‘Don’t think up new rules for everything’

Executive Board member Anka Mulder is leaving Delft on 1 January 2018. We take a look back with her, and look to the future of education at the university. “We’re moving towards evidence-based education.”

Anka Mulder. (Photo: Sam Rentmeester)

As an Executive Board member, you were responsible for education and support services for the last 4 and a half years. Which role suited you best?

“I think most people know me from education. At the same time, my background is in support services: I worked in communication temporarily and was also Secretary General of the university, so I’ve seen many parts of TU Delft. I really enjoyed it all.”

What was the most challenging dossier for you?

“There is a dossier which I hope my successor will be able to take further. Looking at education, I’m happy with many of the things achieved, but what keeps nagging away at me is teaching and the careers of our academic staff. How does teaching count towards becoming a professor or associate professor? I think a lot more attention is being paid to it, but the problem is that a career isn’t determined by this university alone.”

How do you envisage the future of education at TU Delft?

“I think we are doing well in terms of education. We have a healthy balance between teaching and research. A decade ago, it was all about money and research. Now there is far more attention to and appreciation of educational innovation. I also think we’ve been very successful in working on our international network with top-100 universities, a network that didn’t exist a few years ago. We’re seeing a lot more attention worldwide on providing good university education. We’ve also invested in this with a Teaching Lab. I think we’ll move towards far more evidence-based education in the future.”

What is evidence-based education?

“That you look at what does and doesn’t work well in education on the basis of research. More use will be made of learning analytics, looking at how you can put together a curriculum and subjects better and personalise education. I think we’ll go a long way with that.”

The Vision on Education states that TU Delft wants to improve contacts with alumni. How will they be affected by this?

“I was pleased that the Student Council recently proposed offering our professional education – courses and programmes for people who are already employed – to alumni at discount. I think that’s a good idea, so we’re going to do that.”

The number of students at TU Delft has increased from 13,000 to 22,000 over the decade. In the new Strategic Plan, the university aims for a maximum student population of 25,000. How will the Board control this growth?

“It’s a scenario, but the underlying question is how many students we can handle within a certain amount of funding. Workload is not only related to how many students you have, but also the tremendous pressure on research funding and ambitions. In any event, we need to look at how we can manage the international intake as best we can. There are possibilities for this, but it’s a technical matter. You have to distinguish between European students and students from outside the EU. We are primarily paid by Dutch citizens to educate the children of the Netherlands, or of Europe, as we no longer distinguish between them.”

‘We’ve been very successful in working on our international network with top-100 universities’

Speaking of workload: the Employee Monitor revealed that six out of 10 employees experience a heavier workload than they would like. What will the Board do about that?

“In any case, ensure that more people can be hired, also in support services. You have to make it open to discussion in teams, but talking is not enough: you need money for more people. We made that available a while ago, but the growth in academic staff is still too slow, in our opinion. In the period ahead, we are going to work with the faculties and Human Resources to see if we can speed up this process. That will make a real difference.”

The same Monitor also showed that 28 percent of TU Delft employees have faced inappropriate personal treatment. This ranged from gossip(25%) and verbal aggression/intimidation (11%) to bullying, psychological abuse and discrimination (8%). How will the Board deal with this?

“I find those figures far too high. They’re higher than at other universities. I’ve asked all the University Services directors to formulate a plan. You have to look at what exactly is going on in a team or what a supervisor is doing wrong, and then provide training or have advisors help to discuss this. Sexually inappropriate behaviour is unacceptable. If I hear about it, I do something about it.”

What have you heard about this kind of behaviour?

“Students come to me with stories about fellow students, for example. I don’t think it’s appropriate to mention the details. But measures are definitely taken.”

Are there more reports because of #MeToo?

“No, but that might still happen. I’ve asked deans to keep their ears to the ground. It starts by your stating that it’s not acceptable. And by making it a subject of discussion, so that people affected by it feel listened to.”

What for you was a low point in recent years?

“Every time a student dies, that’s terrible. I have children myself, but aside from that I think: terrible for his or her family and friends.”

And what was a high point?

“I was at an education conference of edX [a non-profit platform of Harvard and MIT, ed.] and TU Delft was mentioned as best practice for educational innovation for each theme. Even the chief technology officer of the United States under Obama mentioned TU Delft. MIT recently commissioned a benchmark study on engineering education for which it invited three universities from around the world. We were one of them. Then I think: we’ve all done a great job together.”

What will be the biggest challenge for your successor?

“I have a few tips:

  • Continue to pay attention to the balance between research and education.
  • Think big: TU Delft is a top-50 university.
  • Sit in on the occasional lecture. I do that too, and it’s really fun. It’s important to talk to students and lecturers, and find out how the education process is really going.
  • Don’t be a manager who focuses on figures and rules; focus on motivation. Mentioning performance agreements and KPIs at every meeting won’t inspire anyone.


What are KPIs?

“Exactly, that’s what I mean: key performance indicators. Something else that doesn’t work is thinking up new rules for everything: you must do this or that. It simply isn’t necessary. Most people have an inherent desire to do something.”



Anka Mulder studied history and taught international relations at the University of Groningen. She has also worked abroad. Since 2004, she has been the Director of Education and Student Affairs (E&SA) at TU Delft. She was also Secretary General of the University from July 2011 to April 2013. In addition, in 2008, she became a member and three years later president of the global OpenCourseWare Consortium. She became Vice-President Education & Operations of the Executive Board in April 2013. From 1 January 2018, she will be President of the Executive Board of Saxion University of Applied Sciences.


Nieuwsredacteur Connie van Uffelen

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