'University should become just as diverse as the city'

The student population should be a reflection of Rotterdam, says rector magnificus Prof. Dr. Rutger Engels in an opinion piece in the AD/RD. He argues for extra efforts to offer everyone equal opportunities to follow academic education.

I was lucky to grow up in an environment where I was stimulated in my school career. However, at a reunion of my primary school I noticed that some of my fellow classmates, who were doing very well at the time, did not go to university after all. Probably consciously. But if they didn't, something apparently prevented them from taking that step.

That shouldn't happen, especially in Rotterdam, the city with which we've been inextricably linked for 105 years - a lustrum that we're celebrating together with the city this year and for which the starting shot was given this week. I think we should encourage young, talented Rotterdam boys and girls to get the most out of their intellectual qualities. Unfortunately, it is not yet the case that the student population of the Erasmus University is a reflection of the very diverse population of Rotterdam. And all this while research shows that it doesn't matter which district you come from for your university achievements.

'We want to do more to ensure that the diversity of Rotterdam is better reflected in the lecture halls'

Rector magnificus prof.dr. Rutger Engels

As a university, we want to make a positive contribution to society, starting in our hometown. This not only means research into the influence of fine particles and noise on the development of children in the Generation R study among 10,000 young Rotterdammers, but also helping to make the city more sustainable. It is certainly also about offering equal opportunities for an academic education.

At the moment, we are already encouraging children with programmes such as the Science Junction to introduce science and the university to children from the highest grades of primary school and the lower grades of secondary school. But an extra 'push' is needed for all those talented young Rotterdammers. We want to do more to better reflect the diversity of Rotterdam in the lecture halls. That means: seeking even better connections with the girls and boys in high school. Showing them: you are welcome at this university with your talent.

As Erasmus University, we like to be the driving force behind such an effort, together with the educational institutions in this city and the city council, which fortunately has equal opportunities in education high on its agenda.

Such an effort is not only necessary, we as a university also owe it to this city.

This opinion piece is an adaptation of Rutger Engels's speech at the Opening Academic Year.