• Introduction
  • Text: Emile Aarts
  • Picture: Beelenkamp Ontwerpers (image) and Bertil van Beek (photo)

90 years of connecting people & knowledge

Tilburg University came to light in 1927. Its founders’ philosophy was that the academic world and society are closely connected. This vision is still very much engrained in our education and research. In this era of ‘alternative facts’ and criticism of alleged elitism, we must once again prove ourselves. A university must seek connections with society and make its contribution clear, states Emile Aarts, rector of Tilburg University. Over the coming years, this vision will receive new impetus both in education and in research. Societal impact is a key ingredient.

Respect for science is not automatic; it must be earned. Society is constantly asking what added value education and research can bring. In this era of ‘alternative facts’ and criticism of alleged elitism, we must once again prove ourselves.

Outward looking

Fortunately, the quest for impact is part of the DNA of Tilburg University. Since the very earliest days, now ninety years ago, we have been an outward-looking university which has consistently made a positive contribution to society. Our founder, Martinus Cobbenhagen, recognized the importance of doing so. The university existed to train business leaders and administrators, but Cobbenhagen firmly believed that his students should look beyond the boundaries of economics and commerce. Their university education should equip them to create a better world.

While working to achieve impact is indeed part of our DNA, it requires ongoing attention. Until the mid-1990s, the vast majority of our professors had very close connections with private sector companies and other social partners. The emphasis then shifted; universities were required to pursue academic excellence within a very competitive environment. Staff were expected to produce an endless stream of publications. They had little time to pursue impact.

“We shall seek meaningful collaboration with societal partners”

Emile Aarts, Rector Magnificus

Fortunately, the tide has now turned. This is amply illustrated by the many research projects with real impact that are featured in this special anniversary edition of Tilburg Research. As you will discover, our researchers are involved in examining a very wide range of socially relevant issues. Our researchers are helping to optimize emergency aid to people in conflict regions and to gain a better understanding of the refugee problem. Closer to home, our knowledge has proven its practical value in the form of apps to promote home security or aid recovery from brain surgery. We have also been responsible for a ‘reshoring tool’ which helps companies to determine where best to locate essential operations.

Impact Program

The enthusiasm that such valuable research generates is certainly encouraging. It has prompted us to implement the ambitious Impact Program, in which we shall devote particular attention to projects in three socially relevant themes: Enhancing Health and Wellbeing, Empowering the Resilient Society, and Creating Value from Data. These are areas in which our university excels and they form the basis of the profile we wish to present to the outside world. In each theme, we shall not only combine our own strengths by bringing together departments, people and resources, but we shall seek meaningful collaboration with societal partners. Our alumni can play an important part here. Increasingly, they represent our connections with society at large. Our alumni certainly provided invaluable help in establishing the Jheronimus Academy of Data Science, a collaboration with Eindhoven University of Technology, which welcomed its first students in 2016.

Knowledge, Skills and Character

We are also taking measures to increase the impact of our education. We have adopted a new educational vision which is based on the development of three qualities: Knowledge, Skills and Character. We want our graduates to be true ‘world citizens’, able to consider issues from all perspectives. We are therefore building upon the philosophy espoused by our founder ninety years ago. Entirely in keeping with his vision, we are helping our students to develop into ‘enterprising thinkers’. They will be tomorrow’s captains of industry, entrepreneurs, public administrators and healthcare managers. Some will be the people who redesign education to meet the requirements of the future. All will be at the forefront of social reform, improvement and progress. My ambition is for Tilburg University to gain a worldwide reputation for producing committed social entrepreneurs.

Working to create impact is not only good for society but also for our university. It makes us more attractive to research clients, partners, talented researchers and of course students. The new generation of talent wants to know the true value of an organization before they commit themselves. Our impact will allow us to stand out as the first choice for everyone.

Emile Aarts, Rector Magnificus of Tilburg University

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