Anka Mulder


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Open Education Seminar: Next steps for Open Education

TU Delft started sharing Open Educational resources back in 2007. Now, TU Delft Open Education has matured in such a way that we are ready to take the next step: offering credits for MOOCs.

As I mentioned before, offering credits for MOOCs is a big step for brick and mortar universities.

Currently TU Delft aims at setting up an alliance with several international partners, like the University of Queensland, the University of British Columbia, EPFL, Rice University and Australian National University. Their shared ambition is to recognize and integrate MOOCs in (formal) campus education. This would mean that in the future any student registered at one of the partner universities can take any MOOC offered by these universities and be awarded formal Credits for it.

Please join us at the Open Education Seminar (March 10th, 14:00h, TU Delft campus)! During the Seminar:

  • We will share our vision on the next steps in Open Education, supported by our alliance partners.
  • The opening presentation will be followed by a range of guest speakers who will share their experience and ideas about bringing Open Education closer to formal education, leading to an increase in quality of learning for our students.
  • The Seminar will be closed with a debate, where everyone present can share his or her opinion and vision.

I would like to invite all who are interested to join the seminar. Please register here. Visit the website to learn more about the program and guest speakers.

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Will universities be the Uber of Higher Education?

Since the first MOOCs went online three years ago,  there have been many publications about their effects: would MOOCs increase access to higher education to new groups of students or not, would they lead to innovation in education or were they old didactics gone digital, and would MOOCs be the end of the university?

Universities will still be around 10 or 20 years from now, but there are developments we should be aware of. One of them is that digitisation has created enormous possibilities for data brokering and brokers in higher education, a development we are already witnessing in many sectors (see for example: The Uberfication of Everything).

Let’s have a look at the two most often mentioned examples: Uber in the taxi world and AirBnB for hotels. Both companies were set up only a few years ago and they have become very successful. There are some funny things about both of them. They don’t have hotels and don’t own taxis, but they own the data. They also don’t employ hotel workers or taxi drivers (people who work via them are paid per job), but they do employ data specialists. Uber and AirBnB have become the very successful brokers in the taxi and hotel world.

ubersMany people claim  that the hotel or taxi business is very different from higher education. But is that true? Or will higher education have a broker as well and will we – academics, managers, support staff – be its taxi drivers?

Another interesting data broker is LinkedIn. It already has access to tons of information, which we have given to LinkedIn on a voluntary basis. Name, education, professional background and interests, connections, skills and endorsements. It recently bought online learning company Lynda. It has also acquired Bright, which makes algorithms to match jobs and candidates. LinkedIn connects students with universities (LinkedIn helps students find a university), students with jobs (LinkedIn helps students find a job) and universities with alumni (LinkedIn helps university connect with alumni). What if, in the future, it does not connect anybody with your university or mine?

Universities have the content, students and data, so perhaps they needn’t worry. Some people believe that they should and universities should have the ambition to become the broker themselves, not let the Uberfication of higher education happen. But how good, user friendly or fast are universities with big data compared to companies like Amazon or Trip Advisor? From the perspective of professionalism in data management even dating services have a better chance of becoming the broker of higher education than universities do.

If we see the Uberfication of higher edcation as a real possibility, is there something we should or could do about it? One possibility is to develop data expertise ourselves, alone or as universities together: understand how to use our data better, personalise education, professionalise education services, especially online. Or perhaps we should work together with those who are much better at this already. Be realistic about what we do well and what we don’t.

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Education Day 4 November

I my blog earlier this week I mentioned that TU Delft will invest extra in education this year. Step one is the additional investment of 6 million Euro in education. At present we are discussing faculty plans with deans, directors of education and the student council. Step two is the TU Delft Education Day

The TU Delft Education Day will take place on 4 November from 14.00h to 18.30h 2015. Teachers can learn about new possibilities to develop themselves and their education, get inspired on how to further improve their course, find out what really drives students and meet colleagues from all TU Delft faculties. Interested? Watch Rob Mudde’s video message below and  register here.






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How to do more and less administration or: the ambidextrous organisation

The changes at universities and in their surroundings have had an effect on the life of academics. But how about the hundreds of people in the support staff at every university? I believe that support services have to strengthen their administrations and become less administrative at the same time.

Universities were set up as teaching institutions initially. In the last century, when many companies dismantled their R&D centres, research moved to universities and became a strong second second pillar of a university. Nowadays, universities have gained yet another function and are also seen as important drivers of regional economic growth and innovation, transferring knowledge to business, attracting talent and companies.

So universities acquired more roles. They also got more students. When student numbers grew, so did government spending on higher education, and governments placed a stronger focus on transparency, efficiency and accountability. For universities and their staff, this meant more administrative duties, accounting for how they spent their money, organised quality assurance, dealt with ethics and integrity, etc. Universities administrations grew and professionalized as a consequence.

Other recent developments included growing competition over research funding, management of research projects, the introduction of online education, technology transfer between universities and business, and innovation in pedagogy.

These changes have had different effects on the work of support staff. To help a university with its innovation process is something completely different than running an efficient and accountable administration with operational excellence. The first type of organisation rocks the boat, the other operates a ship steady as she goes. Both types require different skills and cultures.

