Column Thom de Graaf: ‘stop talking and start doing’
Europe needs more and stronger involvement of the universities of applied sciences. This conclusion is unavoidable if we look at European objectives in the area of innovation and growth. Central to this is closer cooperation between researchers, businesses, professionals in the public sector and citizens with a view to jointly guaranteeing prosperity in Europe and our shared well-being, and expanding this into the future.
Almost all European countries have a higher education system in which, in addition to research-based universities, there are educational institutions with a stronger focus on applied sciences. The latter often go under the collective term of 'universities of applied sciences'. In this regard, the Netherlands is not unique with its distinction between research-based universities and universities of applied sciences. What is unique is the size of the sector comprising universities of applied sciences in the Netherlands. In the Netherlands, the universities of applied sciences account for more than 450,000 students or two thirds of higher education. In other European countries, the university of applied sciences sector is often significantly smaller.
There is another striking "detail" as well: the way in which we give form to our knowledge function within the universities of applied sciences. Through their (applied) professorships, the RAAK (Regionale Aandacht en Actie voor Kenniscirculatie - Regional Attention and Action for Knowledge Circulation) programmes and the Expertise Centres, universities of applied sciences contribute to innovation through co-creation with their private and public stakeholders. The combination of research and education is central to this. The aim is to improve professional practice by providing well-educated professionals and through practice-oriented and applied research. The great challenge is to translate this innovative force, with its focus on realising an impact in the region, to the European level in the best possible way. The regional role of universities of applied sciences, after all, has always been linked to European and global value and knowledge chains.
This brings us back to European objectives and the role of universities of applied sciences. The present Horizon 2020 has a strong focus on actually making an impact through research. The rules and instruments have been designed in such a way that—to a greater extent than in the past—these really do provide a way of directing developments. That this is not always easy to achieve does not detract from the movement that has been initiated. The European Commission has specifically invited the UAS sector to participate in this. It is now up to the Dutch universities of applied sciences and their European counterparts to take up the gauntlet and assist in realising the desired impact. This requires visibility and recognisability in order to acquire experience and develop a track record, but, above all, to make a contribution in the area from which the European UAS sector derives its added value, namely regional networks, a practice-oriented way of working and the will to really make a difference! Together we will therefore be able to ensure that the term "Impact" becomes the European variant of ‘stop talking and start doing’.
Thom de Graaf
President of the Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences