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A new way of working: external societal stakeholders on board


April 21, 2020

A new way of working: external societal stakeholders on board


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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 external, societal stakeholders also take up a pivotal role on the board. ECIU President, Victor van der Chijs, explains this new way of working.

‘The seven non-academic members on the board includes people from industry, a social entrepreneur, two students and a local mayor’, says Van der Chijs. ‘It’s not that they have a mere advisory function, they are an integral part of this board. We think this is the right way to deliver on society’s expectations. It’s not up to us as universities to decide what society needs, we think it’s supposed to be the other way around.’

Van der Chijs admits that the board is ‘a big group’. ‘We had 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, addresses Van der Chijs. ‘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.’

With the approach for a European University an ‘exceptionally exciting step is taking’.  Van der Chijs: ‘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.’

Meet the external stakeholders – members of the Board

Petra Vorsteher, entrepreneur from Hamburg, Magne Bartlett, student at the University of Stavanger, and Onno van Veldhuizen, mayor of Enschede, are three of the seven external stakeholders. They share their main drive to become board member.

Petra Vorsteher is a pioneer in the mobile industry, a Silicon Valley veteran and the international ambassador of the Hamburg University of Technology. ‘The main reason I’m excited to be part of this board, is that I truly believe in this new educational model,’ Vorsteher begins. ‘This is the future of education, and I want to help ECIU shape that future with this university. I’m so excited to bring my own expertise into this. I’m used to working locally but always having an international impact for the companies I’ve been working with. My expertise lies in having a local focus, but working internationally. That’s always been part of my life. And I see many similarities between my background and the plans of ECIU University. I can’t wait to share my experience.’

Magne Barlett has over ten years of board experience. Including, but not limited to: representative in the student parliament of both the University of Agder and the University of Stavanger, member of the central board in the Norwegian Union of Students and student representative at the University of Stavanger’s executive board. ‘The University of Stavanger asked me to be one of the student board members of ECIU University. Besides this being a very interesting learning experience for me, I’ve always been a big advocate for more integration of Norway and Europe. In my opinion, anything that can contribute to that, is a worthy cause to commit to. My motivation stems from making an impact. I did that first on a local level, followed by a regional, national and now on a European level.’

Onno van Veldhuizen, mayor of Enschede: ‘I’m very excited to be part of the ECIU board. All good ideas are born and implemented in a city. So if you are looking for societal impact, cities are the right place. Having a university in your city of knowledge is crucial. I’m seeing that the solid borders between city and university of the past are becoming a more permeable membrane. Which, to me, is a promising development. We run different cities, but face the same challenges. Be it in open data, internet of things and drones that will be taking up the airspace above our cities. We can collaborate to face these challenges head on.’

The other external board members are:

Daniele Finocchiaro, chairman of the Research and Innovation Committee at Confindustria, the Italian Employers' Federation.

Ángeles Guiteras, the executive manager of the NGO Asociación Bienestar y Desarrollo (ABD) in Barcelona since 2000 and runs numerous projects and activities for people in vulnerable situations.  Guiteras is also a lecturer in the Master’s program on drug addiction at the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Barcelona.

Augustinas Laimonas Bytautas, holds a Bachelor Degree in New media language of Kaunas University of Technology (KTU). He held several project management positions for example in student committees or councils and in committees in a higher education institutions. He is a council member in the Lithuanian Students’ Union.

Isabel Damasceno Vieira de Campos Costa, President of Coordination Commission for the Regional Development of the Central Region of Portugal (CCDRC), a public service role with responsibility to coordinate the environmental and territorial policies and services of the region while supporting local authorities and associations.

ECIU University is an EU-funded collaboration between 13 universities in the ECIU network. It aims to pilot an innovative, challenge-based university model.

A longer version of these interviews previously appeared in ECIU University Magazine, March 2020

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ECIU is the leading international consortium of research intensive universities, with collective emphasis on innovation, creativity and societal impact, driving the development of a knowledge-based economy.