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'The university belongs to nobody'

‘Universities are only the trustees of a complex intellectual heritage that they themselves did not create,’ said Stefan Collini, professor in Cambridge, at the opening of the academic year of Leiden University. He was addressing the question: Who does the university belong to?

On the shoulders of giants

Collini sketched the image of universities as institutions where intellectual knowledge has been garnered over the course of centuries and further developed. Universities have to thank thinkers from previous generations for this knowledge. In his view, each generation of academics is there to expand intellectual knowledge and to pass it on to the next generation. Collini: ‘We academics are pygmies standing on the shoulders of giants.’

Professor Collini's speech addressed the question: Who does the university belong to?

Professor Collini's speech addressed the question: Who does the university belong to?

Open-ended

‘Useful knowledge’ and ‘useless knowledge’ are in fact irrelevant for academia. Academic research is a matter of open-ended enquiry, Collini stated, the results of which are unpredictable. Collini's vision is that students do not buy a ‘product’ or ‘service’, but are given access by the university to a complex intellectual and cultural inheritance. The freedom to make mistakes is a crucial element in the learning process, in his view.

The arrival of the procession in the Pieterskerk

The arrival of the procession in the Pieterskerk

Immense value

Ultimately, universities do not belong to academics. Nor do they belong to industry, the government or the students. In fact, they do not belong to anyone. But they have an immense value to mankind by pushing at the boundaries of present understanding, which is the very rationale of these institutions themselves. Collini continued: ‘I would suggest that such a perspective should have a chastening effect on any attempt to treat universities entirely as businesses whose profits can be accurately quantified, or to treat academics as operatives whose output can be exactly measured, or to treat students as consumers, the satisfaction of whose wants is the only relevant index of educational success.’

5,000 first-years

At the start of the ceremony Rector Magnificus Carel Stolker welcomed all 5,000 first-years who were present in the Pieterskerk: 250 from Augustinus, 70 from Quintus and more than 60 students who had received a LExS scholarship from Leiden University.

Rector Magnificus Carel Stolker opening the Academic Year

Rector Magnificus Carel Stolker opening the Academic Year

Engage The Hague

Dr Anne Marie Wilson also addressed the question of who the university belongs to. She is involved in the Teachers’ Academy project Engage The Hague of Leiden University College (LUC). Through this project LUC students carry out voluntary work in multicultural teaching. ‘When secondary school pupils who had been taught by LUC students for several months visited our University, it really made me feel that our University belongs to all of us,’ Wilson commented. ‘The school pupils and students had formed very close bonds with one another in those months. They had built up solidarity "across difference".’ Wilson ended by saying, ‘The exchange of ideas between universities and local communities has the potential to be extremely powerful.’

Ann Marie Wilson: 'The exchange of ideas between universities and local communities has the potential to be very powerful.'

Ann Marie Wilson: 'The exchange of ideas between universities and local communities has the potential to be very powerful.'

Gratama Science Award for Jojanneke van der Toorn

Psychologist Jojanneke van der Toorn has been proclaimed the young and promising researcher of 2015. At the official opening of the academic year on 31 August she was awarded the Gratama Science Award for emerging talent. Since 2012, Van der Toorn has held the position of assistant professor in social psychology, focusing on the social psychology of diversity. 'This award not only represents the pinnacle of my work so far, it is also an encouragement for me to continue doing what I am passionate about: research that is both theoretical and practically relevant,’ said Van der Toorn in her acceptance speech. ‘In my opinion, this is precisely what science is about: that the knowledge generated can ultimately be put to use.’

Jojanneke van der Toorn receiving the prize

Jojanneke van der Toorn receiving the prize

(31 August 2015)

See also

Last Modified: 01-09-2015

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