Being a community university

The new Director of Student and Educational Affairs, ir. Wilma van Wezenbeek, shares some thoughts about the direction in which the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam should be headed: could we be a Community University instead of a Campus University!

Wilma van Wezenbeek

Being a community university

A special day to write some reflections. Firstly because I had a really nice chat with Gerhard van de Bunt and Silvester Draaijer from VU NT&L. Secondly because I listened to and watched the 10th anniversary celebration of 4TU.researchdata. And thirdly because we were confronted with another set of COVID-19 measures, that made me think of our future university.

Is it really only just a few weeks ago that I started my VU path as director Student & Education Affairs? When I heard Sarah Jones speaking today at the 4TU.researchdata webinar, I realized that my period as TU Delft Library Director felt as being something from a longer past than it actually is. However, the “do’s” for open science she presented still resonate with me. These are: 1. Be close to research communities to understand practices & needs 2. Incentivise culture change you want to see 3. Recognise, reward open practices 4. Professionalise data roles 5. Allow for innovation & failure.

And (as always) I see opportunities to adopt these “do’s” in my new position, with some changes in the vocabulary, now that education is the focus instead of research. What also is interesting is the role Sarah plays at GEANT, namely EOSC engagement manager.

At the VU we have “the Art of Engagement”, and last week I suggested that we perhaps should have an engagement officer (instead of the community officers or managers that now pop up everywhere).

It is difficult to manage a community, but you can have a person that helps the community to engage in relevant activities, and connect with other communities. It is something that I would like to encourage being as some of you might know an “open unless” advocate, i.e., to share knowledge and to find common interest, to engage and grow as an individual or community.

With Gerhard and Silvester I discussed this future “perhaps more online than we hope for” university. Knowing that our education processes and procedures were disrupted in March this year, and realizing that we might never go really back to how things were. What are the consequences the coming years when our (future, and also international) students are accustomed to getting most of the “push” knowledge transfer via online channels? Will we be able to follow their demand? Of course our logical reaction is that a university or institute is still needed to give structure to the learning paths and assure that quality is not at stake. I will need to learn much more about our “Versnellingsplan” obviously. But, interestingly, the VU also desires to be a campus university, where students & staff meet & get inspired, next to their (active) learning classes, research and supporting tasks.

My thought or question perhaps is whether we could transform this idea of a campus university to being a community university?

Where the places where the community meets can be the campus in Amsterdam Zuid, but it might as well be in a different place. The university is a combination of all sorts of communities, being disciplinary, interdisciplinary, research- or education-focused, from small to large, and nourishing, engaging and supporting all these inclusive communities that is what we should do, wherever they are. Without giving up quality and adding the right & relevant expertise of course.  

For this we: 1. Need to be close to our communities to understand their practices (and indeed this cannot always be physically close). 2. Incentivise culture change we want to see (talking about responsible, open and personal). 3. Recognise, reward open practices (so that we all grow) 4. Professionalise engagement roles (nourish and support)  5. Allow for innovation & failure (and be life-long learners by doing this).

I am open to comments & eager to learn from you all.

Wilma van Wezenbeek

29 September 2020

Twitter: @wvanwezenbeek

P.S. See a previous blog I posted about “caring for your community”.


Hans Ketel

Goedemorgen Wilma,
Ik probeer even met je in contact te komen over Histechnica.
Mijn vraag is of je na je transfer naar Amsterdam nog lid wilt blijven van onze vereniging.
Als je mij wilt mailen of bellen, heel graag
Hans Ketel (penningmeester Histechnica)

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