State Secretary Sander Dekker: ‘Combining academic freedom and social responsibility’
State Secretary Sander Dekker calls upon universities to freely share their knowledge. ‘Knowledge only becomes knowledge when it is shared.’ His speech at the official opening of the academic year is also an ode to engaged cross-grained thinkers.
How should science and society relate to one another? This is the key question with which Sander Dekker opens the academic year in Leiden. According to the State Secretary it is crucial to stop hiding knowledge behind expensive subscriptions to scientific journals. As a Leiden graduate in Public Administration, Dekker knows what he is talking about: ‘Knowledge only becomes knowledge when it is shared. Researchers should initiate the debate wherever possible. In the media and on the streets.’ And remain open to ideas from outside the university.
Combining freedom with responsibility
In his inspiring speech, Dekker swiftly engages his audience with an ode to cross-grained thinkers such as AIDS researcher Joep Lange, our own student Laurens van der Graaff and Leiden alumni Willem Witteveen and Lidwien Heerkens, all of whom tragically died in the air disaster above Ukraine. Lange refused to be constrained by the dominant view of AIDS as a primarily homosexual disorder and as a result was able to make an important contribution to combating AIDS. The State Secretary calls upon researchers to make proof of courage and to stand up against prevailing conventions. But research should not become a goal in itself. ‘Combine academic freedom with social responsibility!’
With reference to the disasters of the past summer, Rector Magnificus Carel Stolker invites the audience to consider the ‘mad world’ we live in. Stolker brings this world right into the Pieterskerk through the example of a Crimean student who joined an exchange programme at the Faculty of Science in January as a Ukrainian, and will now apparently be going back home as a ‘Russian’.
What can a university do in this world gone mad? ‘A lot,’ is Stolker’s answer. He sees the power of a centuries-old academic network which by now stretches across the entire globe. ‘Where international politics seem to falter, universities still form one of the few networks that continue to create real connections, from country to country and from region to region. With all the fuss about accreditations and the constant yearning for the newest rankings, this role is all too often forgotten.’
According to Vivek Goel, MOOCs are an excellent tool for propagating knowledge, especially among people with limited access to higher education. Goel is Chief Academic Strategist at Coursera, the online platform through which universities offer their online courses. He sees many advantages for universities. Their expertise becomes more visible across the world and MOOCs contribute to improving the quality of education. The digital suggestions of thousands of participants make it possible to improve both courses and textbooks.
Regular education also more international
An additional advantage is that these thousands of international students represent a great variety of perspectives. Thanks to his MOOC, Leiden Professor of Terrorism and Counterterrorism Edwin Bakker was able to map how participants from more than 140 countries viewed terrorism. And following his own MOOC, ‘Sharia in the West’, Arabist Maurits Berger created a modified SPOC: Small Private Online Course. Berger selected a small group of highly motivated participants from abroad and brought them together with his Leiden students. In this way, MOOCs can also make regular education more international, argues Goel.
MOOCs are no longer a hype and they fit in well with our educational strategy, argues Vice Rector Simone Buitendijk. Leiden University wishes to contribute to large-scale societal challenges such as security and sustainability. ‘MOOCs bring the world right into the classroom and help create an international academic community of active and committed students.’
MOOC opens up new possibilities
Buitendijk describes the impact of MOOCs. One example is the way in which the MOOC of Professor Madeleine Hosli changed the life of Abdinor Hassan Dahir, a 24-year-old Somali with an MA in Business Administration. Dahir grew up in the midst of violent conflict and thanks to the MOOC ‘The Changing Global Order’ he learnt about peace processes and how he could personally contribute to them. Innovative online education stimulates students to think globally and to work together more effectively. Moreover, MOOCs create opportunities for new bonds with other top universities.
The bi-annual Mr. K.J. Cath Prize was awarded to Wouter Bruins, a classical example of an entrepreneurial student/researcher concerned with social issues. Wouter Bruins is awarded the bi-annual Mr. K.J. Cath Prize, intended for students and/or staff members who achieved favourable publicity for the university. During his studies in Biology and Science-Based Business, Bruins set up two companies. The first of these, Amplino, developed an inexpensive and sturdy device for detecting malaria in pregnant women in developing countries. His other company, In Ovo, came up with a way of determining the gender of chickens while still in the egg. This prevents the unnecessary killing of one-day roosters who are of no use to the egg industry.
Stolker mentions other inspiring examples. With the support of the university, Cultural Anthropology student Sheryl Lynn Baas developed an aid programme in the aftermath of the devastating super typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. And since last academic year, 11 so-called Medical Delta Professors, all of whom hold double positions at the universities of Leiden, Delft and Rotterdam, have been working on the interface between technology and medicine. Stolker offers these examples in response to the appeal of State Secretary Sander Dekker for the university to contribute solutions to societal problems.
(2 September 2014)