Rector magnificus Frans van Vught


Seldom has the University of Twente had a more remarkable or more influential leader than Frans van Vught, the rector magnificus who guided the University of Twente through some of its most turbulent times.

Frans van Vught (1950) studied Urban Planning and Sociology at Utrecht University and then spent a few years working at universities overseas before gaining his PhD in Public Administration in Enschede in 1982. He then worked for a time as a part-time lecturer in Leiden, until in 1984 he was appointed lecturer in Planning Methodology at the University of Twente. Whilst in this role he founded the Twents Centre for Higher Education Policy Studies (CHEPS), of which he was the scientific director for more than ten years. He was also appointed Dean of Public Administration, a position he filled from 1990 to 1994.

In 1997, Van Vught was appointed rector magnificus. His administration would face turbulent times. From the start of his appointment, Van Vught knew he was leading an organization that had little focus or cohesion in research, combined with worryingly low enrolment figures. He foresaw that a lot of things would have to change, and he was not wrong. The eight years of his administration saw various new educational programmes added to the range on offer, including Psychology, Business Administration, Biomedical Technology and three teacher training programmes. The university organization didn’t escape the changes, either: Van Vught merged some faculties and founded new research institutes.

Looking back on his time on campus, Van Vught was sometimes disappointed about the resistance he faced from the university: ‘I was surprised by the strength of the criticism our plans received.’ But that resistance waned over time, and support for Van Vught’s plans began to grow on the University Council and the management team.

Van Vught sees himself as an ambassador for the University of Twente, and he takes that role seriously. A talented networker, he is also an authority on higher education and has the ear of several national bodies. For instance, he is a member of the National Innovation Platform, chaired by former Dutch Prime Minister Balkenende, and he also works to achieve greater cooperation between the three universities of technology in the Netherlands: Delft, Eindhoven and Twente.

Van Vught had many friends among the student population. He was a keen supporter of the founding of the Student Union and organized regular ‘breakfasts with the rector’. The moresgenootschap (‘mores society’) Ius Sanctus made him an honorary member, and a portrait of the rector hangs in the student fortress that is the Bastille building. Speaking about his bond with the students during his farewell speech, Van Vught said, ‘I’m definitely going to miss having a beer with the students in the Pakkerij! They are a very important part of the academic community, and it’s important to me that they take on their own responsibility.’

Even after he left the university, Van Vught continued to work hard for higher education. He founded the Netherlands Institute of Government and is the first Dutch person to take a seat on the board of the European Universities Association (EUA), one of Europe’s most important advocacy organizations for higher education. He also advises the European Commission at a high level on issues relating to education and technology policy in Europe and finds time to chair the Supervisory Board at the Medical Spectrum Twente.

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