At the opening of the congress, Dijkgraaf recalled the arrival of the Internet and the few expectations that were had of it. “I should add that I am so old that I still remember sending my first email and seeing a web page for the first time. When I, as a theoretical physicist, explained that to people at the time, they found it especially pleasing to theoretical physicists. Nobody expected that it could be used more widely.”
Now, many years later, education has also been heavily influenced by digitization. “If you compare education today with education forty years ago, much has remained the same,” Dijkgraaf noted. “However, digitization has completely changed the experience of education. Because of these digital possibilities, I am very jealous of this generation of students and researchers.”
Collaboration with a scientific approach
Arthur Mol, Rector Magnificus of Wageningen University and Research (WUR) and initiator of the Acceleration Plan, explained at the opening of EPIC that collaboration between so many parties is one of the most important elements of the Acceleration Plan. “Almost all universities and colleges are now piloting SURF at multiple institutions at the same time; that is the biggest step forward. In addition, we not only work together at the top of the organizations, the institutions also work together at the level of education and research.”
The minister fully agreed with that statement. “I am proud of the quality of the universities and colleges, but I am even more proud of the system as a whole. We are world champions of cooperation. Furthermore, thanks to SURF, we have an excellent digital infrastructure that is the result of decades of investment. All of this is brought together here and combined with an almost experimental attitude. In fact, the scientific approach is used: find out what works and what doesn’t, and learn from it”.
Internationally, such far-reaching collaboration between higher education institutions is a rarity, Mol and Dijkgraaf agreed. “We are the country that our European colleagues look at,” says Mol. “Extending this cooperation to other European countries and higher education institutions is also one of the challenges ahead. To do this, we need to further expand our network, but it also requires action in Brussels.”
After the approval of Digitiseringsimpuls NL, the application for the second round of the National Growth Fund, the efforts within the Acceleration Plan will be further expanded, Mol said during the opening of the symposium. 113 university, higher professional education and mbo institutions will work together to make education more flexible and develop open learning materials. In addition, they will all establish Teaching and Learning Centers to ensure that lessons learned are translated into educational practice.
“This is an improvement, the next phase of this great project,” added Dijkgraaf. That is not inconvenient; after all, much is expected of digitization, he noted. “Digitalization is also being considered in the demand for more flexible education to meet the challenges of the labor market. It’s a big promise, and that creates pressure. We have to make it happen.