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Working hard to make society better

Mirjam van Praag and Vinod Subramaniam, chairpersons of VU Amsterdam and the University of Twente respectively, look back and ahead on the collaboration between the two universities. On the pioneering spirit, the power of integration and the importance of the engine room. ‘People share the feeling that they are building something beautiful and important together'.

‘It is impossible to imagine our society without technology. It is everywhere and plays an important role in more and more areas. At the same time, technology alone is never the answer or solution. Its success heavily depends on the extent to which people accept technology and want to use it. You have to start working on this when you are still at the very beginning of the development process. So it is not an matter of technology with some behavioural sauce on it, but the actual integration of two worlds. That is exactly what our collaboration is based on. Broadly speaking, Twente provides the technology and Amsterdam the behavioural and social sciences. We create this integration in research, in education and at team and individual level.

Enormous challenges

We see that what we do, is very important to society. There is a great need for highly educated technical people with a broad outlook. Especially in these times when we face enormous challenges in the areas of climate, sustainability and safety. In order to take steps in these directions and make an impact, you need to work together. That is exactly what happens within our coalitions. This is where the various expertises of our universities come together very well. On that basis, they are set to work on the major challenges of our time.

Shared mindset

At the start of our collaboration, it was immediately clear that we are a good match. There was recognition and acknowledgement of the goal and content, but also of the way we work. The drive and the fun we have together is remarkable. Because we know that these are not automatic features when universities work together... The fact that we succeeded is partly due to our shared mindset. We are both open to collaboration and want to work hard to make society a better place.

Sleeves rolled up

This instantly created a lot of positive energy. At many meetings, we had the feeling: how relaxed and easy this is all going to be! That does not mean, however, that there was no discussion. Because there often was. You can have such beautiful plans and visions, but day-to-day practice is often stubborn. For example, courses and systems do not automatically talk to each other. A lot of work has therefore been done in our ‘engine rooms’. It's a matter of rolling up your sleeves and getting things done. We also share this pragmatism.

Making a difference together

What is also striking about the collaboration is the pioneering spirit that prevails. Besides the enthusiasm, many people share the feeling that they are building something beautiful and important together. Think of it as piles as a solid foundation for our collaboration.  As a board, we indicate frameworks and boundaries and provide guidance, but the entire collaboration process mainly takes place bottom up. And that's where the strength lies. People find each other on the work floor on the basis of their shared needs in order to learn from each other, complement each other and hence be able to make a difference together. And that is extremely contagious because you see that more and more people want to join in. In research and in education.

The end is nowhere in sight

The recent celebration on 1 July of the graduation of the first batch of Mechanical Engineering students in Amsterdam showed just how enthusiastic everyone involved is. Meanwhile, the people of Creative Technology are already eager to start our second joint bachelor programme in Amsterdam in 2023. And the end is nowhere in sight. Ultimately, we want to create a technology campus of bachelor's programmes in Amsterdam and further strengthen the range of master's programmes in Enschede. In doing so, we will meet the needs of our universities, our regions, society and the labour market.

Educating enthusiastic young people

For the future, it is important that we continue to pay attention to people, processes and content. The collaboration is growing steadily and there is a lot of enthusiasm to participate, but we must also guard against overload after two years of Corona. That is also why it is important that the processes continue to run smoothly. Then researchers, teachers and students can concentrate on the content. Another challenge is to involve even more partners in our collaboration. In this way, we will create an ecosystem that is even richer and more powerful. And we must continue to communicate well, internally and externally, about the ‘why’, the importance and the impact of our collaboration. Our greatest impact remains that we educate enthusiastic young people from a diverse and broad perspective. The need for these people is greater than ever.’