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Jean Frijns

Jean Frijns studied Econometrics & Mathematical Economics and graduated in 1971. Before the professor of Investment Theory moved to the VU University Amsterdam, he was the director of investment funds at ABP (the pension fund for employers and employees in service of the Dutch government and the educational sector).

"Because I went for something that interested me personally, I became good at what I did."

Why, back then, did you decide to study in Tilburg?
"My choice to go to Tilburg University, which was then called Catholic University Tilburg, is the result of a dispute with my father. Because of the city itself, I had a preference for Amsterdam but my father, who was paying for the tuition fees, did not agree. He suggested Rotterdam or Tilburg. Because the first one seemed so massive, I chose Tilburg."

Why econometrics?
"Simply because economics on its own was not a challenging progression bearing in mind the good grades I got at grammar school. The choice to study econometrics made more sense: the course was interesting and perfectly matched my capabilities."

Who was your favorite professor and why?

"Professor Van de Klundert lectured in economics just as I had expected: brilliantly and elegantly. He was immediately my favorite and we still have contact. Van de Klundert was an academic of great intellectual stature who was involved in international research. Besides that, he had a strong interest in left-wing economic theories and that connected well with my own ideas and pursuits. In those days, I was active in the left-wing student union movement."

Do you have an interesting anecdote from your student days? Please tell us about it.
"As convention dictates, I first became a member of the student society (i.e., fraternity) before later joining the Student Union Movement. I shall never forget the Tilburg University occupation in 1969. The students' fight for a greater say was something I then took extremely seriously. As did the university governors at the time when they closed the university as a response to students seizing control of the telephone switchboard. This resulted in a massive occupation of the entire university that lasted for almost two weeks, with virtually all of the students participating. A fantastic experience but one that from the current perspective is nothing more than a nice anecdote.

"The students' workload is too low in my view"

How has your career been?

"My chosen course of study was not based on any particular career plan. After my undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral period at the university, I followed my intrinsic interests and got a job at the Centraal Planbureau (The Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis). After that, I joined the pension funds group ABP where I turned my attention towards investment theory. Econometrics and investment: whilst really not obvious at the time, the disciplines of 'econometrics', 'statistics' and 'general economic theory' nevertheless proved to be an excellent basis for a good understanding of the financial markets. Later in my career, I got more involved in the process side of things and went on to hold a number of management positions. First studying a 'heavy' subject in depth and after that management; that has been the right way for me. These days, I do both. I am a professor at the VU University Amsterdam and a non-executive director for various companies; in this way, I mix matters pertaining to academia with managerial tasks."

What role has the university played in your life?
"A large role. The development of domain knowledge that took place during the education process has had much impact in the course of my career."

Does Tilburg University still play a role, and if so, in what way?

"I am closely involved with Netspar which I think is a fantastic organization. It is intrinsically critical whilst bringing practice and theory nicely together. Besides that, I participate in alumni activities. In fact, last year I delivered a lecture on economic instability at the VAET, the Association of Graduate Econometricians in Tilburg. In my opinion, stability is unjustly accepted by many economists as an axiom. That is also the reason, I think, why early indications of the crisis were not recognized in time.

Now, of course, I have truly 'crossed over' to VU University in Amsterdam although the cultural differences between Tilburg University and VU are not that big. Both universities are socially orientated and this is evident to the students. As far as research is concerned, however, there is a difference: Tilburg University is somewhat more ambitious and successful."