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The added value of Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Universities: interview with Dean Wim van den Doel

Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Universities will celebrate its tenth anniversary in 2022. In recent years, the alliance has expanded to include centres and new programmes as well as a curriculum of its own. What do the next ten years have in store?

This interview was published in the October edition of the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Universities magazine.

We ask LDE Universities Dean Prof. Wim van den Doel five questions about the results of the partnership so far. We also look ahead because there is a growing need to ‘work together for science and society’, the motto of Leiden-Delft-Erasmus.We ask LDE Universities Dean Prof. Wim van den Doel five questions about the results of the partnership so far. We also look ahead because there is a growing need to ‘work together for science and society’, the motto of Leiden-Delft-Erasmus.

‘It helps that the three universities are comparable in size but complement each other in terms of specialisations’

Has cooperation become second nature and what is the secret of the alliance’s success?

‘Ten years ago it was already clear that interdisciplinary cooperation is essential to solving major social issues and making scientific breakthroughs. But such cooperation isn’t automatic, which is why the three universities in the province of Zuid-Holland embarked on a strategic partnership.’

‘Over the past ten years, we’ve made significant steps in getting the cooperation in the Zuid-Holland region off the ground. It helps that the three universities are fairly similar in size and have a similar place in international rankings but complement each other in terms of specialisations.’

LDE Universities Dean Wim van den Doel

‘The cooperation cannot be taken for granted though: researchers are busy people who work in a monodisciplinary environment. You have to give them the space and time to bring about interdisciplinary cooperation. We do this with the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus centres, for example.’

Could you give an example of successful LDE cooperation?

 ‘Obviously, I care about all of the LDE centres, and they are all proof of the value of interdisciplinary cooperation. One good example is the LDE Centre for Frugal Innovation in Africa, where technical knowledge is brought together with business models and regional knowledge about Africa. The knowledge is dispersed across the three universities, and the strategic LDE alliance brings it together.’

‘Students learn to look from different perspectives and to understand the complexity of the smart city’

‘In the LDE minors we bring together the various disciplines for our students. The Smart and Shared Cities minor offered by the LDE Universities centre for BOLD Cities, for example, where data sciences and urban studies are combined with political and social sciences. Students learn to look from different perspectives and to understand the complexity of the smart city. That’s not possible in a disciplinary course, so this shows the value of a LDE Universities minor.’

Added value: the basic principle of the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus alliance
In 2012, the three universities decided to embark on a strategic alliance that would be based on the principle of ‘added value’. Leiden University, Delft University of Technology and Erasmus University Rotterdam agreed that they would cooperate for the good of society and academia, in a complementary and multidisciplinary fashion in their research and teaching. The alliance has since developed into Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Universities with six research centres, three research programmes, multiple BSc and MSc programmes, eight multidisciplinary minors and a trainee and postdoc programme.

What will be important for LDE in the coming years?

‘The agenda for the coming years will be informed by the Sustainable Development Goals that must be achieved by 2030, not only in the Netherlands but worldwide. The LDE Universities cooperation must therefore not only be relevant to our region but also to the whole world. That already applies to the cooperation – take the Centre for Frugal Innovation, for example – but we will intensify our efforts here in the coming years.’

‘We intend to carry on with what we’re doing alread , so to continue with the LDE Universities centres and further embed them in the universities, while reaffirming our commitment to sustainability. Apart from that, we are working on new subjects such as Space for Science and Society, and Healthy Society together with Medical Delta.

‘The development of LDE Universities alliance and developments in science go hand in hand. Interdisciplinary cooperation is becoming increasingly important and team science is gaining emphasis. We are uniquely positioned here in Zuid-Holland to give unique shape to this.’

‘Studying the wicked problems of our age from a range of disciplines – that is typical LDE’

What does Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Universities mean for students?

‘Students can already follow joint courses. The LDE minors are often linked to the Sustainable Development Goals and urgent issues that concern citizens and administrators alike. For example, African Dynamics, Safety, Security & Justice, Georesources for the Future, Smart and Shared Cities – all these are typical of LDE. Studying the wicked problems of our age from different disciplines.

‘And students will become increasingly aware of LDE Universities in the coming years. It will become easier to study at a different LDE university, and new programmes will be developed, including ones based on important themes such as that of the Healthy Society – for instance, minors and projects based on the idea of challenge-based learning.’

‘We will focus increasingly on teaching students from different disciplinary backgrounds to work together. This year, we will be experimenting with this within the Joint Interdisciplinary Projects at Delft University of Technology. For example, archaeology students from Leiden are already working together with engineers from Delft on a project that involves using drones to help archaeologists study the landscape.’

Will LDE expand further in the coming years?

‘Absolutely! Well, we certainly intend to. The three universities also cooperate in the fields of ICT and HR policy. That is one way in which LDE Universities can become visible and relevant in the workplace, also for support staff.

‘There is one thing we must never lose sight of: the cooperation between the three universities in Zuid-Holland is the result of a strategic choice made a decade ago.

‘Developing this alliance won’t be automatic, and requires top-down support of bottom-up initiatives. It also takes time when researchers already have heavy workloads, to say nothing of the challenges brought by the coronavirus crisis.

‘But you make strategic choices for the long or even very long term. It doesn’t really matter if it takes a year longer to start cooperating in a specific area. The cooperation between the LDE Universities continues to offer considerable opportunities. This has to be the perspective – now and for the next ten years.’

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