“Personal development was considered more important than getting a good job”

“Personal development was considered more important than getting a good job”

The first in the family to go to university

  • Annemie Schols (60), dean of the Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences, and Jos Schols (64), professor of Old Age Medicine at FHML
  • Annemie studied Clinical Nutrition at Wageningen University (1979-1985) and Jos studied Medicine at Maastricht University (1977-1983)
  • Born in Beek and Genhout, Limburg, and raised in Eersel, Noord-Brabant, with their parents and brother Jan (middle child)

Never stop learning. That was the motto of the Schols family, and all three children took it very seriously. They all ended up in teaching and research. Jos, the eldest, became a geriatric specialist, worked as physician-director and has been professor of Old Age Medicine at UM since 2008. Jan, the middle child, is an orthodontist and professor at Radboud University Nijmegen and Annemie, the youngest, is the dean of FHML and since 2004 professor of Nutrition and Metabolism in Chronic Diseases.

To the Schols children, it was self-evident that they would go to university. “It didn’t feel special to me, but it did to my father”, says Annemie. The fact that they were the first in their family to go to university did not hinder them. “Many of our friends were, too”, says Jos. “At that time, it was very common to be a first-generation student.”


The man who inspired all this was their father. “Challenging yourself intellectually was more important to him than getting a good job or making a lot of money,” says Annemie. “He was the eighth of eleven children and would have liked to study English, but he was about to be conscripted. He completed a shortened teacher training course and – after being drafted into military service and sent out to the Dutch East Indies – became headmaster of a primary school in Genhout.”

And he didn’t stop there. He founded a secondary school in Eersel, later added an adult secondary education programme, and stood at the cradle of one of the “people’s universities” in the Netherlands. He was constantly involved in educational innovation. “At some point, he met Wynand Wijnen [who later played an important role in the founding of UM]”, says Jos. “I remember that he came over for coffee a couple of times.” Annemie pulls out some leaflets. The cover says Elementary Philosophy, State University of Limburg 1972. “I found this among his papers after he passed away. He took notes in the margins.” She turns to Jos: “He must’ve been looking into it for you.”

To the pub

Jos did go to Maastricht, after studying pharmacy in Utrecht for a year. “I hadn’t got into medicine.” He was in one of the first classes at the university, back when the Faculty of Medicine was the only faculty and students and lecturers went to the pub together. “We’d go over to prof. Co Greep’s [a UM pioneer who became dean in 1978] house. He invited everyone to his parties.”

Annemie debated between medicine and nutrition and eventually studied the latter in Wageningen. Their parents didn’t pressure her to choose one or the other; they supported her decision. “They felt like I had to experience it for myself. I went abroad during my studies. Back then, going abroad meant having very little contact with home; you couldn’t just send them a quick message. My mother would have liked it if I’d stayed closer to home, but she let us make our own decisions. Today, you sometimes have to be careful not to be overly involved as a parent. It’s a very different type of interaction, but maybe that’s also because I’ve experienced it for myself. I know what can go wrong.”

Rest, regularity and cleanliness

Their new freedom took some getting used to, especially for Jos in Maastricht. “I wasn’t even allowed to go to the pub until I’d completed secondary school. That was normal in the village where we grew up”, says Jos. “And the university didn’t offer the student support services it offers today.” What helped them was the fact that they had been raised with structure. “Rest, regularity and cleanliness”, laughs Annemie, quoting an old Dutch saying about raising children. “Our household was a well-oiled machine, mostly thanks to my mother. Her role is not to be underestimated.” “The division of domestic labour in our household was traditional”, says Jos. “But it was very clear that they were running it together.” “They appreciated each other and valued each other’s work”, adds Annemie.

There’s another thing the two siblings have in common: both of them stayed with the same organisation for a long time. “Loyalty and finishing what you start are two other values we were raised with”, says Jos. “I feel genuinely proud when I look at how much UM and MUMC+ have grown. Just like I’m proud of the healthcare organisation Envida I work for, which I’ve also stayed with for all these years.” They also both began to take on administrative tasks as their careers progressed. “It’s about taking responsibility”, says Annemie. “My father would have loved it that I became a dean. Not because of the status, but because I’ve gradually taken on more and more responsibility.”

Incidentally, their father eventually realised his own dream. “He went to university after taking early retirement”, says Annemie. “He first studied Dutch, then philosophy, and later got a master’s degree in psychology.” And he didn’t take home study or distance learning courses – no, he went all in. “He’d leave for Tilburg in the mornings with his lunchbox to sit in lecture halls among the young folk.”

Author: Cleo Freriks

Photo: Joey Roberts

Categories: People
Tags: first generation,FHML,dean,Schols,instagram

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