Could you describe your research?
I study the effectivity of Dutch policy in the area of school dropouts. In 2000, the European Council decided to halve the number of pupils without a starting qualification by 2010, which has really drawn attention to the issue. As a result, the EU member states have developed various programmes to reduce high school dropouts. Including the Netherlands – the number of dropouts here dropped from 15.4% in 2000 to 10.1% in 2010.

At the age of 10, Hans van Hall wondered why the Diepstraat in the picturesque town of Eijsden was so wide. Fifty years later he answers this question himself in his PhD dissertation, ‘Eijsden, een vrijheid met Luikse stadsrechten’ (‘Eijsden: Liberty with Liège City Rights’). “In the Middle Ages, this village had its own justice system. That was unique in the region we now know as South Limburg.”

They sit companionably side by side; supervisor Louis Berkvens and PhD candidate Hans van Hall. Both in their 60s, both at the end of first-rate scholarly careers. There are few signs of a typical student–teacher hierarchy in this relationship. “Absolutely not”, the professor says immediately. “We’ve worked on a great book together for six years; on a dissertation with more social relevance than the outside world initially suspected. And it’s been unlike any other PhD project I’ve worked on. Most of the time I spent on it was my own spare time. We usually met at some nice place in the city or at home with a cup of coffee. Pleasantly illegal, I’m tempted to say.”

Contributing to the development of healthcare in Yemen. This was the mission of MUNDO, the UM offi ce for development cooperation, when it launched a four-year, Nuffi c-funded project in 2011 to train health workers in the capital city of Sana’a. Due to unrest in Yemen, the project was delayed by a year. But since April 2012, the link between the Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences (FHML) and the High Institute for Health Sciences in Sana’a has been re-established. “In response to the recent unrest, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs decided to send a political signal to the Yemeni government, temporarily suspending the Training of Nurses and Health Statisticians project”, explains MUNDO project manager Geraldine van Kasteren. “A travel warning is still in effect, but now that President Saleh has stepped down we’ve been allowed to resume our activities.”

The Neuroeconomics programme at Maastricht University is about to make a big impression. A specialisation within the Research Master in Cognitive and Clinical Neuroscience, it boasts a challenging curriculum combined with an interdisciplinary approach, and it intends to live up to the high expectations. Course coordinators Arno Riedl and Teresa Schuhmann aim to help future graduates get into top universities, such as MIT and NYU.

Two years ago, Professor Wim Gijselaers, PhD (SBE), investigated the possibilities of boosting innovation at UM. His suggestion was: enable faculties to propose a project based on their own particular need or question. Nicolai Manie, Academic Advising coordinator at University College Maastricht (UCM), presented the idea of a master orientation tool. And it turned out a success.

We are currently in the midst of the third wave of innovation in higher education. Now more than ever, the focus is on preparing students for the complex society of both today and tomorrow. To this end, Maastricht University (UM) is making structural investments in educational quality via its Leading in Learning master plan. “At present, we have a top reputation abroad. The key is to maintain it”, says project leader and education theorist Professor Wim Gijselaers, PhD. “Doing nothing is not an option.”

The privatisation of healthcare demands that education, research and medical practice all be clustered under a single umbrella. To this end, the Maastricht/Aachen region aims to be a top European centre in the field of cardiovascular diseases. This is the mission of cross-border “quartermaster” Professor Michael Jacobs, head of surgery at the Maastricht academic hospital (azM). “As a hospital, you can no longer afford to go it alone.”

On Wednesdays and Fridays, at dawn and weather permitting, the cardiovascular surgeon gets on his racing bike in Maastricht and crosses the 30 kilometres of hilly terrain to the University Hospital Aachen. Then, after a long day in the operating theatre, he gets back on his bike for the return trip to South Limburg. “It’s nice to get 60 kilometres’ worth of physical exercise, and time to clear your head and think. Golf, my other addiction, gives you no time at all to think about work. Because if you’re not concentrating you won’t hit the ball well.” 

“The students are plucked from our hands”

Wednesday, 07 December 2011 09:41

The Research Master in Cognitive and Clinical Neuroscience is on the right track. Graduates find themselves in research positions at top universities like Harvard, Stanford, Oxford and Cambridge. And according to the Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders (NVAO), the theses produced in the programme are of “international top quality”. We interview the programme director Alexander Sack on the secret behind the success.

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