We need to focus on our reputation and on acquiring external funding

The end of the year is almost upon us. That means that we will soon be passing an important milestone in the reorientation of our research organization. What have we achieved in the past year? How have we done it? And where will it take us? And also... how do we all now stand in relation to one another? This is a good point at which to take stock, step by step.


The Faculty Boards were formed after this year’s summer recess. Each faculty now has a multi-member Faculty Board with an online presence. The Faculty Boards provide a more integrated and coherent form of management for education, research and support services. This should allow researchers greater freedom of manoeuvre, and give them more time for the pursuit of science and the acquisition of external funding.


The disciplinary basis of the faculties has now (almost everywhere) been organized into clusters, on the basis of a number of criteria that we, the Executive Board, have established together with the scientific directors and deans. Faculties have considerable freedom when choosing their own clusters. The most important criterion is coherence in education and research in terms of content. The size of these clusters is between 20-40 permanent academic staff members. 
Until recently, research in the faculties was organized in a somewhat fragmented manner by means of chairs or departments. The introduction of clusters means greater critical mass and a clear focus on research. The underlying idea is to encourage collaboration, and we trust that there will be many new research opportunities in the future. By combining activities into larger organizational units, we can ensure better internal organization and become more responsive to external developments. The clusters will also enable those outside the university to find our experts more easily. This will lead to increased contact with external parties and more opportunities for new, additional sources of financing. 
A good example is the membrane S&T cluster within the Faculty of Science and Technology, or the department of Biomechanical Engineering within the Faculty of Engineering Technology. I would like to see these developments take root across the whole of our university and naturally, as rector, I will regularly be exchanging ideas with the Faculty Boards and with the portfolio holders for research in particular. 


The draft plans (intranet) for the New Style Institutes MESA+, Digital Society and TechMed Research are now ready. These institutes are being formed with the intention of creating societal impact through externally funded research programmes involving scientists from a range of faculties. They will work in a genuinely supra-faculty manner, which for a number of places within our organization will represent an important change in the way we work. 

The institutes are drawing up research programmes that focus on major societal challenges or key technologies and have an average duration of five years. In addition to these research programmes, four important lines have now been set out - namely: Sensing, Materials, E-health, and Robotics. Scientists from all our faculties will be contributing to these lines. That will make this a genuinely multidisciplinary approach. An approach that focuses on entering into major partnerships and the acquisition of major research grants. 

The chart below demonstrates how the faculties, institutes and programmes relate to each other under this new system.

The new-style institutes will implement their plans and their new way of working with effect from January 2018, provided the University Council agrees to this.  

The institutes will be supported by a strengthened Strategic Business Development Team (SBD), also from 1 January onwards, in their mission to create social impact. The SBD Team will play a pivotal role in establishing connections between valorization activities and increasing the flow of external funding, by focusing on long-term partnerships with companies, hospitals and government/public-sector bodies.  


We at the University of Twente distinguish ourselves from other organizations through our curiosity, our entrepreneurial attitude, our responsiveness to demand, and our very particular way of working. This was outlined in 'The story of the University of Twente', which was presented at this year’s Dies Natalis.

The story of Twente is intertwined with challenging and distinctive themes. We have recently identified five themes, based on global developments and the challenges of today and the future. These themes form a distinctive profile for the university for external partners. They will enable the University of Twente to provide multidisciplinary solutions to major issues, such as those seen in the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations, the BOHEMIA Report and HORIZON 2020 of the European Commission. This means that our research and education, developed by the faculties and institutes, will have a clear and relevant context, focusing on the demands from our regional, national and international environment. These five themes, together with the story of the University of Twente, will form the basis for all the university’s communication. This will allow us to communicate a clear message about our education and research to the outside world – a message that is interesting and encourages people to connect with us. In short, an invitation to take a closer look at our organization and to reach out to the experts who work here.


Why is all this necessary? Answering this question takes us back to the start of the whole process. We need to focus on our reputation and on acquiring more external funding. 
At the University of Twente, we seek to respond flexibly to opportunities in the world around us, in order to facilitate scientific research that both achieves excellence and is driven by the needs and aspirations of society. I very much look forward to continuing to work with you on this. 


Let us make a collective commitment to our ambition of taking the University of Twente’s reputation to the next level. Any suggestions in that regard will always be welcome @t.t.m.palstra@utwente.nl.