"You learn in practice, from the people around you"

Even after you’ve earned your degree, you’re never done learning. Rob Verhofstad, chairman of the Executive Board, emphasized this during the opening of the new academic year at the Stevenskerk in Nijmegen. He argued for the right to pursue lifelong development.

Rob Verhofstad opent nieuwe HAN-studiejaar in Stevenskerk in Nijmegen

That learning mainly takes place off campus, in the real world, is old news. The chairman of the Executive Board proved this with a picture from ... 1955. He found this in an internship booklet from one of HAN’s predecessors. It contained advice and tips on attitude and behavior. “We learn not for school, but for life,” Rob quoted from the booklet. Very apt, in his opinion.  

Bridget Kievits, member of the Executive Board, had just welcomed everyone to the atmospheric Stevenskerk a moment earlier. Attending the opening were Mayor Hubert Bruls, representatives of partner organizations and companies from the region, as well as HAN professors, lecturers and staff. And, of course, the nominees for the HAN Prize, which were awarded after speeches by Rob Verhofstad and Jet Bussemaker.

"Higher professional education is a best-kept secret," Bridget Kievits confided to the audience. "Most people don’t know what it’s all about." In this new year, she said, we are again working hard to find solutions to societal issues. Because that is what is happening at HAN, and the audience was able to see examples of that after the opening, during the HAN Parade.

Student wellbeing

Rob Verhofstad opened with a brief review of the past academic year. "We noticed that something had changed because of the COVID period. Student wellbeing is not going well, and we are concerned about that." Students missed the interaction, the social cohesion, and that is noticeable now. 

Inclusive university

HAN has made strides in the areas of inclusiveness and sustainability over the past year, Rob Verhofstad reflected. The UN Declaration of Intent on Disability was signed, and a cooperation with Hospi Housing was started, with the municipality of Nijmegen and Radboud University. "We want to do more to be an inclusive university for all students, in actions and not just in words," he emphasized. The chairman then called on the audience to make that extra room they’re not using available to students who can’t find a place to live: "We can do business in a moment!" Furthermore, HAN has switched to Billie Cups in a number of buildings: "We’re saving 2 million cups a year," he announced proudly.

Region as campus

A new academic year naturally includes looking ahead, and this time the theme was "the region as a campus, lifelong development”. Why? Rob Verhofstad explained: "This touches on all the goals from HAN's strategic plan Charting our Course. And only if we think of our region as a campus are we going to achieve those goals."

Learning in practice

He has a personal fascination with learning and development, he continued. During regular, everyday chats, he often asks the 3 questions: where, when and from whom did you learn the most? "You get very interesting answers, try it," he advised the audience. The system’s answer would be: at school, between the ages of 4 and 22, but the answer you get is: everywhere, from all kinds of people, all your life. And it’s certainly not always about knowledge and skills, but much more often about insights or attitude.  

Rob Verhofstad gave the example of a snack bar in Helmond where he learned a great deal. That’s where he learned a lot of people skills in his younger years. How do you deal with the rowdy clientele in a snack bar? "Ruud, my supervisor, taught me that. What to say and especially what not to say."

He certainly has not left that hands-on learning behind, the chairman went on to say. "I learn in practice, from the people around me." He is now learning a lot from Shima Mousavi Gargari, professor by special appointment at HAN. "She knows a tremendous amount about energy transition and sustainability. And I in turn need that knowledge to fulfill my role in developing policies for the national top sector and mission-driven innovation."

Into the region

Back to HAN Even now, there is plenty of off-campus, hands-on learning. Rob Verhofstad gave the example of the project People with Parkinson's on the Move. What are the positive effects of playing badminton for people with Parkinson's disease? This is being researched together with Radboud University and a Nijmegen badminton club. "You can't learn this on campus, you have to go into the region for that." This also applies to the example of architecture students who advise Arnhem homeowners on how to make their homes more energy efficient. 

Changing labor market

You’ve just earned your degree. Does that mean you’re done with learning? "Nonsense," according to Rob Verhofstad. He outlined the importance of lifelong development, based on a recent interview with Kim Putters, president of the SER. "The labor market is changing disruptively, jobs are disappearing, appearing and changing. We are facing a major transformation, and this is a unique opportunity! An opportunity to come together to create a sustainable society, with an inclusive labor market, where we fight poverty, with new technology and AI, and make money in a sustainable way." And, he concluded, that is only possible if you start giving shape to lifelong development. You cannot do this without a population that is constantly developing.

Right to life long development

Rob Verhofstad cited the numbers. "At HAN alone, we send some 6,000 graduates into the region every year. That may seem like a lot, but our region's labor market employs as many as 370,000 professionals. So we can't be satisfied with that, we have to get going!" The chairman advocated the right to keep developing even after your formal education. He continued: "If we all agree that lifelong development is crucial, then it should also be a funded mission for secondary schools, universities of applied sciences and universities."

