6 September 2021

Opening Academic Year 2021: Transforming Universities

“I am confident that this university will look back in 5 years, at the time of our 50th anniversary, to a period where we have used our transformative power successfully in service of society.” That is what Executive Board President Martin Paul said at the start of the Opening of the Academic Year (OAY) 2021 at Maastricht University. What followed was a programme with many people who contribute to our own and social transformation: the “transforming agents”.

Read more about the events that took place and watch our videos below. We'll be publishing more videos and photos soon!

Above all, you need people for this: the transforming agents. A number of them passed by during the OAY. From keynote speaker Mamokgethi Phakeng to Student Prize winner Vera Karagiannidou, from honorary doctor Jaap van Dissel to Katleen Gabriels, winner of the Edmond Hustinx Prize 2021.

The OAY was also the moment to present the Strategic Programme 2022-2026. The Strategic Programme itself, but also a lot of background information, interviews and inspiring examples can be found on this interactive page.

Catching up

In addition, this edition of the OAY caught up with UM award ceremonies that could not take place last year due to the COVID-19 measures. This applied to the UM Dissertation Prize, the Edmond Hustinx Prize and the Wynand Wijnen Education Prize of 2020.

The awarding of the honorary doctorate to Prof. Dr. Jaap van Dissel was also postponed last year. Now honorary promoter Christian Hoebe was able to pronounced the laudatio. Van Dissel was given the cappa by his daughter, part of his COVID bubble.

Mamokgethi Phakeng

Keynote speaker Mamokgethi Phakeng, Vice-Rector of the University of Cape Town and Professor of Mathematics, is an experienced transformer. As a leader in higher education, she has always been at the forefront of transformation in education, research and society. Inclusivity and diversity are key concepts in her transformation work: for example, she founded a non-profit organisation that provides financial and educational support to students from townships and rural areas.

Student Award and Edmond Hustinx Prize

Martin Paul announced two new prize winners. Vera Karagiannidou won the Student Award 2021. Vera is the founder of the 'Legal Aid Clinic for Prisoners'. The clinic is committed to raising awareness about the rights of those involved in the criminal justice system, offering them legal aid and contributing to Maastricht University law students through practical work.

Katleen Gabriels received the Edmond Hustinx Prize 2021. Dr. Gabriel's work focuses on the techno-moral implications of virtual environments, artificial intelligence and robotics. With her many publications for scientists and laymen and media appearances, she has made her profession and her research visible to a large audience.

Award Martin Paul

For Executive Board President Martin Paul it was the eleventh Opening of the Academic Year that he led. And his last: on 1 November he will start as rector/chairman at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum. At the end of the day, Martin Paul received the City of Maastricht’s Decoration of Merit (Teken van Verdienste) from Mayor Annemarie Penn-te Strake.


And speaking of transformation, after its transformation in March 2020 into a university providing online education, UM is now 're-transforming' to the university it wants to be, with education and meeting on campus. We are hopeful that we can and may continue to do so throughout the new academic year. Even if it is still step by step. This also applied to this edition of the Opening of the Academic Year. Yes, there was a live programme, but for a much smaller crowd than usual. Other interested parties joined via live streams.