In this regular series by the Resilience@UT programme, UT researchers share their personal reflections on current events and trends that impact our daily lives, exploring their implications for resilience. The series is just one of many UT initiatives responding to the urgent need to respond to rapid societal and environmental change. As an academic institution, we have a role to play in strengthening the resilience of the social, technological and environmental systems that support us. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own.
Universities strive to be vibrant academic communities and, in our global context, are inherently international and diverse institutions. Our university is no exception to this, and we take pride in being an outward-looking, open, diverse and inclusive community. The quality of our education and research are enriched by the diverse talents, abilities and backgrounds of our students and staff.
The Right Thing to Do
But what do we mean by diversity and inclusion? The Dutch Advisory Committee Diverse and Inclusive Higher Education and Research (DIHOO), states in its vision that “Diversity refers to all the visible and invisible characteristics, experiences and/or backgrounds in which we differ and agree with each other. Inclusion is the achievement of an environment where everyone belongs, is seen, and participates as a matter of course.” These are lofty goals, and it is hard work to get there. But it’s the right thing to do, and the just thing to do, and so very much worth the effort.
The recent debates about the effects of internationalization in Dutch higher education, and last week’s election results have caused consternation and worry amongst many in our community. I want to highlight one of our core UT values, that of being an open and inclusive community, where everyone is welcome and equal. And that includes everyone –irrespective of things that we differ or agree upon. As an academic community, we stand for a robust and critical discourse based on facts and arguments, and always with respect for each other’s perspectives. That is the bedrock of an academic community and of its engagement with the world around us.
And that brings me to resilience in these complicated times. The results of the Dutch national elections are also a wake-up call for us as a university. Society perceives us – universities in general – as being disconnected from the realities of citizens in our society. We need to sit back and take stock of our role as a university and work harder on highlighting and increasing our societal value as a knowledge institution.
This week, I participated in a workshop on 'Responsible Futuring' in the Design Lab about the concept of the 4th generation university – one that is networked, innovative and societally engaged to create real societal impact. We were all in agreement that we needed to break out of our bubble and truly interact and engage with the society around us. We have a responsibility as an institution to work for unity and against polarization. To do that we need to leverage our intrinsic diversity – in all its dimensions – and to embrace and be inspired by the diversity of perspectives in society. We will need to work together with our partners and stakeholders in the region and beyond – other knowledge institutions, municipalities, businesses, and citizens. Only then will we be a truly inclusive, and ultimately a truly resilient institution, that has meaningful impact.
Vinod Subramaniam is the President of the Executive Board of the University of Twente.
Find more information about the Resilience @ UT programme at our website.