New President Maastricht University Rianne Letschert:

‘Our European positioning fits like a glove'

The new UM president, and former rector magnificus, Rianne Letschert leaves no room for doubt. She is delighted with the choice to profile the university as the European university of the Netherlands. Maastricht University forms an international and predominantly European community in a region wedged between three borders. This makes the region in itself a European economic, social and cultural living lab. The choice for Europe is not only based on numbers and geographical location. Of course, UM has a large number of European-oriented programmes, institutes and projects, but that does not mean that a European profile was chosen for that reason alone; definitely not.

Europe as middle ground

Letschert: 'It is really a conceptual approach in which Europe stands for unity in diversity; an amalgam of differences and contradictions, a middle ground in a world where we seek our security and stability locally. Varity is Europe's greatest wealth, and we characterise the European as a person who, having learned the hard way, feels called to connect by recognising diversity. Europe stands for connection and the ability to engage in dialogue with people from other global regions in order to learn from each other. Our approach to the concept of Europe enables us, like no other, to follow the motto think global and act local and to prepare our students for responsible global citizenship. Instead of superiority, we choose reciprocity’.

Be yourself

She continues: ‘Of course we are sticking our necks out by choosing a European positioning. We are aware that not everyone will be enthusiastic. However, it is pointless to deny who you are. Without opting for Europe and internationalisation, UM would never have become what it is today. We, as the youngest university in the Netherlands, have been able to distinguish ourselves and experience growth. In turn, this growth has enabled us to act as an economic and social engine in a peripheral region that is developing from a disadvantaged position into a leading innovative and truly European region. The most visible evidence of this is the rapid expansion of the four triple-helix Brightlands campuses, all of which we founded together with the province and the business community’.

Speak out

UM wants to continue to take responsibility for the region and, therefore, also for the Netherlands. ‘We can do this based on the choices we have made. For a long time, we didn’t say it out loud; now we do. Perhaps by doing so we won’t please everyone, and we might encounter resistance from time to time. We must be prepared to take that risk. We are no longer the European university of the Netherlands in silence. Only by constantly demonstrating the societal benefits of our international course, can we expect that others understand that we are not just different for the sake of being different. That this is our route to adding value as a young university in a border region'.

‘We are speaking loud and clear - and that is a prerequisite for being seen and supported. If UM asks the government and politicians for tailor-made solutions from time to time, we also owe it to those same authorities and politicians to tell our story openly and transparently. If we sit quietly in our corner and do not speak out, we cannot expect these solutions to be provided automatically’.

Dare to be different

‘This is why we are vocal about our identity. Nevertheless, however international and European we may be, we are and will always be a Dutch university. It is not for nothing that we are explicitly bilingual. If the students benefit from English-language education, we will make that choice. If studying in Dutch provides the better preparation for a successful career, we choose that. In doing so, we embrace the typical characteristics of a Dutch academic community: less hierarchical, pragmatic, accessible and approachable. Within that culture, we invite everyone to get to know Europe and to be part of an organisation that wants to get to know and learn from others - from a specifically European perspective. With others, we look for societally relevant solutions that can be applied all over the world. So yes, our European positioning fits like a glove! Let us dare to be different and not be afraid to show it. It is precisely the acceptance of differences that makes us stronger, ensures that we are of service to society and that we can make a positive impact in our region’.

‘UM & Europe’ in the spotlight
2022 marks the 30th anniversary of the Maastricht Treaty; time to take stock of European integration. Moreover, a special conference on the future of Europe is scheduled in Maastricht from 11 to 13 February 2022. Plenty of reasons for the European university of the Netherlands to launch a new series of stories, and to publish an overview of all of our 'UM and Europe' information. Read more.

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