Strong convictions kick-off academic year

UCL Board of Governors Chair Jean Hilgers, Louvain Student General Assembly (AGL) President Santiago Dierckx, Research Staff (CORSCI) President Sarah Barthelemy, and Rector Vincent Blondel each spoke at the ceremonial kick-off of the 2017-18 academic year as well as the Louvain Year of Digital Worlds.

The rector honoured several students: Jérôme Duisit for the ‘Teddy Bear Hospital’; Chloé Branders, for the InsideOut project, which brought together students and Andenne prison inmates to perform theatre; and Anouk Raes, captain of the Red Panthers, who faced the Netherlands in the EuroHockey Championship final.

‘I hope the two universities’ stated ambition will be approved’

Many prominent figures were present at the Aula Magna and interested in the merger between UCL and the Université Saint-Louis Bruxelles.

Jean Hilgers emphasised that the universities were facing up to powerful trends and that ‘to join these trends, our two universities have strengths but not all of them. What’s most attractive is that their strengths are often complementary. That’s the main purpose of this merger, a process of mutual enrichment.’ The UCL Board of Governors Chair continued, ‘I don’t hide that it’ll therefore be a cruel disillusionment if the expected decree for organising the merger’s effects, that is, for guaranteeing its absolute neutrality and a solid legal basis mainly in terms of funding and accreditations, never materialises.

As for his opinion on the merger, Vincent Blondel expressed himself clearly: ‘Last year, two hautes écoles in the official network merged, supported politically and financially by public authorities. Last week, three higher education institutions announced the creation in Charleroi of a university group linking some of that city’s higher education actors, an initiative supported politically and financially by public authorities. UCL and the Université Saint-Louis today ask that the final step for making their merger effective – political approval – be taken quickly. I sincerely hope the ambition asserted widely by our university communities will be approved.’

Successfully established in Wallonia and Brussels

The rector also unveiled the new inscription on the university ceremonial sceptre (traditionally carried, since the Middle Ages, at the head of the university procession): ‘Successfully established in Wallonia and Brussels, the Romance language University of Louvain has continued its development, forging ahead at the service of our regions, our country, Europe and the world, in perfect harmony with its sister in Flanders.’ This inscription is now alongside the one engraved by Rector Massaux in 1970, in which he expressed regret for the university’s division but also, with all the vigour and commitment for which he was known, his determination.

A facade of excellence?

AGL President Santiago Dierckx highlighted that while equality has been generally observed at UCL, the statistics hide a social reality: ‘Women hold posts that are less well-paid, less prestigious and more precarious than those held by men.’ Emphasising that inequality reigns in Belgian teaching, he appealed to the university to serve as an example.

CORSCI President Sarah Barthelemy said that in order to achieve the excellence so often talked about at the university, ‘The means must be made available. Our university, no less than our public authorities, is responsible for investing in its young researchers and stabilising their futures by offering full and complete contracts of adequate duration. Indeed, the precarity of young researchers is only increasing. How can excellence be achieved under such constant pressure?’ The fierce competition to publish in quantity to the detriment of quality also imposes difficulties. ‘Do we really aspire to only a facade of excellence?’ She recalled UCL honorary PhD recipient Sanjay Subrahmanyam’s underscoring the need for so-called ‘unprofitable’ professions, in order to build societies in which the humanities have meaning and value.

New faculty – almost 40 members, of whom half were men and the other half women – mounted the stage to close the ceremony.

Copyright photos : Benjamin Zwarts

Published on September 20, 2017