Tom Huisjes on his research on ‘social and inclusive commissioning’ and being a true Utrecht lawyer

What kind of mind-set is needed to carry out ground-breaking research as we do at UUCePP? 

UUCePP researchers introduce themselves in brief interviews conducted by Elisabetta Manunza and Fredo Schotanus. The kick-off is for the researcher who joined our centre most recently: Tom Huisjes. 

Tom Huisjes

Who are you?

My name is Tom Huisjes, PhD candidate at the Utrecht University Centre for Public Procurement (UUCePP), formerly known as ‘PPRC’. I am a true Utrecht lawyer: after obtaining my Master’s degrees in European Law and Criminal Law at this university, I stayed in Utrecht as a lecturer in European Law.

What are you working on, and why?

Under the supervision of professor Elisabetta Manunza and professor Frans Pennings, I will do research on ‘Social and inclusive commissioning’. The task to integrate policy on discrimination, diversity and inclusivity within public procurement and contracting policy leads to a lot of tension. The challenge is how to deal with this. For example, can a contracting authority exclude a bidder if it appears that that bidder discriminates in the labour market? What type of discrimination may or may not be grounds for exclusion? How and by whom must this be demonstrated? Even more challenging is the question how a contracting authority can encourage companies to pursue a policy of diversity.

What gets you out of bed every morning? And is that different because of the COVID-19 crisis?

Working from home has certainly changed my daily life. No more fun lunches in the canteen and no more coffee/tea (or in my case cola) in the coffee corner. Fortunately, we keep in regular digital contact with each other about our projects. And fortunately there is still a good reason to get out of bed: to do our valuable work (and the deadlines of course!).

Is there something you appreciate in these changing circumstances? Do we have to go back to our old lives after the crisis or not?

I appreciate the fact that there is more appreciation for people in indispensable professions, such as care, but also education, public transport and the cleaning sector. Hopefully we will remember this even after we have overcome the corona crisis.

The School of Athens, fresco by Raphael. Tom Huisjes: "This fresco corresponds with Pinker's quote and symbolises the connection between legal aspects of public procurement and underlying philosophies."

Who or what inspires you?

In our UUCePP group with many young PhD researchers, we regularly have substantive discussions on a variety of topics. What all our research has in common is the basis of Elisabetta's definition that public procurement law is not a sum of procedural rules, but a powerful instrument to organise society in a sustainable and equitable manner. In this view, public procurement law as an instrument does not constitute a panacea, but can bring about important improvements in, for example, the social field.

 This reminds me of an inspiring quote from one of my favourite writers, Steven Pinker:

“We will never have a perfect world, and it would be dangerous to seek one. But there is no limit to the betterments we can attain if we continue to apply knowledge to enhance human flourishing.” - S. Pinker in Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress (2018).