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Executive Board column: Why a good relationship with the city is so important

Leiden University is a fantastic example of a network university: we create an impact with the city, stakeholders and regional and international partners. The lines of communication are really short and there is a great sense of togetherness. Our good relations with the city have also informed how we work in The Hague.

In this column Annetje Ottow, Hester Bijl and Martijn Ridderbos give a peek behind the scenes at the Executive Board of Leiden University. What does their work involve? What makes them enthusiastic? What challenges do they face? Building a healthy and engaged learning community begins with sharing what you are up to. This time it’s Hester Bijl’s turn.

Through our network, great initiatives and projects have come about, such as the Vrouwe Vennepolder Living Lab. The research here has come about through collaboration between the university, the water board, the province, the municipality, students and alumni. You need one another to tackle complex issues and find the right solutions.

Annetje Ottow and Henri Lenferink walking the Singelpark route.


Last month we bade farewell to Leiden Mayor Henri Lenferink after 20 years. When I started at the university, it was the middle of the pandemic. To get to know each other, we walked the entire Singelpark route. We must have been walking for at least two hours, which gave him plenty of time to tell me all about the city. That was typical of him: he was always intrinsically interested, knew an incredible amount and took time for me.

Under his mayorship the links between the city and our university have only become stronger. For 20 years he has stood up for us and given both the city and university an enormous boost. He played a leading role in bringing the Netherlands Institute for Space Research (SRON) to Leiden, helped the Leiden Bio Science Park grow and was a keen ambassador for Leiden, European City of Science. We are going to miss him terribly. I look forward to setting to work with his successor and hope that he is just as aware of how important our unique relationship is. 

Collaboration is right at your feet

As a staff member of the university, you can also help cement our ties with the city. You can use citizen science to collect research data, for example, helping Leideners become more involved in our research and gain a sense of co-ownership. I would encourage all researchers, lecturers and professors to also seek partners close to home, such as Learning with the City, the Leiden Biodiversity Network and, in The Hague, the Health Campus and Buurtlab 070 do so. The greatest collaborations are often there for the taking. We as the Executive Board truly appreciate all your efforts for our two cities.

Share your thoughts or experiences by sending an email to a.t.ottow@cvb.leidenuniv.nl.

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