A university with societal stakeholders on board

| Rense Kuipers

The ECIU University is not shy in taking a novel approach to its board. Not only board members of all the member universities call the shots, seven so-called societal stakeholders also take up a pivotal role on the board. According to ECIU President, Victor van der Chijs, the new university wants ‘to be fully open to society’s questions and expectations.’



This article appeared in our latest special, about the new ECIU University: 13 universities within the ECIU consortium who are laying their foundation for a European University and the future of higher education.

How is the board of ECIU University set up?

‘Besides the rectors or presidents of the member universities, we also have seven non-academic members on the board, including people from industry, a social entrepreneur, two students and a local mayor. It’s not that they have a mere advisory function, they are an integral part of this board.’

Why is it so important to have them on the board?

‘In this pilot phase of ECIU University, we cluster our efforts around one UN Sustainable Development Goal: to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. Through challenge-based learning we are working towards achieving that goal. We think this is the right way to deliver on society’s expectations. Our societal stakeholders play an important role in that regard. It’s not up to us as universities to decide what society needs, we think it’s supposed to be the other way around.’

How does it work in practice?

‘I have to admit: we have a big group. If you count all the board members and advisors, we already had a group of about forty people attending the first board meeting. To me, this already shows the success of this concept and dedication of everyone involved. With that many people at the conference table, it’s important to ensure that everyone has the freedom and space to have their say and that everyone is heard equally. I believe it adds to the quality of the discussions. Still, to be both decisive and effective, we can’t all be fully immersed in everything with such a large consortium. So a lot of it boils down to trust. Luckily, at ECIU, we’ve known each other for quite a long time, so the trust is there. Now we’re entering an interesting new phase in which we can experiment with a new type of university for the next three years.’

Is everyone ready for this experiment?

‘We all know we’re taking an exceptionally exciting step with our approach for a European University. It’s like we’re building a house together, with everyone having their own particular set of skills and tools. All the while knowing that the concept isn’t set in stone. This process requires constant attention, sharing of best practices and continuous collaboration. But I can honestly say the foundation – the commitment and shared vision – is in place. Not only for the upcoming three years, but also for at least the seven years after. We’re in it for the long haul. After this three-year pilot, we want to be known as one of the leading consortia who can shape the future of education in Europe.’

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