The opening of the 2020-2021 academic year will be held next Monday. The start of a new academic year is always a special moment. Like almost everything else at present, this year’s opening will be quite different from what we are used to. Rather than a full house in the Waaier building, the opening will take place online. What has not changed, however, is our drive and dedication to turn the year to come into a success.
Here at the University of Twente, we have been working hard on preparing for an academic year characterised by social distancing. It is clear that the next few months will require a great degree of flexibility and creativity from everybody, as well as a healthy measure of patience and compromise. We are very grateful for the way in which members of the university community – staff, students, alumni and partners – have contributed, pulled together to come up with solutions and sprang into action in recent months. At the same time, we realise that the extra workload this has resulted in cannot and must not become the ‘new normal’.
The University of Twente that we once knew has changed forever. We are undergoing a transformation. Not one that we would have chosen, but certainly one which we can choose to embrace and shape to some extent.
In the Shaping2030 strategy, we have committed ourselves to an ambitious trajectory for the next few years. The coronavirus crisis has shown that these ambitions are more relevant than ever. But the current crisis will have an impact on the goals we can achieve, and those we cannot. It is also revealing new opportunities and potential threats. In light of this new information, we must also reflect on our plans: what will we need to do in the next few years, what is achievable, and how will this affect the trajectory of our university? All of this will necessitate some challenging decisions.
For example, after years of robust growth, the number of new students joining the university may be in doubt due to the pandemic, especially when it comes to international students. We have always aimed for an ‘International Classroom’: a diverse and multi-faceted academic community made up of individuals with many different talents and from many different backgrounds.
Our society will also undergo significant change over the next few years. That means that the type of education and research that we provide will need to change too. We see enormous opportunities for strengthening our contribution to life-long learning and the way that we relate to society. Who do we need to work with in order to maximise our societal impact, and how should we approach this? During corona times, close collaboration with partner universities has proved to be invaluable, and will for sure be so in the near future. One example is the progress being made on the European university that we are creating together with our partners at ECIU, and we are also continuing to build on our increasingly close relationship with VU Amsterdam.
The public debate surrounding Black Lives Matter shows that there is still a long way to go in order to achieve equal opportunities for everyone, to ensure that everyone can participate on an equal footing and to embrace diversity in such a way that differences enrich our university. This will require some serious discussion in the years to come, including here at UT. Our aim must be to respect the basic principles of diversity, equal opportunities and inclusion wherever possible.
The past year has been a turbulent one for the UT. A year in which Covid-19 held us in its grip, and also one in which we unexpectedly had to say our goodbyes to esteemed colleagues Arjen Hoekstra, Paul Benneworth and Harry Aarts, PhD candidates Guilherme Phillips Furtado, Lisa Zweber-Smith, Guillaume Rohat and Alem Tadesse as well as our talented students Niels Overdijk, Yanick Verkerk, Moira Albrecht, Shoja Shams Shoaei, Lara Hoogland and Jelmer Kootstra. We will remember them.
Despite all the uncertainty, we can look forward with hope to the new academic year, in which Tom Veldkamp will take office as our new Rector Magnificus. Tom will be joining our team and working with us over the next few months.
We hope to see you in person on campus again very soon. Maybe not as frequently as we were once used to, but always with the same drive, commitment and enthusiasm. On Monday, from 15.00 hours onwards, you will be taken on a digital tour around campus during the OAY on UTour. The inspiring stories are definitely worthwhile, so sit back, relax and enjoy.
We wish you all every success in the new academic year.
With kind regards,
Victor van der Chijs, Thom Palstra, Mirjam Bult
Executive Board, University of Twente