New Dean of Economics and Business at UvA: ‘We Can Be Better’

Photo: Robin den Harder

Roel Bitsma

How was the transition from Van Diesel to you?

“He didn’t give me a paper transfer or anything, that’s not his style. We talked several times about the issues going on here and he introduced me to the Work and Student Council. From those conversations I inferred that Han left the organization in good shape. I haven’t found any bodies in the closet yet nor do I expect that.

How did your first six weeks as dean go?

‘kind of good. Of course I’ve been working for a long time, but I’ve discovered that I still don’t know things. 450 FTEs work here. So you don’t just know everything. For example, I was not familiar with Amsterdam Business School (ABS), nor did I know how we are organized on a detailed level. Over the past few weeks I’ve been randomly walking through Building E and M, knocking on several doors to have a conversation, and occasionally hearing very interesting research. I’ve already collected researchers several times who didn’t know they were doing similar research.

What kind of picture do you have of the dean’s office?

“I thought I was going to be the EB Director, but obviously I am not. I think the Director has a slightly more practical role. Shortly after I took office, the University Secretary said, ‘You are now a Director.’ I think the Director has a slightly broader view than the Director. And the manager is concerned with strategy. Where do you want to go as an organization, that question.

Shot away. Where do you want to go with EB?

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“My predecessors left a good organization, but I think the potential is higher than what we have shown so far. We can and must improve. We are in a good financial position. This makes everything easier, because it allows us to invest. We are investing in climate economics, where Rick Van has been appointed Der Pleug as a university professor.We will also continue to invest in areas such as operations research, (big) data science, machine learning and artificial intelligence, where we have already hired very good people.

Where do you want to go in education?

“I want to focus more strongly on digital and blended learning and on more cooperation between the School of Economics (ASE) and the School of Business (ABS) on the one hand, and on more cooperation with other schools on the other hand.”

How important is competitiveness to EB?

It’s important, but it doesn’t mean I’m comparing ourselves to Harvard. This is not realistic. But that doesn’t mean we’re not good. I look at the arrangement, but I also see the limits of that. It always comes down to the criteria used in such lists. Sometimes these are based on purely economic research, sometimes the research is much broader and still ends up in the same list.

Maybe it wasn’t Harvard, but the European summit then?

“I think EB is among the top ten in Europe. We can bring in amazingly good people because we have such a good reputation and are in Amsterdam. Add to that the role that EB plays in public debate, in scientific journals, and collaborations with reputable external partners, such as Nationale Nederlanden , and you belong to the leading European economics schools.

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