Understanding Society

Tilburg University is convinced that it can contribute to solving social issues by developing and transferring knowledge and bringing together people from various disciplines and organizations.

News and Updates

Towards Official consent and advice

From divergence to convergence

The outcome of Speech2025 and the sessions with alumni and corporate relations forms the output of the divergence phase and has been discussed by the Executive Board and the Deans. The discussion was based on a paper in which the output was plotted on the seven dimensions: Growth, Location, Profile, Impact, Governance, Operational excellence, and Culture. In addition, two more themes were defined, based on the input from the divergence phase: identity / purpose, connecting and digitalization.

The discussion was guided by a strategy model based on Ansoff, dividing new initiatives into developments in line with current initiatives (core); innovation building on current initiatives (adjacent), and joint efforts that truly transform Tilburg University (transformative).

Consensus was reached on the following:

  • The Cobbenhagen heritage should be cherished, but transposed to the current day.
  • Connecting (verbinding) should be a guiding principle for everything we do (internally and externally).
  • Growth and innovation are essential for the future of Tilburg University.
  • We should cherish our green campus and make it a true living campus.
  • We should practice what we preach and invest in corporate social responsibility.
  • Student centricity should be key in everything we do.

On April 4, the Executive Board met with the Leadership Group (Faculty Boards, Division Directors & Impact Team). The goal of this meeting was to bring them up to speed on the process as well as the strategic directions determined by the Executive Board and the Deans. This meeting was characterized by an enthusiasm and an eagerness to work together across schools, and resulted in a great many concrete suggestions, building on to the input from the divergence phase.

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Speech2025 online

March 9, 2017, auditorium Cobbenhagen Building, Tilburg University

On March 9, 25 teams of students and staff presented their ideas on the future of the university. No fewer than 25 teams signed up to give a six minute presentation. They were to explain the idea of the team and describe how it could be implemented. The high pace made Speech2025 a dynamic and exciting event with room to respond live to the presentations given. All the valuable input harvested, forms the input for the writing phase of the Strategy.

Read the summaries of the presentations and view the recordings of the speeches on the website!

Speech2025 1

Speech2025 2

Speech2025 3

Speech2025 4

Speech2025 6

Speech2025 7

Speech2025 5

Speech2025 8

Report of the stakeholder meeting, March 7, 2017

March 7, 2017, campus Tilburg University

On Tuesday March 7, we received our external stakeholders for a strategy session at the Faculty Club. Various stakeholders of Tilburg University were invited to give their opinion and input on various topics, using the Dimensions for a Strategy as a framework.

Speech 2025 stakeholder meeting 1

The evening started in the Faculty Club by a warm welcome of Koen Becking. Richard Engelfriet hosted the event and started the conversation by interviewing Emile Aarts. Emile gave us a short report the three strategy sessions with alumni and mentioned that he had high expectations form this group of stakeholders. Joining Emile Aarts at the table were Seppo Pieterse (Quintiq), Christien Bok (Surf), Ronald de Jong (Philips) and Nancy Kamp (EY).

Speech 2025 stakeholder meeting 4 Speech 2025 stakeholder meeting 3

After the plenary session, the group was divided in five small groups and talked about the purpose of Tilburg University and how to achieve various goals. After half an hour, Richard invited the group back for the plenary wrap-up. Every group presented their ideas and the other stakeholders reacted on that. Emile was writing while Richard challenged the group to react and discuss.

Speech 2025 stakeholder meeting 5

After the wrap-up, Emile was very happy and thanked the group for their enthusiasm and input. He complimented the group that they surpassed all his expectations. In general, he concluded that Tilburg University needs to be very clear on its purpose. “What’s our story? “. We should go back to Cobbenhagen and frame that in the current timeframe, and make clear what that means for our future

Speech 2025 stakeholder meeting 6

After the wrap-up it was time to have a drink on a very valuable meeting.     

Speech 2025 stakeholder meeting 2 Speech 2025 stakeholder meeting 7

Report of the Strategy Session with Alumni on February 20, 2017

February 20, 2017, campus Tilburg University

On February 20, we met around 35 alumni for our third and last Strategy Session, at Tilburg University.

Speech 2025 alumnisession 20-2 1

After getting to know each other over drinks and dinner snacks, we started our Plenary Session. Alumni Jacqueline Lommen, Pieter Potters, Gon Mevis and Berry van Gool joined Rector Emile Aarts and alumna Dionne Stax at the discussion table. They talked about lack of visibility of Tilburg University in the Netherlands, the difficulty for alumni to find each other and connect with each other, the lack of possibilities for lifelong learning and the feeling of “disconnectedness when graduating”. Why not try to combine alumni coming back for more knowledge with their appearances in classrooms to talk about skills? How to give the concept of Understanding Society more body, what stories should we tell. How can we connect with other partners, for example on the theme of aging and health, where we have such a strong position with Netspar.

Speech 2025 alumnisession 20-2 3

After 1 hour the plenary discussion broke out in 6 separate sessions.  

