The new school year for Vrije Universiteit Brussel officially opened on Tuesday at the renovated Gare Maritime at the Tour & Taxis location. At least 2,500 invited guests were allowed to attend the opening session, with Covid Safe Ticket and without a mouth mask. In her speech, University President Carolyn Bowles called for optimism and action after an exceptional health crisis that brought with it many scientific and societal challenges.
“We have a hateful habit of thinking that environmental disasters or the coronavirus only happen to others, but I hope that after the last year and a half, everyone has lost their veils, and many are wondering with me: What can we do, what can I do?” says Rector Pauls. .
This question is a common thread running through her appeal. After a stressful year, the university president saw everyone focus. Now is the time to show flexibility and address inequality. The coronavirus crisis has offered a lot of digital solutions and possibilities, but Bowles continues to stress the importance of social connections and people helping people.
“I hope the students meet and grow up by meeting people. They missed the social connection at first. I hope they find out again and enjoy the fun student life as they learn to handle freedom after restrictions,” says Pauwels.
Young people entering college today have different interests than they did, say, thirty years ago. The VUB chief understands that in 2050 they will face the consequences of global warming, but there is also the growing inequality or the role of social media in spreading conspiracy theories.
In this regard, the university must put inclusivity more firmly on the agenda. We still have a lot of work to do in all of these aspects, but the science is there to move things forward,” stresses Pauwels.
To tackle challenges like the climate crisis or creating a vaccine, she calls for open science and open data. These complex problems “require not only an interdisciplinary scientific approach, but also a cross-sectional political approach,” says Pauwels.
But: “The political and university structures are not ready for that. We have a university that operates on the basis of 19th century models. There are too many vertical silos with more and more super majors. Not that we don’t need them. You’ll never hear me say that. … We are deeply divided into faculties and specializations, while there is a need for more multidisciplinary,” concludes VUB President.