13 February 2018

Collaborations with social partners

Utrecht University to invest €26 million in fourteen 'key challenges'

Together with its partners, Utrecht University has made plans to tackle fourteen key societal challenges, for which purpose it will allocate 26 million euros over the next four years.

Rector Magnificus Bert van der Zwaan describes it as a logical step. 'With regard to its four strategic research themes, Utrecht University has already made significant progress in applying expertise from various scientific disciplines to societally relevant topics such as health, governance, the environment and parenting. This has earned us quite a few plaudits. We are now working towards a more focused approach. Our aim is to increase our impact by tackling specific key challenges in a multidisciplinary way, together with our social partners. To this end, we have identified fourteen so-called hubs.'

Creating a sustainable future by bringing people together Future of Work
Video's that provide an insight in the several hubs. Click to view.

One of the hubs related to the strategic theme Life Sciences is Utrecht Advanced In Vitro Models. Researchers are investigating how the design and use of in vitro models can be improved in such a way that it leads to medical progress and a reduction in animal testing. Rector Magnificus Van der Zwaan: 'Try picturing the hubs as giant landing stages, where numerous societal "vessels" – such as other knowledge institutions, businesses, government authorities, NGOs and lobby groups – gather to make landfall and do business.'

A new way of thinking

Van der Zwaan indicates that while collaborations with social partners are not a new development, the scale on which they currently take place is new. The university itself will invest 26 million euros over the next four years, not including investments in facilities and large equipment. Hubs are the ultimate representation of a new way of thinking: one that is not based on the application or 'valorisation' of previously acquired academic knowledge but on joining forces with others to ponder research questions and strategies.

'I am convinced that this approach will lead to more impact, increased visibility and increased opportunities to attract funding,' Van der Zwaan says. 'That includes funding for fundamental research, which is needed to crack this case and solve these key challenges. This is our ultimate objective.'

Maarten Hajer, Scientific Director Pathways to Sustainability
Maarten Hajer
Prof Dr Maarten Hajer.

'Sustainability is our collective wake up call. The challenge is not to define our problems but to think of pathways towards sustainability. This requires new imaginative collaborative work. Utrecht University has a stunning track record in sustainability science. Now we want to see how the university can become an agent of change, bringing together the best of research across a much broader range of subjects. If we combine our scientific excellence and work together with external partners on specific research questions, we can really make the transition towards a more sustainable society a reality.'

Piet Gros and Peter Luijten, scientific co-directors Life Sciences
Peter Luijten en Piet Gros, wetenschappelijk co-directeuren Life Sciences.
Prof Dr Peter Luijten (left) and Prof Dr Piet Gros (right).

'Utrecht Life Sciences has a longstanding tradition in interdisciplinary research. This is exemplified in our four hubs. We aim to build excellent research communities beyond the traditional borders of academic research groups, connecting external partners from across a regional and global network of research institutes, non-governmental organizations, patient organizations, government, and/or private companies. Together we work on societal relevant issues and scientific breakthroughs within the framework of One Health, Personalized Medicine & Health, Regenerative Medicine & Stem Cells, and Science for Life.'

Chantal Kemner, scientific director Dynamics of Youth
Chantal Kemner in het KinderKennisCentrum
Prof Dr Chantal Kemner.

'It is amazing to consider how much we have yet to find out about child development. To understand how people develop into who they are, you need to see the bigger picture. The Child Expertise Centre serves as a breeding ground for interdisciplinary research and offers opportunities for collaboration between knowledge institutions, civil society organisations and the business community. Research at the Child Expertise Centre is supported and promoted through the latest research facilities, such as common data sets and labs.'

Bas van Bavel, scientific director Institutions for Open Societies
Prof. dr. Bas van Bavel. Foto: Ed van Rijswijk
Prof Dr Bas van Bavel.

'The launch of the hubs heralds a welcome new phase in the expansion of our strategic theme. Together with our social partners, we conduct interdisciplinary research to tackle specific challenges in developing and nurturing open societies. Institutions for Open Societies advances this objective by asking questions and proposing solutions in its hubs on the future of labour, citizens' collectives, security, social entrepreneurship and diversity.'