If we believe that lifelong development is crucial to the labor market, then it should also be a funded mission for secondary schools, universities of applied sciences and universities.

Cooperation in the region

In the Arnhem-Nijmegen region, HAN is already working together to future-proof the labor market, under the term Human Capital Agreement. Rob Verhofstad: "All the problems we have to solve are related to a shortage of qualified people. When you focus on the demand in the region, you get a balanced vision of what we need."  

HAN is doing a lot of different things in the region. Chairman: "We are making our education more flexible and we are aligning our portfolio with what the region needs." To this end, he referred to the strategic plan Charting our Course, which sets out what HAN wants to achieve in the coming period. And he made a promise to the audience: HAN will double its efforts in lifelong development by the end of 2027. "We're a little nervous about that," Rob Verhofstad revealed. "It really will require something: from us, but we can't do it without our partners in the region - that’s you!" One example of HAN's efforts is its apprenticeship program, which prepares holders of residence permits for jobs in the healthcare and energy sectors.

Making a difference

HAN also participates in FastSwitch programs, an initiative of the Association of Universities of Applied Sciences. The aim is to retrain people more quickly in sectors where there are staff shortages. For example, IT, healthcare, education and technology. "And we are investing in initiatives like Connectr, the Noviotech Campus and dozens of labs and workshops." 

"The idea that the region is important is underlined in the report Every Region Counts! A new Approach to Regional Disparities, co-authored by the Council of Public Health and Society (RVS), which Jet Bussemaker chairs. The conclusion is that government policies of recent years have not worked out well for the regions. Not only the wealthy regions deserve support and attention, every region counts! It also includes a call to look not only from an economic perspective but from a community perspective. How does it benefit society? We as HAN have an important role in that! I think we are already contributing to that, for example, by making a difference to real people in real communities with our education and research. I also think we can do even more and even better." 

Chairman: "The region matters; we see the region as our campus. We ask the government: give us recognition for this role." He continued: "In the position paper by the Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences, we call for recognition and funding of our regional role. We feel responsibility for lifelong development." 

Long live development

Rob finished his speech on a positive note. "We see lifelong development as a celebration! Long live development!" And: "Make it a great year for all of us, and help us achieve our goals and the goals in our region."

Keynote Jet Bussemaker

"Let's make life long learning a celebration"

Jet Bussemaker, political scientist, politician and professor of science, policy and social impact, shared her views on lifelong development during the opening of the academic year. Her keynote began with an interesting comparison. “When you’re young and deciding what to study, you have the idea that your decision is going to set the path for your whole life. I had that, too. But now I see that the world is a combination of paths that can take us in any direction.” She added that we live in a world that faces great challenges. Such as climate and sustainability, as well as the growing inequalities in society and the need for a more flexible labor market. “We are at the beginning of a major transition that will require us to think, organize and manage differently. Only by working together can we solve these challenges. We need to move away from looking at individual problems and move towards working for the good of society as a whole. We must have the courage to make big decisions, set missions and take action. For that, we need the creativity of young people.” Interprofessional cooperation, finding common interests with the region, daring to learn differently, paying more attention to experiential knowledge and reflection are all part of the solution, according to Jet. She concluded her keynote with a goal for all of us: “Let's create more space to be flexible in order to make lifelong learning a celebration.”

Lifelong developers take the floor

After Jet Bussemaker's inspiring words, 3 people already engaged in lifelong development were invited on stage. Rob Verhofstad asked them about their experiences. Among them was Qussai Jbail, a nursing student at HAN, through the program “Statushouders in de Zorg” (Holders of a Residence Permit in Healthcare). Full of enthusiasm, he shared his experience. In his home country, Syria, he worked in the emergency room but because of cultural differences he is now learning something new every day. "The customs are different here. Things you can't ask in Syria, you should ask here and vice versa."

HAN Prize

Who stood out as a true changemaker at HAN this past academic year? Bridget Kievits and Willem Leijten were full of praise as they announced the HAN Prize winners. There was much joy among the 4 winners who were presented with their awards and a large bouquet of flowers on stage.

The winners are:

  • Researcher: Charlotte Swart, from the School of IT and Media Design, for her work as an ambassador for inclusivity.
  • Support staff: Simone Marks, from Services Marketing, Communications and Public Affairs, for her innovation, creativity and positive influence on students and colleagues. 
  • Student: Hugo Gobato Suto, International School of Business student, for his unparalleled work ethic, motivation for students and colleagues and passion for learning.
  • Lecturer: Joos Meesters, Family and Child Studies, for her commitment to improving the world of young people who are far removed from the job market.

At HAN we’re keen to tackle challenges. Meet our changemakers! Read more about our solutions that contribute to a smart, green and social future.