Do Dream 2025
Four years ago, I presented an ambitious election programme. This programme – KU Leuven+ – was a vision for the future of our university and its place in society. I have often reread the commitments I wrote down at the time and used them as my compass. Today, these commitments have largely been realised.
In the first months of my term as Rector, the election programme was translated into the Strategic Plan: “On Crossroads, for a Sustainable Society”. The realisation of this plan was given full priority in the first two years of my term. The global pandemic has taken up quite a bit of long-term policy-making time, but today, I can safely say that the Strategic Plan is now almost fully implemented.
The Strategic Plan is rich and wide in scope. At its core is the will to make KU Leuven fully future-proof. The plan was launched in 2017 and reaches beyond 2025.
Five ambitions are the cornerstones of the plan: gradually turning KU Leuven into a truly international university (Truly International), pursuing more active learning and teaching (Future-oriented Education), making full use of our digital tools in everything we do (Going Digital), encouraging interdisciplinary cross-pollination (Interdisciplinarity), and making KU Leuven a pioneer as a sustainable university (Sustainability).
The five chapters of the Strategic Plan were launched simultaneously. We also focused on reforms in areas such as educational and research policy, incentives for open science, scientific integrity and ethics in research and international cooperation, the development of campuses and an ambitious investment programme, a rethinking of the academic career path, and more intense cooperation between university and hospital.
Taken together, that is a lot. This Executive Board has the courage to pry loose what may have become a little stuck over the years.
These plans have charted a course for the future. We need time to let the choices gain maturity and make their effects more powerful, to refine and adjust them where necessary. Therefore, let us uphold the ambitions of this plan. Let us consolidate the choices made to give them more meaning and impact.
Taking our time
We do not govern merely to make changes. We govern to let our university grow, as a centre of scientific research, as a reference for education and sharing knowledge with society, as a place where everyone with a thirst for knowledge can enjoy living and working regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, or the colour of their skin. We need change to make this happen, but also time to stand still, debate, and reflect. We must take our time to do this.
After all, the extent of the plans has demanded a great deal from the Executive Board, units, faculties, departments. From all of us. That is another reason to stay on course. We could all use the tranquillity that comes with continuity. Especially after a pandemic that has forced the university to reinvent itself in a short amount of time, and that has been disrupting our regular activities for more than a year now. We need some time to recover.
Therefore, I want to start my second term with a recharging period: time to catch our breath. We all long for the pandemic to end. I do not want the new academic year to mark a return to business as usual. Instead, it will be a period in which we can slowly but surely recharge our batteries. We must cherish that time and not fill it with an extensive package of new measures.
This is why I propose the following: during this recharging period, let us all recover from the overwhelming impact of the COVID-19 crisis. Let us, at the same time, take stock and preserve the positive aspects of the ‘new normal’. Such a recharging period will do us all a world of good.
I do not want to use the first months of the new policy period to launch new large-scale initiatives. Instead, I want to give units, faculties, and departments room to breathe in order to learn from the pandemic. And give hospitals the chance to get back on their feet after COVID-19. For myself, I want to use that time to enter into a discussion about this with all stakeholders within KU Leuven. Reculer pour mieux sauter.
No, I am not arguing for complacency. We will always critically evaluate what may be improved and act vigorously when necessary, as we have done during the pandemic. Never will we hesitate to take on new challenges. An innovative university like ours cannot afford to do that.
But, at the same time, I ask you: dare to stay on course. We do not want to become a restless university that, rather than making choices for her future, is instead at the mercy of whatever that future holds.
Let that fleet with all those beautiful ships stay on course; it works so well together.
Consolidate and improve: that is my commitment for the years to come. Ensuring that the strategic options of today gradually become the KU Leuven of tomorrow: a university that is open to the world in the South and the North; one with inclusive and excellent education for students; one that confidently welcomes the digital transformation; one with open doors and a great deal of interaction between (the rooms of the) disciplines; and one that is committed to a sustainable society.
Perpetuate and reinforce: let that be a source of tranquillity. For in reinforcement lies a striving for stability: turning choices made into capacities and leverage to contribute even more to humankind and society. Staying on course brings peace of mind, creates space and energy to work on the future of our university together.
This will create space for connection: time to rediscover each other and those many other rooms, energy to work on an even warmer, inclusive, and close-knit KU Leuven. I am talking about the connection between colleagues, between clinicians and fundamental researchers, between the Executive Board and faculty boards, between faculties and departments, between campuses, between the university and its students, between the many cultures and nationalities at our university, between units and the teaching staff and researchers they support, between the partners of the KU Leuven Association, between the university and the rest of society.
“At home at KU Leuven” is the slogan of one of our programmes for our students’ mental well-being in times of corona. Fortunately, the feeling of being at home at KU Leuven is deeply rooted in many of us, perhaps even most of us. Let us make sure together that these roots continue to branch out and become more firmly embedded. So that all of us can truly feel at home at KU Leuven.