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Interview with Edith Hooge, the new President of the Executive Board

Published on 12-06-2024
Edith Hooge has been the new President of the Executive Board since 1 June. How have her first couple of weeks been? ‘At the university, systematic doubt and caution take precedence over certainty.’
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Was this a tumultuous time to start?

'It’s a very intense time for everyone at the UvA. Among the students, lecturers, reception and security personnel and other staff I’ve spoken to over the past few days, I get the sense that the protests and the polarisation that came with them have given rise to a lot of emotion. Now I’ve plunged right into the middle of that. It’s good to see people taking time and finding ways to engage with each other. Above all, I think listening carefully to each other’s experiences and views is very important at the moment.'

What are your priorities for the UvA? Or at least, what do you want to achieve in the next four years?

'I think connection is important: making sure people can find each other, work well together on education, research and impact. That’s what I want to work on. And perhaps by extension: the way students and staff are involved in the UvA, the influence they have on decisions and policies. I think it would be nice to explore other forms of participation, alternative ways for students and staff to make their voices heard and feel part of the UvA.'

You studied Educational Sciences at the UvA, your PhD was in Education, you were Chair of the Education Council. What could be improved in education?

'Education should make sure that you learn to think for yourself. The opposite of bookishness. Not just acquiring short-term knowledge with the lecture, test, lecture, test cycle, over and over again. There should be room to develop yourself more broadly and deeply. That’s part of it. Also, during your studies you should have genuine contact with research, with other disciplines, with what the UvA has to offer. And the social side is very important: studying is not an individual thing, you do it together with other students and lecturers and by participating in the university community. 

Oh, and another thing: as a university, we must keep working on the organisational side of education. The things that might not be immediately noticeable: that your timetable is right, that you’re given good information, that you can find everything. They sound like little things, but they’re very important, and if they go wrong, it’s very unfortunate.'

And what is needed for research?

'More capacity. Less of an unnecessary ‘planning burden’, as the Flemish put it so nicely, more trust, fewer endless applications and rejections. I want that for researchers. That requires money, but the new government’s General Agreement contains severe cuts for academic education and research. And I’ve noticed there’s an anti-intellectual climate in The Hague at the moment, where knowledge sometimes seems to be distrusted. I think that’s a real threat. We have to defend against that.'

What does that mean?

'Wherever possible, I want to make the point that knowledge and scholarship are necessary for a thriving society and economy and a good international position, that funding them is essential, and therefore budget cuts are short-sighted. Our high-quality academic education and research sector can be taken apart much faster than it can be rebuilt. We need to make that point in The Hague, together with the UNL.'

And what is the biggest challenge?

'I already mentioned budget cuts, which are looming in the medium term and are really concerning. On top of that there’s the Balanced Internationalisation Act, with all its implications for the UvA. We’re an international, bilingual university – that’s part of the UvA, part of Amsterdam. That must not disappear.

And another, more short-term point: how do you have consideration for one another? And within those boundaries, how do you make sure everyone can express their opinions and is actually listened to? Which is not the same as forcing someone to agree with you. Because at the university, systematic doubt and caution take precedence over certainty. This is something we need to talk about. If social safety is important, so is the way in which you make your point. The fact that debates had to be cancelled recently because it wasn’t considered safe – I find that really problematic.'

In the near future, where will we see you the most?

'In lots of places! I will of course be meeting, listening, hearing from many different people about what they think is necessary for the UvA to remain a leading university as well as a great place to study and work. And I’ll be attending meetings organised by students and staff, which I enjoy. Seminars, lectures. It’s easy to ride my bike everywhere. And having coffee at Crea, that makes me happy.'