Joining forces for a future-oriented and viable Amsterdam

Speech from the Chair of the AUAS Executive Board, Jopie Nooren

3 Sep 2021 12:40 | Communication

The time has finally come. We are about to embark on an academic year in which we will be allowed to interact on campus face to face. For many of us, that means returning to our familiar study places or workspaces. Others will be meeting fellow students, lecturers, researchers and other co-workers in person for the first time.

We have been looking forward to this moment for a long time – and it will certainly take some getting used to. Nevertheless, there are still a number of rules we will have to adhere to in order to prevent coronavirus infections. It is vital that we remain vigilant and that we make effective use of the flexibility we have been given. It is only logical that teaching and research should be given priority with regard to campus usage. Naturally, we will be putting the lessons we have learned to good use. This includes using a combination of offline and online studying and working practices, also known as blended learning and working.

I have been working at our fantastic university of applied sciences for roughly six months. It is a scintillating organisation made up of inspiring and motivated people. I would like to share a number of observations with you all. But first, I would like to take a closer look at what lies ahead of us in the academic year to come and what I believe to be our key areas of focus.

Empathy and consideration

We are coming away from a period of time that has demanded an extraordinary amount from each and every one of us – both in our personal lives and at AUAS. Looking back, I am hugely impressed by everything we were able to accomplish to ensure the continuation of teaching and research and the associated preconditions. As the Executive Board, we would like to thank everyone for their commitment and flexibility. We are proud of the resilience of all our students who, despite missing lessons on campus and face-to-face interaction with fellow students and all the changes to practical education, work placements and during their graduation track, still managed to complete their studies successfully. In general, there have only been a limited number of study completion delays. This was only possible thanks to the enormous efforts of our staff. The people who make sure the timetables work. The people who have set up and organised the buildings time and again to ensure that we are able to work and study in safety with the proper support. The teaching teams who were able to transition from physical to digital education in no time and vice versa.

In the coming months, we will be shaping this academic year together with renewed enthusiasm. I am well aware that we will all have to get used to our new circumstances. It is crucial that we do so with genuine empathy for and consideration of one another – in respect of both our students and our co-workers. Are there any backlogs that need to be redressed? Is there anyone who needs more guidance and support? How do we ensure a healthy work-life balance? What should be prioritised and which activities can be kept on the back burner for now? I call on everyone to take the time speak to each other. Programme managers and work placement supervisors should engage with our students, while staff should engage with one another within their various teams. Teams should be willing to prioritise and to make choices about what action to take or not. Use the financial flexibility made available to us from the National Education Programme to strengthen and reinforce where you can and to contribute to the welfare and well-being of our students – which is something that benefits us all.

AUAS at the heart of society

This past summer, many of us enjoyed a well-earned holiday to rest up and refuel. It gave me the space to leisurely go over all the observations and ideas expressed in the introductory conversations I have had over the past six months. What strikes me when I look at AUAS is the commitment, the enthusiasm and the engagement of students and staff. As an AUAS community, we have a huge variety of people, talent, backgrounds and ideas at our disposal on how to make the world a better place. This is both challenging and inspiring. I am convinced that we can achieve more by joining forces. The challenge to everyone within our organisation is to organise things in such a way that we can make maximum use of what has been developed elsewhere within AUAS. Networking and knowledge sharing are crucial in that regard and will allow us to make a substantial contribution to the key issues facing society and the Amsterdam Metropolitan Region specifically.

This past summer, the news from around the world came at us with full force, bringing worrisome and occasionally overwhelming tidings – whether about climate change, perceived security or developments in Afghanistan. It is clear that stagnation is decline and that it is up to us, jointly and individually, to help shape society. These events also make clear to me how important the choices that we make at AUAS are with regard to educating students in such a way that they feel competent to contribute to solving the issues at hand both now and in the future, as professionals. For the city, for the world and, above all, for the good of everyone in our society.

I also realised how well placed AUAS is, being at the heart of society. I would like to highlight a few key issues in this regard. The United Nations climate panel issued an alarming report on global warming. Our AUAS professor Reint-Jan Renes took to various media outlets to explain that the solution to climate change issues does not rest solely on the government, but rather that it is now incumbent on us to take steps ourselves and that a change in behaviour is required from us all. The initiative put forward by a number of professors to encourage our pension fund, ABP, to make fossil-free investments fits in seamlessly with this ethos, and we as the Executive Board support the initiative wholeheartedly.

There are likewise many vital issues in the area of public health. Naturally, the COVID-19 pandemic demanded a great deal of attention over the past 18 months. Once again, it has become painfully clear that people in good health are less likely to get sick – more healthcare will not make a difference to that. The challenge of creating a vital, healthy society has existed for much longer – a society in which people have a healthy diet, get enough exercise and are less stressed. As a knowledge institution, we will similarly be taking up our role with regard to this theme. In the Nieuw West district, we are working from the Centre of Expertise Urban Vitality, alongside residents, to ensure it becomes the healthiest district in Amsterdam. I am convinced that the close cooperation between the people of that district, the municipality and our students, lecturers and researchers will be the key to success in this case.

