We placed much emphasis on the importance of warm-hearted human relations from the very outset. Trust is the best guarantee for success particularly on a small-scale campus like Kulak. After four years, we can look back and be pleased with what we have achieved. Kulak is and remains a fantastic biotope that is dominated by a pleasant dynamic working environment both among the students and the staff.
Following possible commotion about a change in administration and the introduction of the so-called OFD, for which Kulak had committed itself as an experimental plot, peace and quiet returned quite quickly. ATP salaries (administrative and technical staff) were adjusted following a more correct estimation of the considerable amount of work being done. The organisational chart was optimised and profiles were more closely attuned. The general level of satisfaction rose as a result. It emerged from the satisfaction survey that not less than 82% of the respondents were satisfied, 21% being very satisfied.
But of course, our campus is there first and foremost for the students. And their level of satisfaction was very high too. The yearly survey showed an average of 4 out of 5 for the whole administrative period. The fact that globally speaking student numbers have not decreased in recent years can also be taken as an indication of the same. The local demographics are not supportive, however. The number of students leaving secondary school in West Flanders has consistently dropped by almost 10% each year. Moreover, the presence of other players in the market (university colleges and since 2013 Ghent University) has affected our market share in the province. Also because of the broad range of programmes on offer, programmes that we did not rationalise but, on the contrary, consolidated, as a campus, Kulak is even more present than before on the map: not only in West Flanders but also far beyond, for Kulak’s education model is very much in vogue. Teaching in relatively small groups, living on campus, cooperation with regional partners: these are all Kulak strengths, strengths we should continue to draw on. They not only stimulate learning processes within the various programmes, but also result in greater levels of social involvement, given the almost natural targetedness of interdisciplinary affairs. Cooperative relations with the business world and with Groeninge, the local university hospital, add their own particular touch to the curricula, which matches perfectly KU Leuven’s current philosophy on education. Where actually can the value of general education (Bildung) stand out more, given the number of professional competences to be achieved, than on an academic BA campus?
Based on the same connection with the KU Leuven education policy, local education coordinators implemented COBRA policy on the campus. At the same time, even using central funding, we have invested in innovation in education at Kulak. An excellent example of this is the TECOL project, which is being carried out in cooperation with important international partners who are woven into the industrial fabric of the region. KU Leuven finds it important to follow up developments in technology and the possibilities for education that stem from them. That is why we are investing in technological development together with Barco and Televic in order to respond to the contemporary needs of those in education today. It must be remembered that the use of technology is not an end in itself. But we do look closely at the ways in which technology can support and further education and learning processes. In a variety of situations, such as interactive lectures, collaborative learning spaces and in multi-location learning, in which the importance of the context of the KU Leuven multi-campus model continues to gain in importance, our researchers are in constant search of how the use of educative technology influences student learning processes, which brings us indeed to research.
Also in this respect, Kulak’s drive to become a university on a human scale has resulted in success. Never before, have there been so many research projects on the campus (27 new projects in 2016), so many researchers and so many PhD students from so many different countries (more than twenty). This is proof that the investment in research – the demarcation criterion par excellence in the relation to the surrounding knowledge institutes – has effectively worked. For a fine record of achievement can be presented in terms of results, both quantitatively speaking (the number of publications reached more than 600 in 2016; the number of doctorates begun was 42 in 2015-2016) and qualitatively speaking (the number of awards, prizes won, attention in the press, etc. but also the intrinsically important results reached). In relation to these results, Kulak has been able to draw maximum benefit from the interdisciplinary advantage that a small-scale campus can offer, from the very fact that various groups are in such close contact with each other. The further material development of the Interdisciplinary Research Facilities (IRF) has been an important stimulus, as has the defining of research ‘spearheads’, whether in dialogue with external partners or not. In this respect, a provincial chair in ‘new materials’ was launched in 2016, which does not imply that an orientation towards the needs of the area might get in the way of fundamental research. On the contrary, something that is more than clear when we look at developments in the research spearhead ‘nutrition’, etc.
