Universiteit Leiden

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Jasper's day

Jasper Knoester is the dean of the Faculty of Science. How is he doing, what exactly does he do and what does his day look like? In each newsletter, Jasper gives an insight into his life.

At 10 to 8 I am standing at the bus station in Leiden with about 40 other university staff and students. A few with a suitcase, most with a backpack. It feels a bit like a school trip and the warm weather reinforces that. The destination is Soesterberg, where we have the university's annual two-day strategic conference, with close to 100 attendees: administrators, directors, office staff and student-assessors. The 8 o'clock departure time puts us in traffic that moves at a snail's pace to the A12. And even there it takes a while before we really pick up speed. The advantage is that it gives generous time to talk at length with colleague Julia Cramer (LION and IBL), about work, family, career and much more. A nice side benefit of this kind of trips.

In the beautifully situated conference centre Kontakt der Kontinenten, we start the programme at 10 am. The first day will be entirely devoted to internationalisation of the university, a topic that currently has a lot of political-social interest. Coincidentally, the Lower House debate on this topic will take place this afternoon, with the influx of foreign students into Dutch higher education and the choice of language in our courses as an important topic.

'To me, a university is by definition international'

College president Annetje Ottow starts off with a nice positive introduction. She explains the place and importance of internationalisation well and outlines the complex context in which Dutch universities currently operate internationally. I get to reflect on this afterwards, together with one of the assessors, from my own experiences.

For me, a university is international by definition. Practically every researcher has collaborations abroad, and I think that international exchange gives a huge boost to students. I think the broadening of horizons resulting from a (temporary) job abroad is extremely important for the personal development of scientists and the development of the organisation. Facilitating partnerships for education and research is therefore high on my list. Moreover, for the future of our country, I think it is important that we educate enough foreign students in science and engineering and that we can keep a good fraction of those students attached to our country.

Besides all this, I think academic diplomacy, contributing from the academy to good contacts between countries and cultures, cannot be underestimated. I therefore hope that, in these times of worried noises about foreign student intake and possible knowledge leaks to other countries, we succeed in keeping international contacts in science as open as possible.

Our contributions are followed by an animated discussion. The rest of the day's activities are also characterised by great engagement, open conversations and lots of fun, as schooltrips should be. The House of Commons debate on all kinds of topics around internationalisation - such as how much do we really think we are allowed to fly anymore? - is a spectacle. The bike ride at the end of the afternoon is also a great opportunity to talk to people left and right.  Getting to know colleagues better, lots of laughter together and good conversations: all this makes such a trip something that far exceeds the importance of the day's topic!

During the delicious dinner, news trickles in that the chamber debate on internationalisation unfortunately looks set to create new barriers for us. It leads to excited conversations over dessert and coffee. However, various news reports still contradict each other considerably and we realise that it will not become a clear picture tonight.

Around 11 in the evening, I finalise some pending matters by e-mail, after which it is time to sleep. Not in a large dormitory fortunately, but just in a small hotel room. I have many wonderful colleagues, but here the resemblance to a school trip thankfully really ends!'


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