Understanding Society

Tilburg University has been a reliable provider of high-quality education and research for more than eighty years. We specialize in the social sciences and humanities and we seek to make a structural contribution to society.

Opening Academic Year 2017: Question, search, know, connect, collaborate and change!

The opening of the 2017/18 academic year had a clear theme: Link! Connect! The main objective of this: creating impact and being accountable to society – as an academic institution, as an organizational unit, as an individual. This is why the ninety-year old university chose the slogan Connecting people and knowledge for this anniversary year.

Rector Magnificus Emile Aarts made an enthusiastic appeal for intensive collaboration between researchers and staff on the one hand and students, companies, institutions, and municipal and provincial authorities on the other. He emphasized once again that scientists represent the core of the academic enterprise and that performing good research remains our core business.

Research: our core business

The university will officially be 90 years old on November 16, as is beautifully illustrated all over campus. This 'youngster' among universities is alive and kicking, ambitious, creative, and innovative. The rector cited and praised three 'connecting' initiatives: the call by students for a Student Centric University, alumni supporting the university, and the Jheronomus Academy of Data Science in Den Bosch, to which more than 300 companies and organizations have affiliated themselves.

Our university, specializing in the humanities and social sciences, has as its mission to think about social problems (Understanding Society) but also to help solve them (Advancing Society), with a crucial place definitely reserved for fundamental research. Research is and remains the heart of the matter. Nothing is more important than the quality of our scientific research, said the rector. Without losing sight of research, in which Tilburg traditionally excels, it is important to further raise the university's profile and set it apart in terms of content. This will be done along three thematic lines: Empowering the Resilient Society (resilience), Enhancing Health and Well-Being (care and welfare), and Creating Value from Data (data science). In this way, the university is also linking in with the Digital Society theme of the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU). And of course all of this would be impossible without the cooperation of all parties, internally and externally. “In order to achieve our ambitions in the years to come we need each other. Let’s connect to create growth.”


In doing so, what matters is taking responsibility in this 'connected world', said president Koen Becking in his speech. Taking responsibility means action, generating impact, helping solve problems. Taking responsibility means focusing on the value of humans and animals, on democracy and sustainability, and on building trust in science. At a time when public opinion is threatened by fake news, alternative facts, and denial of the facts, it is becoming increasingly difficult to establish which information is 'true' and which is not. Science in particular has an important role to play here. For the executive, being accountable also means governing transparently and acting carefully and firmly in the event of fraud or misconduct. And why are we doing it? For a 'good life' for everyone.

Becking recalled the statement he made last year about the regional partnership between the universities, which has since found support from Robbert Dijkgraaf, who is even calling for a Universitas Neerlandica, a University of The Netherlands. Tilburg University is now making this aim concrete in partnership with Fontys, Tilburg municipality and De Persgroep – for instance in the MindLabs, which are being located in the city. We are already working with Brainport and the provincial executive. And, to cite just one example, the Tilburg School of Social and Behavioral Sciences has links with fourteen hospitals.

The collaborating human being

Margriet Sitskoorn, Professor of Neuropsychology, framed the message of the Executive Board in terms of the individual. Are human beings, homo sapiens, capable of changing into homo sapiens verus, truly wise beings? Can we tackle the mess (climate, war, waste) we have created? Are our brains getting in the way? Because the 'ancient' egocentric region of the brain still has the upper hand. To a large extent, emotions, primitive desires, anxiety, and feelings of lust and status stimuli still drive our behavior and determine our choices. But our foreheads offer hope. The prefrontal cortex developed more recently and is home to our morality, ethical awareness, and cooperative qualities. People can change because the prefrontal cortex is moldable. The strongly ethically inspired will can win out over the ancient brain lobe. And if we overcome the evil genius in ourselves, and put ourselves in the service of the goals formulated by the UN, for example, the tide can be turned.

Prize for the best entrepreneurial alumnus

Finally, the full auditorium was given the opportunity to vote for the best entrepreneurial alumnus by means of an app. In a short video, the three nominees introduced their companies and 'inventions' before briefly explaining them in an interview with moderator Nathan de Groot. With almost 50% of the 300 votes cast, the so-called BESI award went to Koen Lavrijssen. He has developed and successfully tested an efficient checkout system which enables waiters to provide an even better service. The product is called Mr. Winston. A win-win situation for customer and the kitchen.

Read and view more:

Univers (in Dutch)

Persbericht/Press release (in Dutch)

Facebook (photos)

Streaming verslag OAJ

CARE Nederland

Deans’ Circle

Nominees BESI-award

Mr. Winston (the winner)


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