Employability prioritised at Maastricht University Paul van der Veer

Employability prioritised at Maastricht University

In Society
Written by  Jos Cortenraad Tuesday, 11 October 2016 12:40

Career prospects are playing an increasingly important role for students in choosing a degree. Maastricht University has therefore made employability one of its three strategic foci, alongside an international orientation and Problem-Based Learning. Programme leader Ellen Bastiaens explains what this means.


When it came to job opportunities for alumni, UM had long matched or exceeded the scores of other universities. Until 2014, that is, when the figures came as an unpleasant surprise. “Unemployment among recent graduates was suddenly higher than we were used to”, says Bastiaens, programme manager of Academic Affairs. “At the same time, we were getting a lot of criticism via our annual student monitor. Students were dissatisfied with the career services, complained about a lack of information and felt they were inadequately prepared for the future.”


“That came as quite a shock”, Bastiaens continues. “There were logical explanations for the relatively modest evaluations, but still, alarm bells went off. Career prospects are becoming more and more important for prospective students, particularly with the introduction of the loan system. Students and certainly parents really do orient themselves towards the labour market. A degree lays the foundation for a career.”

Of course, job opportunities are not the only factor involved. “First and foremost, a university needs to have strong programmes in terms of content. Also, we need to be aware that young people choose with their hearts – they want to do something they find interesting. The city, the education model, the international character; everything counts. But the bottom line? Every study programme has to equip students to enter the labour market.”


The Executive Board decided to place greater weight on employability. Bastiaens was tasked with drawing up an action plan. After consulting with the various faculties and UM’s ROA institute, she came up with 14 concrete projects. One of the key initiatives, in her view, is “making the implicit explicit”, as this principle applies to all study programmes. “We want to make clear to students exactly what they have learnt after their bachelor’s or master’s degree. Not only in terms of content, but competences too. This will allow them to profile themselves, showcasing their personal interests and skills such as presenting, debating, personal entrepreneurship and self-reflection. The SBE has already made a start on this.”


Another major aim is to connect UM with Euregional businesses. “There are so many exciting and innovative companies in and around Maastricht. But we don’t have a clear picture of this labour market, so we can’t properly inform our students about it. Many go looking for work in the west of the Netherlands or abroad, yet there are great jobs to be found here too. Conversely, businesses and other organisations don’t know enough about what we as a university have to offer. Our goal is to create a database that will form the basis for an app which provides all kinds of relevant information to students and other players in the Euregional labour market.”

The app will not be ready this year, but Bastiaens is expecting speedier results when it comes to internships. “We plan to develop a university-wide internship database. Initiatives like TIP and KE@Work are steps in the right direction, bringing businesses and students together and allowing work and study to be combined. It would be nice to develop these projects further.”

Career centre

Bastiaens’s ultimate goal is a bricks-and-mortar career centre alongside the digital app. “A professional centre for students where employers from around the Euregion can offer their internship assignments and projects. I’m betting on 2018.”  

Ellen Bastiaens (1967) studied Applied Education Science at the University of Twente, obtaining her PhD in 1988. She has worked for the Department of Academic Affairs at Maastricht University since 2010. Last year she also joined EdLab, the UM institute for education innovation. She is responsible for education-related initiatives such as excellence programmes and employability projects. In kader:

TIP for getting a nice job

In February Nick Ummels, a graduate of the Bachelor in International Business, completed the Master in International Business specialising in Supply Chain Management. He was one of the first SBE students to take part in the Thesis Internship Programme (TIP).

Successfully, too: before even finishing the internship he was offered a job by his favoured employer, Boston Scientific. “TIP allows you to combine writing your thesis with a practical assignment. At Boston I studied how returns are handled and wrote a proposal with recommendations for improvement. Another UM student will be studying the follow-up, also as part of her master’s programme.”

Ummels’s proposal apparently went down well with his bosses, because the internship quickly turned into a job. In May he moved into the Department of Demand Planning. “It’s exactly what I want, working in a dynamic company and getting to focus on logistical flows. With Medtronic, Abbott and Boston Scientific, South Limburg is home to a number of large distributors of medical equipment and instruments. It’s a market that will continue to grow and that really appeals to me.”

From its base in Kerkrade, Boston Scientific supplies countries all over Europe as well as numerous small distribution centres in the Middle East and Asia. “The challenge is to deliver the supplies as quickly as possible. Demand planning plays an important role in stock management and production management in the US and South America. This is where my degrees in International Business and Supply Chain Management come together.”

Ummels was pleased with the supervision he received from the internship team. “TIP was still in its pilot phase at the time, but everything was well organised and the company was very welcoming right from the outset. Combining my studies with a 24-hour-a-week internship turned out to be no problem. It’s ideal if you can base your thesis around a practical internship and then also get a nice job out of it.”

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