Rector on growth strategy: ‘If this does not happen, we will still grow’

The ‘consultation round’ on the profile and size of TU Delft is done. The Executive Board says there is support for growth. “We were interested in people’s thoughts.”

“We have thought about the future together instead of business as usual and having to deal with more and more students every year.” (Photo: Justyna Botor)

Last September, the Executive Board surprised students and staff with the biggest of ideas: over the next 10 years TU Delft would grow to 40,000 students in new campuses in The Hague and Rotterdam. Nothing was definite as yet, but the reasons for the growth were there – a society that needed engineers and an expansion that was on the cards anyway, even if you decided that the maximum number had been reached.

Over the last two months, through meetings, newsletters and emails, the supporting services and faculties collected the opinions of students and staff about the future scenario that the Executive Board is anticipating. The consultation round generated 165 pages of feedback (which will become public early next year), revealed a presentation (in Dutch) that was given to directors, deans and other high level managers. The message that the Executive Board draws from it is that there is support at TU Delft for further exploring the growth potential. 

How does the Rector Magnificus and Executive Board Chair Tim van der Hagen look back at the consultation round? And what will happen now? Delta spoke to him.

What is the general feeling now that the consultation round is done?
“I see that some people go for growth at full speed, while others have questions. It’s a very TU Delft phenomenon and it makes me happy. Putting the outcome aside for a moment, the consultation round was good in itself as it made us think about the future instead of business as usual and having to deal with more and more students every year. That’s how it has always been. Without even trying to grow we have doubled in size over the last 15 years. We see that it brings problems to the town, that it is hard for students to find accommodation, that the workload of our staff members is high, and that facilities are limited.”

During the consultation round you asked people to think about the Executive Board’s preferred scenario: growing to 40,000 students with new campuses in Rotterdam and The Hague. How much leeway was there for different opinions?
“That number led a life of its own. We were interested in the thoughts on growth.”

‘It is typical TU Delft to immediately ask how, what, where’

That number was stated in the advice that you used to draft your preferred scenario though. It also mentioned 12,000 students in Rotterdam and 1,500 in The Hague. It was clearly stated.
“So why that 40,000? It had to be an appealing image. If we had said 30,000, people would have thought that they would have to work even harder and more efficiently. This is not a change in mindset. But if you give a higher number, say 40,000, then they feel straightaway that it will be a different TU Delft. This is what we were looking for. There are positive sides, as well as risks and concerns. This is what we need to discuss.”

Back to the question. Was there space for other opinions, for other future scenarios?
“I find it valuable to hear about risks and concerns so that I don’t overlook anything in my enthusiasm. So I really invite people to email us and share their thoughts. We are still open for this. Over the next half year we will work with a lot of working groups and open meetings. Here too will be opportunities for people to share their thoughts.
But in all honesty, there is just one inevitable outcome: growth and not shrinkage. How, what and where will be the subject of discussion. We are very happy that people agree on the basic question: that we want to take responsibility for growth given the demand for more technically educated people.”

What is that demand for and how big is the demand? You did not answer these questions at the joint meeting with the Works Council and Student Councils.
“Because I am not yet at that stage. I am still at the start, at TU Delft’s responsibility to supply more engineers. When the Executive Board saw that there was a demand, we sought out recommendations. The advice was to give ourselves the space to think in terms of growth and to consciously attract more students to supply more engineers. We were interested in this but we wanted to know what the rest of our community thought about it. By holding a consultation round, we posed this question very early. There was still no plan. I have received criticism for this over the last couple of months. It is typical TU Delft to immediately ask how, what, where.”

The growth strategy rests on the premise that Dutch society needs more engineers. It could be expected that you would know what kind of engineers are needed.
“Of course we have an idea, but things work differently. Needing to think in terms of growth is a huge change. We have never thought in these terms before. On top of that, for the first time we are looking at places outside the TU Delft campus to make growth possible. Once we agree to this, other questions will follow.”

‘I don’t like thinking in terms of impossible’

What recommendations have you received from employees?
“The consultation round showed clearly that TU Delft had to retain its can do mentality and continue being solution driven. People also pointed to the advantages of the other future scenario’s in the recommendation, such as the student village (more housing and living on campus, Eds.) and online teaching. This latter point not in the sense of being only online, but in hybrid form. The idea of making adaptive plans is also interesting. To be able to make sure that you can stop at any point and say that this is the end point for now. I want to remove the image that there will suddenly be 15,000 more students. That is not doable.”

Growth can only happen if there is money for it. Will it come?
“More students means more money, but it will not cover the costs. So it is very simple: we need the Government and industry. Everyone is enthusiastic. At a certain point we will ask what their enthusiasm means.”

What is the chance that your preferred scenario will not come about?
“What you need to understand is that even if that scenario does not happen, we will still grow. The step to greater growth and a multicampus in our eyes exemplifies problems associated with unplanned growth.”

But to be practical, if we grow, that growth must be in Rotterdam and The Hague as there is no space in Delft. But those cities too are full.
“Rotterdam would be very happy with our student accommodation. The culture campus in Rotterdam-Zuid is being built now. Housing in The Hague is harder. We do not yet know if we would even be able to open a campus there. We are not at that stage yet. We first have to think about having a campus somewhere.”

But why would you go down that road if you know in advance that it won’t work?
“I don’t like thinking in terms of impossible. There is definitely space in Rotterdam and we have also received invitations from mayors elsewhere. Everyone wants TU Delft, be it Westland or Dordrecht or somewhere in between. But it has to be helpful for us and help society.

We informed our community at a very early stage, and did so intentionally without having worked everything out. If people had said that the idea was ridiculous and that we should stay in Delft and go back to 15,000 students, we would have had a completely different task ahead of us. But nobody said that. Everyone shares the concerns about the unplanned growth and everyone sees the demand for engineers. How we will accommodate these is still under discussion and we will do this in the next half year. After that, we will have a better picture.”

  • Also read our earlier interview with Tim van der Hagen, which took place on the eve of the consultation round.

  • Or re-read what was written in the advice on which the Executive Board relied.

  • We organised our own consultation. For instance, we spoke to a critical city council and asked students and teachers for their opinions on the growth strategy.

  • Columnist Bob van Vliet wrote a column on the consultation round’s format.

Editor in chief Saskia Bonger

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