A place where the university leaves its ivory tower. A marketplace of ideas where the university, the city, the region, and everything else get together to solve big social issues. That’s the UG’s ambition for the House of Connections (HoC), the university’s new property at the Grote Markt.
The UG has only just moved into the multifunctional property in the former V&D building, but the ambition’s potential is already palpable, feel rector Cisca Wijmenga and board president Jouke de Vries.
‘The opening ceremony of the Rudolph Agricola School took place on Wednesday’, said Wijmenga. ‘During the reception, someone came up to the director and said: “You know, I was really paying attention this afternoon and I know exactly what we should focus on together”. That person wasn’t even officially involved with the School yet and they were already coming up with great ideas.’
That’s exactly what the managers were hoping would happen: people who’d never meet under normal circumstances getting together at lectures, debates, and presentations at HoC and inspiring each other.’ ‘I stood there and thought, wow, this is amazing’, says Wijmenga.
HoC will house, among others, four interdisciplinary schools that focus on healthy ageing, the energy transition, sustainable development, and digitisation and artificial intelligence.
It will also be the place where the knowledge and innovation network University of the North will be able to showcase itself, where the young scientists from the Young Academy as well as the Teaching Academy Groningen and European partnership Enlight can get together.
According to board president Jouke de Vries, the new building will help connect different kinds of people. ‘If we want to stimulate interdisciplinary collaboration, we have to bring people together. We can’t force them to work together, but we can make it really attractive by offering them an inspiring location.’
According to him, that’s the added value of the HoC. ‘It’s such a beautiful location, such a beautiful environment. I have a really good feeling about it.’
The new building will allow the university to introduce itself to the outside world, but the outside world will also be able to come to the university. ‘It’s my hope that it will lead to the same kind of programmes as in Pakhuis de Zwijger [in Amsterdam]’, says Wijmenga.
‘There’s an entire organisation behind that, of course, but here, we have the room to organise public academies. Studium Generale can have its lectures here, debates can be held here, and we have room for science shops. This should be the place where many of those things take place.’
The HoC will also be the place where businesses can connect with the university. ‘Northern SMEs have been complaining how difficult it is to connect with the UG’, says De Vries. ‘They know we’re here, but they don’t know who to talk to. The House of Connections will be a place where they can find that way into the university.’
‘We have some amazing business owners, so wouldn’t it be great if they could come here and lecture our students? Developing science, doing fundamental research, that will always be a priority. But this also presents an opportunity to develop applications, as well as valorisation, how we put things on the market. Here, we can actively invite people to do that.’
By incorporating the outside world, the university can tackle current issues. ‘We could take society’s questions and turn them into challenge-based education, present them to students as a minor’, says Wijmenga. ‘We could have students answer those questions. That then creates added value to our educational activities.’
According to the managers, encounters and collaborations are an important step forward. ‘Innovation is on the interface of disciplines’, says Wijmenga.
‘Since the future is becoming increasingly complex, we have to constantly be interfacing with each other. We’re an amazing university that encompasses all disciplines, so there are plenty of opportunities for us. But we have to dare to utilise them.’