By cutting a lemon cake – the winning cake of a student competition – Rector Tom Veldkamp officially opened the Academic Year 2021-2022. The academic ceremony took place in a festival setting on different stages. It was time to reconnect and to connect. It was time, perhaps, with society opening up again, to reinvent the university, according to the rector.
Of course the traditional elements of an academic ceremony were there. There was the cortège, the procession of Professors in their toga. A lot was different, though. With some corona restrictions still in place, the audience was seated in front of four stages. It was live indeed, as one thing had become clear: people now want to look each other in the eyes again, after months and months starting at a Zoom or Teams screens.
A lot to learn
This years’s Opening was the opportunity of getting to know two new members of the Executive Board: President Vinod Subramaniam and Vice-President Machteld Roos. They both started about four days earlier, while Rector Tom Veldkamp started last November, in the middle of the pandemic, as an ‘online Rector’. Vinod may know his way at the UT, as he already was a Professor and scientific director there, but that was eight years ago, six of with as the Rector of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. “Of course, I know the UT, but I’ll have a lot to learn again.” Machteld Roos, who worked at Wageningen University & Research earlier complimented the UT staff for their warm welcome and the very inspiring first days on the campus. The executive board was interviewed by Eddy Zoey, who is a Dutch tv and radio producer and musician.
If we would be able to make up the balance, or maybe a provisional one, about the corona time, what did UT learn from it? According to Tom Veldkamp it, of course, changed our ways of collaboration. “It was a major achievement that teaching was online within a week, our people really did great. Now it will be time to see if we can use the best of both worlds. Yes, digital meetings do save travel time, but we also want to look our colleagues in the eyes.” Vinod adds: “Covid is seen as ‘the great equalizer’, hitting everyone at the same level. But don’t forget that some people do not have that fast internet connection, the equipment to work anywhere they want. You really do not have to look at the developing countries for that, it is happening closer to our doorstep. That should be a concern.” The workload that UT staff is talking about, even before the pandemic broke out, is something Machteld Roos recognizes from her previous employer in Wageningen: “Today we see the start of a new era offering us chances to evolve to something better.”
On the other stages, student and staff presentations took place. Prof Bram Nauta, for example, spoke of his experience with the press; Herbert Wormeester about innovation in education. And people from very different parts of the UT had the opportunity of meeting each other in speed dates. “That’s where it happens, when totally different disciplines connect”, as Tom Veldkamp said.
A traditional element were the Graduation Awards, the Twente Graduate School Awards. The Education Award. And this year’s Brinksma Innovation Grant, named after the former rector Ed Brinksma, went to the whole team of Technology Enhanced Teaching and Learning (TELT) for innovative solution in online teaching.
A new competition, based on the success of the Great Britisch Bake-Off and its Dutch version, was popular among student houses. The jury even remarked that the quality was so high that the students could easily compete in the national competition. Using a large knife, Rector Tom Veldkamp cutted the winning lemon cake, thus formally opening the Academic Year 2021-2022.