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Plastic Soup Surfer calls for sustainable academic year

One person can already make a difference, and if all students and academics were eco-friendly, the world would be a much more sustainable place. Plastic Soup Surfer Merijn Tinga opened the academic year in Leiden with this message.

In a chock-full Pieterskerk, Tinga – who studied biology in Leiden – recounted how he crossed the North Sea in 2016 on a kiteboard made from plastic bottles that had washed up on the shore. This record attempt marked the launch of a petition calling for the introduction of deposits on small plastic bottles. It was signed by more than 60,000 people, and a majority in the House of Representatives supported the proposal. Tinga said he hoped that the students and academics would become more eco-friendly consumers too.

The procession enters the Pieterskerk.

Sustainable glasses

Tinga gave the example of the large-scale use of disposable cups by student societies. ‘The same people who will be running our country in 20 years’ time are being taught that plastic is a disposable material.’ His message to the University community: switch to sustainable glasses and soon.

Merijn Tinga studied biology in Leiden.

Tap water stations

The Plastic Soup Surfer also highlighted positive developments, because the University is becoming greener all the time. Last week at Plexus Student Centre, he officially opened the first of 35 public tap water stations to be installed in University buildings. These water stations encourage the use of refillable bottles and are the initiative of the Leiden University Green Office (LUGO), which is run mainly by students who care about the environment.

Sustainability is a shared task

Rector Magnificus Carel Stolker agreed with Tinga that addressing sustainability in the teaching and research was the shared task of lecturers and students. Leiden University holds third place in the SustainaBul sustainability ranking and, Stolker said, this was not only due to sustainable business practices such as using green electricity and reducing waste.

Rector Carel Stolker highlighted the importance of collaboration between faculties.

Sustainable health care

Sustainability, Stolker continued, had become an essential aspect of the University’s teaching and research. Researchers from disciplines as diverse as chemistry, engineering, computer science, psychology, the humanities and law were working at the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Centre for Sustainability, and the researchers at the LUMC deserved a mention too. ‘The LUMC is taking significant steps towards sustainable health care.’

Global biodiversity

Stolker noted that it was not just the Netherlands that benefitted from all these efforts. The University maintained the world’s largest database on raw materials and their waste streams, and academics from Leiden helped to protect biodiversity all over the world, from the Philippines to Africa to Indonesia.

Hester Bijl outlined the new vision on teaching.

Vision on teaching

Vice Rector Hester Bijl emphasised that the University’s teaching needed to respond to new developments in society. With great enthusiasm, she outlined the University’s new vision on teaching. Input from students and lecturers served as the basis for the eight ambitions set out in the vision. They vary from activating teaching in small groups and flexible learning pathways to focusing on the job market and society. Bijl said, ‘The vision enables us to facilitate innovation in teaching and record what we want our teaching to stand for.’

Florian Schneider was presented with the LUS Teaching Prize by Ghislaine Voogd.

Teaching Prize

For good teaching you need good lecturers. Sinologist Florian Schneider was crowned lecturer of the year by the Leiden University Student Platform (LUS) for the high quality of his classes. ‘Schneider is a lecturer who teaches for teaching’s sake,’ said LUS chair Ghislaine Voogd. ‘He doesn’t teach because it’s an academic’s job. Far from it: he sees it as his priority to train the researchers of tomorrow.’ Schneider was visibly moved as he accepted the prize. He wins a place at the Leiden Teachers’ Academy and a grant of 25,000 euros to use for teaching projects.

Ahmad Al-Jallad received the Gratama Science Award.

Gratama Science Award for Ahmad Al-Jallad

Talented young academics were also a focus of the ceremony. Arabic scolar Ahmad Al-Jallad was declared the ‘most promising researcher of 2017’ and presented with the Gratama Science Award by Reinier Gratama, chair of the foundation that established the prize. Al-Jallad researches the pre-Islamic history of Arabia. It is in part due to his important research that this culture, which faded into oblivion with the rise of the Islamic tradition, has been rediscovered. Al-Jallad is also the initiator of a unique archaeological project in Saudi Arabia, one of the few opportunities for an excavation in this country. Gratama said, ‘With his research and his work constructing a research infrastucture he has already made his mark on the discipline.’

Mayor of The Hague Pauline Krikke and State Secretary Eric Wiebes were among the audience members.

Collaboration between faculties

Rector Stolker ended by highlighting the importance of collaboration between the academics from the 30 institutes and seven faculties. ‘I am convinced that this is where opportunities lie for the University.’ He made a joking reference to the ‘rather dull’ uniform black gowns in Leiden: in contrast to professors at other universities, those here do not have trimmings in faculty colours on their gowns, let alone the tiger print lining that some Amsterdam professors are said to have. ‘Our uniformity, with no distinction made between faculties and institutes, only makes collaboration easier in Leiden.’

Video report