Meet one of the three nominees for the Education Prize 2017, awarded to a member of the academic staff who has made a particularly commendable contribution to education at Erasmus University. This is Prof. Dr. Maarten Frens from Erasmus University College. Prof. Dr. Frens has developed new forms of teaching, courses and entire curricula, and the jury praises his qualities as programme director for the Medicine bachelor and as founding dean of Erasmus University College.
Congratulations! Are you happy with this nomination?
‘I’m very proud to have been nominated. For years I have been devoted to education at this university, and it feels like a nice acknowledgment of the efforts my team and I made.'
Tough question, I know, but: why do you think you have been nominated? The jury praises you, for example, for developing entire curricula.
‘The biggest job I’ve done for Erasmus University is setting up University College. Part of that is developing curricula, but it’s much more than that. It involves building a community, setting a certain atmosphere, building a relationship with students and staff. That is an even more essential task, I think, than the exact design of the courses.
'To be able to offer the best education, you need to create surroundings that make that possible. Study spaces, leisure space. All of that is related to education. We all know what we need to teach, but it’s those framework conditions that you really need to be critical of to see what works and what doesn’t.
‘That is also what I love most about education. It is so much more than just transferring knowledge. Your student days have a big impact on your life. Students come here when they’re 18 and leave when they’re 21, those are incredibly important years in their development. It’s basically an honour to be able to join students in some of those formative years and to be able to give them some advice every now and again.’
In academics, research is usually considered the most important, not teaching. What do you think about that?
‘What’s great about university education is that combination of research and education. Students are being taught by people who are actually advancing their discipline. It’s impossible to treat education and research as separate entities. Explaining your research is already very close to educating. Moreover, university education has the distinct quality of educating people to think critically about their discipline. That is worth a lot, also outside of academics.
‘Of course I know that within a career in academics, the emphasis is on research. Education is a blind spot within many universities. Luckily we’ve been hearing this criticism a lot lately. We need to make sure that people who are dedicated to great education and who are training the researchers of the future, also get the chance to advance their career.
‘That is especially essential to University College. We want the best teachers, but if I hire someone for fulltime education, that would mean he can’t grow in his academic career. There are several solutions for that. Education should either be valued higher, or people who have made their mark when it comes to teaching should still get the opportunity to conduct research.’
You’ve talked about how much you enjoy creating those conditions around teaching. But what about teaching itself? Do you still like it?
‘Every semester I’m involved in two courses. I think it’s incredibly important to keep teaching, so that I know what my teachers are experiencing, what challenges they face and what we can and cannot ask of students.
‘But more importantly, teaching is what I love to do the most. I love to give lectures, I love smaller workgroups even more. Teaching is one of the ways I make sure I keep having fun doing my job. I’ve been teaching for about half my life and I still discover new things.’
The Education Prize will be awarded during the opening of the accademic year, September 4. Check out all 3 nominees here.