Speech 2025 alumnisession 20-2 4

During this sessions the Dimensions for Strategy were discussed in small groups and after 30 minutes every group presented their ideas. They had 1 minute to pitch their ideas and Emile responded to that. Concepts of Bildung, being strongly embedded in the Brabant Region, Lifelong Learning, Connecting alumni with Research and Education, finding own benchmarks for staff successful in bringing in the outside world, Happiness as a research theme, and building satellites off a green campus were mentioned.

Speech 2025 alumnisession 20-2 5

The meeting ended at 9.15 pm and most alumni stayed for a drink and further networking. We will share reports of different meetings with the attendees.


Speech 2025 alumnisession 20-2 6

Report of the Strategy Session with Alumni on February 16, 2017

February 16, 2017, Jheronimus Academy of Data Science, s'-Hertogenbosch

Speech 2025 session 1 On February 16, we welcomed our alumni at the Jheronimus Academy of Data Science in 's-Hertogenbosch for the second strategy session of Tilburg University with alumni. There was great variety in age of attending alumni, reflecting commitment and interest across all ages.

All alumni were early and joined for some food and drinks in the JADS room. At 6.30 p.m. everyone went to the lecture hall for the second session of this week. Emile Aarts was very excited with the enthusiasm of our alumni and our alumni had quite some critical questions to start the discussion. Alumni Friederike van der Jagt, Oswald Coene, Kim van der Zande and Anita Vegter joined Emile Aarts and Dionne Stax at the discussion table and they had a lot of input and questions about the topics, varying from lack of visibility of alumni and their organizations in educational programs, lack of connection with the outside world in research and education which could easily be established via alumni, and lack of possibilities for lifelong learning. Overall, it was Impact that was an important theme in the discussion: is Tilburg University making enough Impact in society and in that way generating value? Is Tilburg University sufficiently connected with society?

Speech 2025 session 3
After 1 hour the plenary discussion broke out in 5 separate sessions. 

During this sessions the Dimensions for the Strategy were discussed in small groups and after 30 minutes every group presented their ideas. They had one minute to pitch their ideas and Emile responded to that. Almost every group mentioned one important word: CONNECTING, or connection. Connection between industries, science, employees, students and business. Alumni gave advice on how to establish connection: via HR policies, cooperation with industry, government or other universities (tech&touch), become the first digital university (organize a contest for concept) and focus on lifelong learning (kids – students – alumni).

Speech 2025 session 2

The meeting ended at 9p.m. and everyone was invited in the JADS Room for a drink. Again, it was an interesting and very valuable meeting and we look forward to the input of our alumni at the 20th of February.  

Speech 2025 session 4

Report of the Strategy Session with Alumni on February 13, 2017

February 13, 2017, Tilburg School of Theology, Utrecht

At 18:00 hrs., the first alumni began to drop in and were welcomed by the staff of our School of Theology at the beautiful, historic location in Utrecht at Nieuwegracht. The participants became acquainted over soup and sandwiches. The evening’s moderator, Dionne Stax, mixed with her fellow alumni to taste the atmosphere. She asked the participants to write a thought about Tilburg University on a table cloth in the picturesque Catharina room. The discussion had started.

Dione Stax

Rector Emile Aarts opened the plenary session with an explanation of the external factors that form the terms of reference for formulating a strategic plan. First of all, there is going to be a demographic shift in our part of the country: the number of young people will decrease in the coming years. Figures show that we recruit 15% of the Dutch youngsters who qualify for our programs. Is that a lot – or not? Do we need to attract a larger percentage, do we need to offer more programs, do we need to cast our nets further north, do we need to recruit more international students?

Second, the perceived value of science is decreasing. Society increasingly requires science to be accountable and to define its position. The third factor we need to take into account is the role of the university in its ecosystem (in Brabant, in the case of Tilburg University), collaboration with other institutions and governments. Society is digitalizing, artefacts [IS1]  are being built that are smarter than people. In order to have an impact, a university needs to embrace these developments.

Emile invited the participants to react, asking the alumni about their expectations of the university, starting with Nieke Martens (Rabobank) and Alexander van Eerden (Building Blocks).

Emile en sprekers

Their reaction mainly focussed on Tilburg University’s reputation and positioning (why do you go there, and what makes you different when you have studied in Tilburg rather than at a different university). The motto of “Understanding Society” plays an important role here: in the next 20 years, nothing will be as complicated as the rapid changes in society, and Tilburg is uniquely placed to offer understanding and to help people (students, alumni, companies, institutions, government) understand what is happening in that changing society. This motto should play a key role in our proposition. Much attention was paid to Life-Long Learning. Student numbers do not necessarily need to grow if you provide more in-depth knowledge to your graduates.


In the break-out sessions, there was further discussion on the various topics, moderators taking care of the reporting. During the plenary wrap-up, every group was given one minute to present ideas that emerged from the discussions in the break-out session. After this pitch, there were another five minutes to respond to the topics touched upon. Dionne strictly monitored the clock and asked Emile to comment if he had not already done so.

Reactions could be written down on the designated table cloths. By the end of the evening, they were completely covered with words, sentences, quotes, and other valuable input for the Strategic Plan.

At 21:00 hrs., the session was concluded and there was an opportunity to chat further over well-earned drinks. Looking forward to the next session, on February 16 in Den Bosch!