Director of Education Sabine Uijl moves to the Strategic Alliance
As of 1 October 2020, Sabine Uijl is leaving University College Utrecht for a new job as project leader Innovative Didactic Concepts at the new Strategic Alliance of Utrecht University with University Medical Centre Utrecht, Wageningen University & Research and Technical University Eindhoven. “The will to change is my driving force.”
Her years at University College Utrecht were characterized by transition and change, a period now completed with the reorganisation of the College’s academic structure. Sabine hands over her position as Director of Education to Christel Lutz, Associate Professor in Psychology at the College and Senior Fellow at the Center for Academic Teaching.
For Sabine, her job at the College started with preparations for the periodic visitation of the Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders (NVAO), which took place in September 2018.
“It was through the preparatory work for the accreditation that I learned to know the University College as an organisation,” she says, looking back at her first year at the College. “There was no time to lose, as it turned out that NVAO had just revised their way of working and changed the procedure to a more open form. It meant a huge amount of work, but it was also on opportunity to tell our own story.”
“The accreditation is about the quality, the content and the organisation of education – in short, who we are, what we do, and how we do it. We decided on our approach together with the two other Liberal Arts and Sciences programmes of Utrecht University, the Dutch-spoken Liberal Arts and Sciences of the Faculty of Humanities and our fellow University College Roosevelt in Middelburg. As organisations and in educational vision, all three are very different.”
“Next to that, James Kennedy, who had started as Dean in 2016, had set out a new vision and mission for the College, which served as the basis for our self-evaluation. The accreditation itself brought a very satisfying result with all ‘goods’ for our programme. But if anything, the process gave us insight in the changes the College needed to face, so as to continue providing the full-fledged Liberal Arts and Sciences it does already for two decades. This, in fact, marked the start of the next step, reorganisation of its governance structure – a process that was rounded up just this summer.”
The work for the accreditation touched the core of her passion as innovative professional, she says.
“I started to wonder about the agency of students in designing their own curriculum. There were various parallel information systems, where students were supposed to gather all they need for assembling their study programme, which is characteristically very free at the College. There are so many possibilities that what is on offer needs to be extremely clearly structured, so that students can navigate through it as efficiently as possible.”
An opportunity to take up the challenge to improve the course planning system came, when Sabine received a two-year Comenius senior fellowship of the Netherlands Initiative for Education Research (NRO).
“Together with a team of educational specialists at University Utrecht, I researched first the various options to align the curriculum planning systems in a more coherent way. We believed that if students had more ownership of the way their studies were organised, it would also serve to strengthen the role of tutors as academic advisors. All along the way, we worked closely together with colleagues at the College. Next to that, student focus groups were a great asset.”
“The project resulted, among other things, in a better labelling of the University Course courses in the course planner, by adding competences and skills to the courses, and in handy infographics that give students insight in the support network they have at the College. The project is now close to its end, but the work goes on, for sure.”
“If you ask me what my professional passion is, the answer is clear: innovation in education, the possibilities that there are to make education work better, and to design new concepts to work with,” Sabine says.
It was no wonder that she got in touch with the Strategic Alliance, first in an advisory role, and now as the project leader of Innovative Didactic Concepts. In the Alliance, Utrecht University collaborates with Wageningen University & Research, Technical University Eindhoven and the University Medical Centre Utrecht to find, through education and research, new solutions to major challenges for the future.
“It is a great adventure to think of the possibilities for future education. The options are virtually unlimited. Challenge-based learning is one of the central concepts we are developing. Further we look at student and staff mobility, future learning spaces, alternatives for field work and internships, a joint master programme, educational research and education for professionals, the role of which will hugely increase in the future.”
“This is a new, unseen path for everyone. Leading is the will to change, and to dare innovate. That approach is close to my heart.”