It is crucial that you feel safe. Unfortunately, this cannot always be taken for granted. Only two weeks ago, a fire broke out in a student flat in Bos and Lommer, which was presumably started maliciously, with strong indications of it being aimed at the LGBTQ community. First and foremost, this will have been horrific for the students living at that address. However, the agitation and shock it caused more broadly was immediately palpable. An immediate response followed from the Amsterdam community, which held a protest against LGBTQ violence this past week. At AUAS, we represent a community in which everyone is able to be him, her or themselves and where everyone can feel safe enough to express their identity. We not only feel this is crucial with regard to how we treat one another within AUAS, we also wish to contribute to an inclusive society, starting with the Amsterdam Metropolitan Region.

For AUAS, contributing to an inclusive society also means ensuring that every student is able to find his, her or their way to the job market. There are increasing shortages on the job market, and experts are taking into account the fact that these shortages may be structural in certain instances. This is contrasted by the people who are unemployed and find it difficult to get a job. More than ever, continued professional development and retraining of the workforce is required to get people to find and keep a job. This is called Lifelong Learning. Whether you are young or a little older, fresh out of secondary school or with some work and life experience under your belt: our goal is to be there for everyone. We see making the education we provide more flexible as a key contribution to this goal. This flexibility is also in line with the needs of young students who want to make their own choices during their studies. It truly is an inspiring challenge to shape this flexibility across the various programmes together – naturally, with the students as our partners. We have taken the first steps to achieving this. As the Executive Board, we expect that we will have to tackle this issue with more vigour and with explicit focus on the conditions in order to ensure things remain comprehensible and workable for our students and lecturers.

It is inevitable that information will be shared via the digital highway; however, this is not without risk, as several organisations have had to deal with cybercrime in recent times. The websites of the Municipal Health Services (GGD) were down on a number of occasions. AUAS itself was likewise the target of a cyberattack, which, incidentally, we were able to repulse very successfully. We have to be able to count on the fact that the data we share do not end up in the public domain. Our Professor of Practice Marleen Stikker is working with us and the Amsterdam Metropolitan Region to devise ways of becoming less dependent on organisations such as Microsoft and Google – which is a worthwhile endeavour.

These are just a few news items from the past few weeks that we have all observed. And then I glanced at our strategic plan, which naturally features prominently on my desk. AUAS in 3 dimensions: Sustainable, Inclusive and Digital for the future. And I felt proud. And hugely motivated. It is a plan that is truly in line with what will move the world and – closer to home – the Amsterdam Metropolitan Region forward and aligns with the themes that are pressing now and require a solution. The plan is our statement as AUAS that we truly want to contribute to a future-oriented, sustainable and viable society. Both through the education and teaching we provide and in our practical research – and always in collaboration with professional practice. In this way, we will contribute to a society in which everyone is counted and is able to participate. We have chosen to train and support students to be able to make their own way within the key global themes, so that they are able to contribute to those issues as professionals using their talents.

Joining forces

Back to March, when I first started at AUAS. Like all of us at the time, I started out largely working from home. I got to know people online and very occasionally in person with social distancing. A strange start, to be sure – especially for someone like me. I am a people person and am inspired by the people around me. I want to know what drives people, what their concerns and what their struggles are and, above all, what we can do together to contribute to the success of our education, practical research and our impact on society. Conversations like that are best conducted when you can look each other in the eye.

My introductory meetings and conversation frequently revealed the importance of sincere individual consideration – in respect of our students and our co-workers. Students have clearly indicated how important face-to-face interaction and study coaching is during their studies, which a lot of them will have missed during the coronavirus pandemic. Investing in that at full steam will be our top priority for the weeks and months to come.

Members of staff want to be heard and seen in their struggles with, for example, finding the right balance between all the work they want to do, on the one hand, and their own well-being on the other. As such, personal contact is a key item on our administrative agenda. I want us to engage in a dialogue to establish how we can support students – on a personal level as much as possible – and how we ensure that our teams review what can be done and what is needed to achieve balance in the work we do. In addition, I would like to propose that we all take the initiative to ask one another what the other person needs to feel comfortable and safe.

Another issue that I feel is crucial in the academic year to come is actually developing and fleshing out the ‘students as partners’ principle, as it is referred to in our strategic plan. Our students not only know what they need, they also have very good ideas about what is needed to achieve that and how we can further improve AUAS and society, which is fantastic. We will be strengthening that close involvement of students in everything we do, and this will have to be self-evident in our teaching, practical research and in communication with the outside world as AUAS. Realising stronger degree programme committees and representative advisory bodies is a key building block in that regard.

Finally, I firmly believe in the power of achieving things ‘together’. I see an enormous degree of passion, initiative and a host of qualities. Therein lies the strength of AUAS. However, we are not always able to connect and reinforce each other’s positions, which leads to opportunities being missed and energy leaking away. I will be working to ensure that we are able to connect with one another more easily, thus allowing us to inspire one another with ideas, solutions and job satisfaction. Supporting networks across the organisation and creating a vibrant intranet are key priorities in this regard.

I hope to meet many students and colleagues during this academic year – it is something I am looking forward to. To anyone who would like to share what they are proud of and has ideas on how to make improvements: I would love to hear from you! Let us set our sights on success!

Jopie Nooren

Chair of the AUAS Executive Board