Ank Bijleveld, the first alumnus to become a minister
University of Twente alumni have gone on to succeed in a very diverse range of roles. Alumna Ank Bijleveld made it to a very special position: she is the first University of Twente alumnus – male or female – to become a government minister.
From 1980 to 1986, Ank Bijleveld studied Public Administration at what was then Technische Hogeschool Twente (‘Twente Technical College’). After she graduated she took on a variety of roles in Dutch politics, both locally and at a national level. Her educational programme helped prepare her for a career in public administration, as she told U-Today in March 2018: ‘The analytical approach to a problem is something I use on a daily basis. But it’s a long journey from being a student to becoming a minister, and you have to show you have a knack for administration.’
That long journey began straight after Bijleveld’s graduation. From 1986 to 1989 she was part of the Enschede city council, after which she left Enschede for The Hague to take her seat in the Dutch House of Representatives as a member of the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA). In 2001 she returned to Twente, this time as Mayor of Hof van Twente, a function she carried out until 2007. Bijleveld then returned to The Hague and got down to work as State Secretary in the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations. She remained in the role of State Secretary until 2010, when she briefly returned to the House of Representatives, but she was soon appointed Queen’s (later King’s) Commissioner in the province of Overijssel. Bijleveld has been Minister of Defence in the Third Rutte Cabinet since 2017.
When she got the call asking her to become a minister, Bijleveld didn’t say yes straight away. ‘I was at the Military Boekelo [equestrian event] when they called, and I wanted to think it over,’ she explains in her interview with U-Today. ‘Defence is a serious portfolio. The previous minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert had just resigned in the wake of the fatal mortar accident in Mali, and there were other things to consider. Defence has faced years of budget cuts, and both the Dutch Safety Board and the Court of Audit have published critical reports about the culture and about safety. The job comes with big responsibilities, but then I’m not easily frightened.’ She had her doubts, but in the end she decided to go for it. ‘I’m in awe of the 55,000 people who work in Defence. They are the reason I said yes.’
Over the course of her career Bijleveld has never lost touch with the University of Twente. As the Queen’s (and King’s) Commissioner in Overijssel her duties were ceremonial. ‘Of course, I was present at the opening of the academic year, and at the Dies when I presented the PhD award and pinned a ribbon to the lapel of rector Ed Brinksma when he stepped down.’ And that’s not the only link: ‘My nephew is studying at ATLAS’.