The recipe to build on resilience

by: in General
CvB - Martin Paul

Although the delta variant is currently leading to a sharp increase in the number of positive Covid 19 tests, hospital admissions are fortunately still low. Let's hope it stays this way and that with the growing number of vaccinations we slowly move in the right direction with Covid 19 in Europe. If so our societies can open up again step by step. We all long for closeness and being together. If things are going in the right direction, does that mean that Covid 19 will no longer influence our lives? I do not think so. Not that I fear that the virus will completely disrupt our lives in the long run, but we surely will have to adapt. I am convinced that our experience with the pandemic will lead to lasting changes in society in a broad sense, and certainly also specifically when it comes to higher education. We may unconsciously have already planted the right seeds prior to the crisis to make the leap forward now. A leap that strengthens European higher education and thus maintains its position in the global academic force field. An optimistic approach that I would like to share with you in this first UM Internationalization newsletter. It is time to move forward.

One of the things we've learned from the crisis is that innovation has become more important than ever before. Without scientific breakthroughs and intensive collaboration between government, science and industry, it would have been impossible to react so quickly to the crisis. Who could have predicted that after a year we would quickly develop the tools to curb the pandemic – just think about the rapid transition to online and hybrid education? We have shown ourselves to be resilient and will have to focus on further strengthening that resilience in a world that has become more and more connected. It means that we have to take up our responsibility as quickly as possible to help the countries that are still lagging behind coping with the crisis. No time to lose there. Next to that, we have to take the steps that prepare us for the challenges that our global way of living still has in store for us. Of course, I grant everyone a break this summer, but after that, it is important to get started with working on these partly still unknown challenges right away.

In my view, two strategic directions determine the strength and resilience of the university of the future. One direction has to do with regional, national and international anchoring, the other with the further development of our current education system aiming at promoting widespread prosperity.

For me, three steps are central when it comes to the first strategic direction. By taking these steps  and holding on to the lessons we learned during the pandemic, we will be able to strengthen the  European higher education area. The future requires more cooperation from academic communities nationally. It starts with jointly seeking solutions within the borders of our national states. This has to be combined with every university vigorously continuing the process of leaving the scientific ivory tower and embracing the triple or quadruple helix even more strongly on regional level. A solid connection in the region with government and industry is the basis for meeting the challenges. Finally, it is important to establish European scientific and societal connections from these strong roots close to home. By working along these lines, we benefit regionally, nationally and internationally.

During the pandemic, the Dutch universities sought each other more and more. This seems to have laid a foundation for jointly seeking solutions in the coming years. Maastricht University is taking its share in the collaboration. At the same time, we continue to build on our own strategy. The four Brightlands campuses are the heart of our roots in the region. With the choice to be the European university of the Netherlands and our pioneering role within the YUFE network, the foundation has been laid along which we can take the above steps. Now it is important to further deepen the three-step approach. We must remain as agile as we have been during the pandemic. Always ready to change and to adjust. In fact, it is important to pursue the path already taken for covid. What applies to Maastricht, to a greater or lesser extent also applies to other universities. We no longer have to reinvent the wheel, but could also address the Covid-19 pandemic as a stress test to see if our local, regional and global networks are functioning. The experience that network partners were supporting each other to address the challenges jointly, for example by sharing (best) practises, makes me optimistic about the future of European higher education.

Based on the experiences of the last 18 months I strongly believe that the future belongs to blended education and the flipped classroom. The student of the future prepares online, works out concepts in offline consultation with fellow students and collects feedback in order to finally check online what has been acquired and what still needs to be learned. Education is a combination of on-campus and synchronous wherever necessary and useful, but online and using new technology to support the on campus experience.  The student and his/her learning experience must be the guiding principle in this context, and we need to listen to not only student’s needs but also use the knowledge of the technology driven young generation. Integration of social media interactions, virtual reality, hackathons and other innovative approaches can add interesting elements to the learning process.

Furthermore, our education must be open to everyone. It is our task to interpret our social role as universities more broadly. Education must be seen as a tool to promote the social integration of disadvantaged groups, as a means of helping our students and graduates  to acquire  the skills to participate actively in society, as an important building block for empowering the youth in an increasingly digitally dominated society. However, education does not stop there and learning is a continuous process that does not stop at graduation. More and more attention is being paid to creating a range of courses aimed at lifelong development. That is why I am optimistic about the perceived need within universities in the coming years to use knowledge and skills more strongly than ever before to actually work on the major social challenges focussing on all age groups and all layers of society.

We were already on the right track. The pandemic has made it clear in a hard way that we must continue. Let us do that and do our utmost to find solutions to the major social challenges by being open and connected and by offering space for talent. I am convinced that we will come out of the crisis stronger than we entered it. So let’s do that and move forward along the lines described. I am convinced: This is the recipe to build on resilience and be more ready for the future.