Another thing worth mentioning in relation to the increased level of comfort for up and coming researchers is the setting up of a ‘doctoral working group’. In dialogue with the Leuven doctoral schools, this group looks into shared needs and problems. Moreover, to streamline research policy on the campus, an extra staff member was taken on who not only plays a supporting role in applications for and developments in research but who also takes care of research communication for the outside world. Communication is becoming increasingly important. For example, from the outset, KU Leuven and Kulak became constructive partners in the ‘Technical University Alliance for economic transformation in West Flanders’, TUA-West in short, which was founded in 2015. This initiative is designed to actively involve the university colleges and the universities in the province with a view to stimulating joint projects. The same applies to cooperation with the universities in Lille, the links with which have once again been brought closer through mutual excellence funding. All of this opens up perspectives, thus giving new impetus to the ‘Eurometropole,’ Lille-Kortrijk-Doornik; and given the ensuing Brexit, we must never lose sight of potential partners in the UK (Kent, but also most probably Imperial College and University College London).
Last but not least, a number of important infrastructural works have weighed on the recent policy period: the student residence at Spoelberg, the refurbishment of the campus library and study centre, as well as the modernisation of the learning labs, the main hall, the reception services area, and the education and student administration section. All these improvements fit in the framework of earlier initiatives like the extension of the medical skills centre and the improvements to the anatomy room, etc. They make the campus more attractive looking.
I wish to continue to cherish this jewel in the KU Leuven crown and watch pursue the path it has taken, not only because of the campus’s intrinsic qualities and historical achievements but also because of its strategic location. Kulak is and remains a highly important KU Leuven bridgehead in West Flanders and precisely for this reason deserves its own steerage, not independent of, but together with KU Leuven. In this respect, the position of the Kulak Vice Rector in the Joint Executive Board must be made permanent; both local faculty and cross-group services should also be maintained. To be able to fulfil its mission, Kulak (and its six faculties and more than twenty programmes) needs sufficient autonomy. Our university’s policy needs to be shaped through close contacts with the surrounding industrial, political, social and cultural players, thus resulting in particular emphases that reflect local needs and demands. Socially speaking, Kulak has never actually been an ivory tower. For more than half a century, its researchers and lecturers have served the local community, which is best illustrated by the large array of courses in continued academic training. The Post-University Centre serves as a role model in this respect, something that deserves to be followed outside of the kulak campus.
That the Kulak central services, including the PUC, are well positioned to offer assistance to our campus in Bruges, is more than obvious. Campus Bruges, which began as a result of integration, is too small to be self-sufficient. But there is more involved. Pursuing a coherent policy for West Flanders means that the mandate of academic director in Bruges should coincide with that of Vice Rector in Kortrijk. Only in this way, can KU Leuven continue to speak in the one voice to all the ‘stakeholders’ in West Flanders. Of course, close cooperation between Bruges and Kortrijk would not mean a disruption of central lines of policy on research and education, which will continue to run through the groups and faculties involved (i.c., the Faculty of Industrial Engineering Sciences and the Faculty of Kinesiology and Rehabilitation Sciences) in Leuven. But they will be recognised for their role as a vital regional anchor for the KU Leuven network in Flanders. For example, by campaigning for KU Leuven in West Flanders, both north and south, this year we have succeeded in stemming the downward trend in student recruitment at the former Ostend campus for the first time. At this moment, the Bruges/Ostend campus (for both programmes) has even more students than in 2013…
It is clear that the new premises, which the students will fully occupy on Technology Campus Ostend from next academic year, has only increased the force of attraction of Bruges. As will soon become clear to all, this centrally located building is certainly an eye catcher. From now on KU Leuven has its own place in Bruges and it certainly cannot be ignored. It adds a shine to the dynamic team of staff who will alight there soon. Moreover, the building is beautifully furbished both as far as teaching and research facilities are concerned. Here too effort has been put into matching research interests and expectations from the outside world. In this respect, through Sirris an R&D mainstay will be developed for machine construction and electro-mechanics, while by using EFRO funding, efforts are being made to create a movement laboratory designed to evaluate movement and to design new technology for distance revalidation.
To conclude, the Bladelin campus also occupies an important position in the Bruges constellation, something we are extremely proud of, especially as it was acquired without calling on additional financial means. As we all know, Hof Bladelin is one of the most important historical city palaces in Bruges and dates back to the Burgundy period and is a true gem of our cultural heritage. This site forms an ideal opportunity for anyone at KU Leuven who wishes to organise a congress or a one-day event. With these premises, right in the centre of world heritage Bruges, KU Leuven can emanate the aura it rightly deserves both in West Flanders and far beyond.