Use cooperation to enhance the University of Twente’s visibility and social impact
The President of the Executive Board, Victor van der Chijs, expressed his view of the University of Twente’s needs. First we need to create a clearer profile for the University of Twente, at national and international level. It is important for the University of Twente itself to lead the way in setting the agenda for government bodies and other sources of funding for research projects. We must expand our efforts to benefit from the entrepreneurial nature of the university and strengthen it still further. One way is to shift our focus towards the outside world, identify opportunities and exploit them. This would create more opportunities for strategic partnerships with external parties and new sources of funding. This is vital to the survival of the University of Twente. The strength of the University of Twente lies in its cross-disciplinary collaborative ventures. By further strengthening links within and between disciplines at the university, in specific fields such as health, safety or smart cities, we can more effectively distinguish ourselves from other institutions. As an illustration, technological innovation alone is not enough. The recently published 2012 Innovation and Competiveness Monitor for Top-Priority Sectors (December 2013) shows that 77% of successful innovation in the country’s top-priority sectors is determined by social innovation.
Distribution model hampers internal cooperation
Bart Koopman presents his Symbionics project: Co-adaptive Assistive Devices. A project that is well attuned to the promising area of Health. This highly relevant research project has a potentially enormous social impact. The technology being developed in this context can also be used for a range of other purposes. This project is ideally suited to cooperation with other parties. A total of six universities, sixteen companies and five patients’ associations are involved. Prof. Koopman points out that the current financial distribution model is an obstacle to internal cooperation within the University of Twente. Funding should be based on a cooperation model rather than on an allocation model.
Funding is often conditional on collaboration with external parties
Suzanne Hulsscher heads the RiverCare research programme, whose focus includes assessing the impact of specific river-related measures, as well as the maintenance and management of rivers. As part of this project, researchers at the University of Twente are working on a virtual river. In this context, the Virtual Reality Lab is developing “Serious Game”, which can display the effects of specific measures and provide a glimpse of the future. Prof. Hulsscher points out that this project also includes the universities of Utrecht, Nijmegen, Delft and Wageningen, as well as a number of knowledge institutes and businesses. Various government bodies, such as the Directorate-General for Public Works and Water Management (Rijkswaterstaat), are also participating in the programme. The University of Twente would not have been awarded funding for this programme if participation had been restricted to our own academic disciplines. Funding is often conditional on collaboration that extends beyond the boundaries of your own organization. So how does the Executive Board plan to strengthen internal cooperation? It is worth noting that RiverCare’s expertise will be used for lowland rivers throughout the world. In a sense, it is a typical Dutch export product. Overflowing rivers are becoming an ever greater problem throughout the world. For instance, at the start of the year, the University of Twente was asked to advise on the floods in Great Britain. In that case, however, the emphasis was on giving advice rather than on fundamental research. There are more funding options for consultancy than for basic research. The key is to design research projects in such a way, and to link them to applications and consulting, that they can be fully funded via new avenues.
There is often not enough time to coordinate research consortia that involve several different departments
Tenure Tracker Timo Hartmann’s presentation involves multidisciplinary cooperation within the framework of the High-tech health farm. He advocates Health Care for Smart Cities. Cities account for 90% of global population growth, for 80% of the wealth and for 60% of total energy consumption. Over the next 15 years, about 300 million rural Chinese will move to urban areas. Then there is the issue of an ageing population. How can we design adequate healthcare facilities for all these people?" Dr Hartmann is convinced that interdisciplinary cooperation (even if only on a small scale, within the University of Twente) increases the scope for developing innovative ideas for healthcare facilities, for example. For instance, the following groups have already contacted one another regarding this theme: Mathematics, Industrial Design, Operations Management, Environmental Modeling, Transport Studies and Systems Analysis. Hartmann points out that there is, sadly, little money available for launching structured, multidisciplinary research projects. This is why it is more difficult to get such projects started. Money will be needed to bring people together so that they can seriously explore the options for joint research.
Involve the entire value chain in research projects
Lydia Zeng presents the Tribology of Human Tissue research project, in which she is working as a Tenure Tracker. This project is investigating interactions between human tissues and the application or use of certain products. Zeng stresses that, if her work is to have a genuine impact, she must not be restricted to working with colleagues at her own university. The point is that the entire value chain must be involved.
Multidisciplinary education projects face many organizational obstacles
Eric Lutters, an Assistant Professor in Design Engineering, talks about the challenges he faces in designing a multidisciplinary project in the context of the University of Twente’s Educational Model. This project involves collaboration between the Mechanical Engineering, Industrial Engineering and Industrial Design degree programmes. Numerous parties have the right to be heard, while those setting up the supporting systems and processes have to deal with all the usual obstacles. Another difficulty involves the division of responsibilities between, say, three programme directors, three boards of examiners, three disciplinary councils, two faculty councils, etc. It is important that the lecturers involved are given sufficient scope to shape the primary process. Ed Brinksma stresses that flexibility is essential here.
There is often not enough time to coordinate broad-based research projects that involve several different partners
Timo Meinders draws people’s attention to the unique collaborative venture between the tyre industry and the road construction industry. This work is being promoted by the Tire-Road Consortium, which is based at the University of Twente. The consortium’s mission is to deliver structured improvements to the safety and durability of tyres and road surfaces, and to the impact of tyre/road interactions on people’s quality of life. In their own way, the tyre industry and the road construction industry are trying to optimize both tyres and roads. However, these goals are often pursued independently of one another, an approach that does not always deliver the best solutions. In this sense, therefore, using the Tire-Road Consortium to examine the interaction of tyres and road surfaces is a unique development. The fact that industry (raw material suppliers, road builders, tyre manufacturers) and local government (road managers, end users) are participating in this consortium is also unique. The problem with working in multidisciplinary groups is that coordinating large projects, involving several different partners, requires considerable time and manpower. There is often no time for this at all.