The landscape of higher education is changing. This requires a different kind of university, with more focus on skills, providing personal, flexible learning paths. The ECIU University meets that need. Victor van der Chijs will stop as president of the European Consortium of Innovative Universities (ECIU). A retrospective - and an outlook.
Almost four years of being president, now nearly over. How do you look back on that period?
'With pride and with great pleasure. I've noticed that the thirteen partner universities are growing closer. That was everyone’s wish from the get-go. The call from the European Union, which led to the creation of ECIU University, accelerated the pace of cooperation. Initially, it was mainly about exchange, education and the leadership program for future leaders. Now, we are taking bold steps together to develop the education of the future. And we can, because the consortium has existed for almost 25 years now. We know each other well and there is a lot of mutual trust. Each partner university has reinvented itself in part thanks to ECIU.'
What are the next steps?
'Of the 41 European university alliances participating in the European Commission's call to consider the university of the future, ECIU is the largest group with the longest history. Our programme is ambitious; that makes us one of the frontrunners in Europe at the moment. For example, we recently wrote a whitepaper to gain a better understanding of issues relating to micro-credentials. The contact with Brussels is also good. This is partly due to having our office in the Belgian capital. We regularly speak with European Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, whose portfolio includes education. She said to us recently: “You are the future of higher education in Europe and are showing how things should be done." A wonderful affirmation. Now it's up to us to deliver.'
And how does that work in practice?
We are making full use of the potential of the consortium. We take full advantage of each other's knowledge and skills. On the topic of micro-credentials, for example, Dublin City University is in the lead because of their experience in this area. And when it comes to digital learning, Tampere University plays that role. There is a lot of enthusiasm and commitment and our learning curve is very steep. If something ever doesn't work out, we are honest with one another and look at how we can help each other to achieve our goals. There have been plenty of such examples in recent years. It is a huge puzzle, and if you want to do it right, you need to look ten years ahead. That's what we agreed upon together. This won't stop after the pilot. For example, we are already working on getting an ECIU digital platform aligned.'
What does ECIU University mean for UT?
'The ECIU University is a vehicle for innovation, in terms of both research and education. This must be embedded within the faculties. We had a great discussion with the University Council on how we, UT, can derive maximum benefit from the consortium. The faculties are very eager but also still putting the puzzle together. This is pioneering. Within the academic world, there are always people who want to experiment and say 'come on, let's get on with it'. We are part of a pilot, and that things are going wrong is part of the process. We have allowed room for that.’
What ingredients should definitely be included in the recipe for future-proof education?
I think about my sixteen-year-old son, who will soon be going to university, and what I would love for him to have access to by then. Definitely the option of adjusting his learning path along the way. I studied law myself, simply because I didn't know what I wanted. If only I could have changed halfway! Eventually, my interests turned more towards political science. Room to experiment and switch must be built into the system, along with options for gaining international experience, learning to work together and finding out how society works. My son will soon learn that a problem can have several solutions and that these ought to be tackled together, in multidisciplinary teams. That is exactly what we are doing with ECIU University.'
And if you look at the university itself, how will it evolve?
On top of, or parallel to, or within the current educational institutions, a flexible structure is starting to arise. This allows students to learn in a different way, to get acquainted with new disciplines and to contribute to solving social problems. It is up to the student whether he or she does eighty percent of his or her studies within the 'established order' and twenty percent within the 'super structure', or fifty-fifty or even one hundred percent superstructure.’
What do you wish for the ECIU University?
‘To continue innovating. The partner universities have found each other on all fronts. That step has been taken. Now the ECIU University needs to land the plane within the institutions. This movement has been set in motion and is our answer to the call to develop the education of the future. Society needs broadly developed talents with more focus on skills. It is a great thing to be able to anticipating for this already.'
You will soon be saying goodbye to academia. Will we ever see you again?
My mission in Twente is mostly over. I am taking on a new challenge at the extensive Port-Industrial Complex of mainport Rotterdam. Take CO2 emissions, for example: according to climate agreements, these must be cut very significantly in the coming years, but they don't know exactly how to go about it. I will make sure to tell them that the enormous potential of students and researchers can help with such issues. Real solutions to real problems, that's what ECIU University students are all about. It is quite possible that I will soon be knocking on UT’s door.'
This article was publised in ECIU University Magazine. Read the whole magazine here.