We are deeply saddened to announce that our dear friend and colleague Jon File passed away on Thursday 4 May. Although Jon had been ailing with his health recently, his passing came completely unexpected. Jon was 67 years old and he leaves behind his wife Lyn, his two children Andrew and Heather and two grandchildren James and Leah.
Jon, born on 18 April 1956 in England, came to Twente with his family from Cape Town in 1997, where he moved into a home on campus -as they were accustomed to in Cape Town- and where he and his family would enjoy living for over 25 years. At the University of Cape Town, as the Head of the central academic administration (Academic Secretary) Jon had already built up outstanding expertise on higher education. He was, amongst several other things, committed to and a highly valued member of the National Commission of Higher Education to reform higher education in South Africa after the end of the Apartheid regime. With this background, he enthusiastically joined the Center for Higher Education Policy Studies (CHEPS) at the University of Twente (UT). From day one on, Jon has shown his added value for CHEPS, UT, higher education in the Netherlands and far beyond in various ways. For although Enschede offered a solid home base, Jon's merits literally knew no boundaries.
Although Jon would undoubtedly have made an outstanding researcher, he preferred to use his sharp mind, organisational skills and warm personality mainly for knowledge transfer in the domain of higher education. Besides providing indispensable support to the management of our research institute over the years, preferably in the background, he developed numerous large-scale international programmes in the field of higher education systems as ‘director development and consultancy’. Characteristically, Jon was not only gifted in crafting such complex programmes and very skilfully manoeuvring in what often turned out to be turbulent political environments, but he also successfully took on the implementation of these training and capacity building programmes himself. A rather unique set of skills. A pleasant side effect of this was that in 25 years he travelled all over the world, something he particularly enjoyed doing.
With these complex programmes, Jon has inspired and shaped many people. Not only the numerous participants but also the teams of colleagues that Jon formed around him have benefited tremendously from his work and insights. Moreover, it has done CHEPS and UT no harm, especially in terms of reputation, just to use an understatement that fits Jon so well.
The number of programmes and projects that Jon developed and/or has been involved in is so large that we can only provide a very brief anthology here. One of the first projects that comes to mind concerns the development of the education programme ‘Institutional Management and Change in Higher Education’ around the millennium. A one-year distance education programme in higher education studies, at that time unique in the world. During the same period, in cooperation with Bureau Cross and the NUFFIC, training and capacity building programmes were set up for several Eastern European countries that were in transition after the break-up of the Soviet Union. Characteristic for Jon, then already, was his sense for equality and inclusiveness, as he had already exhibited at the time of apartheid in South Africa. The programmes were not for established cadres but for those who would have to shape higher education in the future. Similar long-term training programmes followed at a later date in South Africa, Mozambique and Ethiopia, among others.
Around 2003, Jon created the first Leadership Development Programme for the European Consortium of Innovative Universities (ECIU), which would become one of the consortium's flagship programmes. This programme has now been running for more than 20 years, has hundreds of alumni and has contributed to what ECIU is today. He also set up similar programmes for the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA), and for the Institute of Higher Education of the University of Georgia, both still very successful today. And Jon designed and delivered similar programmes with the LH Martin Institute at the University of Melbourne.
Jon is held in high regard by the participants of these programmes because of his knowledge, inspiration, sociability and excellent planning. What stood out in all these programmes is Jon's creative spirit, wittiness, originality, eye for detail, and his penchant for games and simulations as a form of learning. Time and again, Jon managed to take his audience out of their comfort zone with surprising simulations and give them food for thought useful for their careers. None of the many participants will probably have forgotten the LEGO game.
In addition to these training and capacity building programmes, Jon was also particularly successful in acquiring and implementing extensive EU-research projects. His acquisition and communication skills, highly systematic substantive and financial planning, and academic expertise made him unique, highly valued by his colleagues and successful in Brussels. For conducting international research studies on governance, funding, quality assurance and reform in higher education, he managed to set up and maintain networks in no time. Many of these networks are still flourishing, thanks to Jon.
Examples of those complex EU projects in which Jon played an essential role - again, mainly in the background - are the well-known EU projects U-Map and U-Multirank, very sophisticated global classification and ranking systems of higher education institutions in which political, strategic, and analytical insights with an eye for feasibility constantly demanded attention. His contribution was indispensable in this, thanks to his creativity and analytical ability, as well as his eye for the right human relationships.
Needless to say, Jon’s qualities were noticed by many more. He has worked as a high-level expert for various government committees and international organisations to advise on the reform of higher education systems. This started in South Africa but has continued in Europe and beyond. Those involved are grateful to Jon for his trademark: pleasant cooperation and valuable advice.
Many in higher education are indebted to Jon File. This is especially true for former and present colleagues at CHEPS. His expertise and professional attitude have proven to be a constant source of inspiration to all of us. As a constant instigator of a true team spirit, Jon has made a contribution to CHEPS that cannot be underestimated. Jon was a team player par excellence through his creative, humorous, understanding and social presence, supported by a strong moral compass that was not only professed by word of mouth, as his life's work illustrates. Knowledgeable, inspiring, witty and most of all in every inch a gentleman.
Jon, we are going to miss you very much but will not forget the warm memories you leave us.