‘An ecosystem that poops out’

A new Rector Magnificus, broken English or Oxford English, a sustainable wooden bicycle, and much ado about Vermeer’s ‘View of Delft’. A round-up of some of the stories making news on the Dutch pages of Delta.

TU Delft has a new Rector Magnificus: Professor Karel Luyben, the current dean of the university’s Faculty of Applied Sciences, will succeed Professor Jacob Fokkema, who has served as TU Delft’s Rector Magnificus since 2002. Lyuben, who will officially take office on 1 January 2009, was unanimously endorsed by TU Delft’s Executive Board, Works Council, and Student Council. Luyben studied chemical engineering at Eindhoven University of Technology, before becoming a researcher at Wageningen University. He later worked as a contract researcher with Bayer in Germany, and Cehave in the Netherlands.
In 1983, Luyben was first appointed professor of biokinetics at TU Delft, and from 1988, served as professor of bioprocess technology. From 1993-1999, he was scientific director of the Delft-Leiden Biotechnological Sciences Graduate School and has also held many other leading positions in the world of biotechnology and process technology, including the presidency of the European Federation of Biotechnology (EFB), and chairman of the EFB’s biochemical engineering science section.
A dedicated researcher and tutor, Luyben has published over 200 articles in leading scientific journals, has four patents to his name and has supervised more than 30 doctorates. Luyben will be entrusted with continuing TU Delft’s development as a leading international university of technology. When asked what he viewed as the major challenges facing TU Delft in the coming years, Luyben said: “The number of students at TU Delft is increasing each year, and the TU’s world university ranking continues to improve. We must maintain this growth curve. But doing so will not be made easier in a time when less funding is being allocated to universities.”

Broken English or Oxford English? That is the question. While most students have amusing anecdotes to tell about their professors’ ‘Dunglish’, the actual situation regarding English-language proficiency in Dutch higher education remains unclear. But not for long: the Dutch minister for Education, Ronald Plasterk, has commissioned research aimed at determining English-language proficiency levels within universities, an action stemming from a request submitted by Martin Bosma, a Dutch Labour Party MP, who claims the ‘standing of the Netherlands is being eroded’ by the frequent use of English in higher education. According to Nuffic, there are now 1,388 higher education programs offered in English, accounting for one-fifth of all accredited higher educational programs in the Netherlands.
This research will study the various university initiatives currently in place to improve university instructors’ English skills. Minister Plasterk wants know which universities are committed to improving English-language proficiency and how they are doing this, and also which institutions are failing to improve. The survey’s finding will be published in late 2009.
Debbie Ammerlaan has won the first ‘Business Gift Design Competition’, a contest that challenged TU Delft students to design a ‘typical Delft’ business gift. Ammerlaan designed a wine cooler made from Delft Blue porcelain. Her winning design award also came with a check for 2,000 euro. The runners-up were Attila Kertesz, who designed a pencil sharpener, and Michel Holper, who designed a porcelain ‘TulipMouse’. The jury described Ammerlaan’s wine cooler – chosen from among 47 submissions – as a “really fine idea and beautiful design,” while Holper’s ‘TulipMouse’ was praised for its “combination of technology and aesthetics.”

Wooden bike
Industrial Design Engineering student Arno Scheepens is aiming high with his graduation project: a 100% sustainable bicycle, called ReBicycle, which, if successful, will even transcend the much-praised cradle-to-cradle design philosophy, in which materials used in manufacturing products are then reused. “Many bikes are now made in China, and lots of energy is needed to produce their steel frames,” Scheepens says. “Cradle-to-cradle doesn’t account for this energy use – it doesn’t go far enough.”
Scheepens is a man on a sustainable mission. To save more energy and reduce transport, he’s bucking the globalization trend in favor of ‘localization’: he only uses materials produced locally – in this case, in Friesland, where the Cartesius Institute, in Leeuwarden, is supporting his bike-building research. All ReBicycle’s materials must be natural and renewable: no rubber for the tires, because rubber isn’t grown locally, and also no steel for ball-bearings or brakes. 
“Nobody thinks it can be done: a 100 percent sustainable bike,” Scheepens says, laughing. “But with the materials I have now, I can produce 70 percent of the bike locally, with natural, renewable materials. And there are more developments to come.” Scheepens’ bike isn’t yet 100 percent sustainable, but he’s convinced people will soon be riding around on his wooden bikes via a special membership system, in which people pay to use a bike until it’s worn out. “One ReBicycle will last about five years,” Scheepens predicts. The user then gets a new bike, and the old bike is dismantled and burnt. “The ashes are then used to fertilize other trees,” Scheepens concludes. “My design is like an ecosystem that poops out and lends bicycles.”
Finally, there is much ado in Delft about the municipality’s plans to build a modern bridge to replace the old Kapelsbrug (Kapels Bridge). Opponents say this new bridge will ruin the ‘View of Delft’, as painted by Johannes Vermeer. Looking from the Hooikade toward Delft city center and the armory building built during the Thirty Years’ War, one sees the Kapelsbrug in front of this building, as Vermeer did when he painted his famed ‘View of Delft’, making this arguably the famous location in Delft. Because the Kapelsbrug is unsuitable for supporting the new tram line, the municipality wants to replace the bridge with a modern bridge. But this will ruin the ‘View of Delft, says the Delfia Batavorum historical association. “It’s careless of the municipality not to consider reinforcing the existing bridge,” a Delfia Batavorum spokesperson said. “The city wants to attract more tourists by promoting Vermeer, so why would you then build a modern bridge on the exact spot of Vermeer’s ‘View of Delft’?”

De bewindsman schrijft dit in een ‘voortgangsrapportage’ over zijn onderzoeks- en wetenschapsbeleid. Hij zit wat de promovendi betreft op één lijn met de vakbond Abvakabo-FNV, die zich al jaren verzet tegen de invoering van het bursalensysteem.

Promovendi gelden daarin als een soort studenten die slechts een bescheiden toelage krijgen. Ze genieten niet de rechtsbescherming die een regulier arbeidscontract biedt, krijgen geen vakantiegeld en geen dertiende maand. Volgens de vakbond is dat in strijd met Europese regels. Plasterk onderschrijft dit, maar houdt zich verder op de vlakte: het is immers een arbeidsconflict tussen universiteiten en bonden en daarin wil hij geen partij zijn.

Abvakabo-FNV-bestuurder Marieke van den Berg vindt het prettig dat Plasterk opnieuw laat optekenen dat hij niet op bursalen zit te wachten. “Hij heeft dat eerder dit jaar ook al gedaan. Het is natuurlijk jammer dat hij zich niet inzet voor een verbod. Maar we tellen onze zegeningen. Hiermee geeft hij wel een signaal.”

Vooral de Rijksuniversiteit Groningen is regelmatig in het nieuws om haar bursalensysteem. Abvakabo-FNV wil via een rechtszaak bewerkstelligen dat de driehonderd Groningse beurspromovendi gelijke rechten krijgen. De RUG stelt echter dat zij op een andere manier worden ingezet dan hun collega’s die wel een arbeidsovereenkomst hebben. Abvakabo-FNV zegt te beschikken over enquêteresultaten die het tegendeel bewijzen.

Lees ook: Passend promoveren past niet

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