This is sometimes described as ambidexterity, i.e. being both left and right handed. Organisational ambidexterity refers to an organisation that is adaptable and able to cope with tomorrow’s changing demands and at the same time is able to manage the day to day business efficiently.

For a long time, university support services have focused on the latter. They became more efficient and perfected their administrative excellence. Harmonisation, centralisation and lean management were key words. Such organisations did not embrace experimentation, creativity or flexibility. The fact is, however, that universities need support services that do this as well as being efficient.

It is easy to go from one type of organisation (the operational and efficient one, focused on accountability) to the other (the flexible organisation that services innovation). But the real challenge is to be both.

So what does this look like in practice? It is an HR department with a 100% accurate salary administration and bespoke talent recruitment services. Or IT that makes sure that the Wifi always works, and that is also involved in new developments around online education and MOOCs. An international office that deals with thousands of student applications efficiently, and is also able to help that one student whose visa documents got lost. In short, a reliable administration that helps the university to comply, and that agile at the same time.

This may not sound too difficult, but it is good to know that in real life less than 1% of all people are ambidextrous.


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Women in academia

Some years ago, a dean told me that gender policies would not make a difference, as “women have different ambitions then men”. Up to that point, gender issues had not really interested me and I am still no expert in the matter. But that remark made me realise that action was perhaps necessary after all. Because mixed teams are nicer to work in and of course universities should attract all talent, male and female, and change does not happen automatically.

Last Monday, the Erasmus University Rotterdam, TU Delft and Leiden University organised a session on women in science. Around 100 people were present, many of them with more expertise in gender issues than me, including my colleagues Simone Buitendijk from Leiden and Paulien van der Meer Mohr from Rotterdam. Nevertheless, I was asked to say something about gender in the EU Horizon 2020 programme and women at TU Delft.

Gender has been included as one of the criteria in Horizon 2020. The goal is to create gender balance in Horizon 2020 research teams, the decision making teams that decide which project proposal will be funded and in the content of the proposals, i.e. in all parts of the research cycle. So no ticking boxes, but real stuff.

Women are underrepresented in higher positions in academia. That is especially the case in science and engineering. At TU Delft, 26% of our students are women, 28% of our PhD candidates, and only 10% of our associate professors. We make progress (9% of our full professors are women; 10 years ago that was 4%), but slowly. Still, I do have hope that this will change. In education there is already a gender balance in programmes such as Life Science and Technology, Industrial Design, Architecture and Mathematics. The same is true for research areas like Water Management. We have female deans and directors. TU Delft’s “Fellowship” recruitment programme for women academics has attracted talents from around the globe. And most importantly: culture is changing. Recruiting talented women is normal and on the agenda of every faculty now.

So what makes the difference or who? Policies, targets, actions and perseverance. I also know that one person played an especially important role at TU Delft: Nynke Jansen, HR director until 2013. By showing the necessity and evidence, setting targets and defining the practical steps to get there: a world class university that is open to all talent.



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The final struggle: how to write a good thesis?

Last Friday, I was at a book presentation organised by Study Association Curius, where I received the first copy of ‘Graduation Challenge Accepted’, written by TU Delft lecturer Alexander de Haan and Elianne de Regt, one of his students.

The graduation research project, or thesis, is a big step for many students. Many find it difficult to decide on a subject and have trouble getting started. Losing time over this may lead to a delay of their programme (and more expenses). With ‘Graduation Challenge Accepted’ the authors want to help students with their thesis and upcoming graduation. According to Alexander en Elianne, the best way to do that is to take charge of their own thesis. Of course, the course director defines the terms of a programme and the professor decides if the quality of the work is sufficient, but within those boundaries, students have much more freedom than they think.

The book consists of seven chapters, corresponding with the seven phases of a graduation project, and is brim-full of ideas and practical tips on how to get and stay in charge of your project. ‘Project management’ of the graduation project, so to speak. Students may wonder whether their supervisors will appreciate it if they take the lead. I think they do. The authors have included some interviews with lecturers in the book. Reading about their experiences with students graduating might be an eye-opener for some students.

I think that the approach described by De Haan and De Regt is ideally suited to many students at TU Delft and also to the sort of graduates that companies are eager to hire – independent engineers who can manage their own project.

What I especially like about this book is that it was written by a lecturer, Alexander, and a student, Elianne, and set up in cooperation with the Study Association of the faculty, Curius. Curius will organise courses for students on how to manage their thesis, based on the method of ‘Graduation Challenge Accepted’. This type of cooperation between lecturer and students –shaping education together- is interesting and I believe it will become more common in the future.





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Knowledge as an export product? 150 Dutch Ambassadors meet in Delft

One of my favourite Thomas Friedman quotes is this one: “Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion, or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle, or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle. When the sun comes up, you better start running.”

Yesterday, 800 staff of Dutch embassies and consulates, of whom around 150 ambassadors, visited Delft during their annual “home coming” programme.


Secretary General Renee Jones-Bos and I opened the meeting. The programme included discussions on “the position and ambitions of higher education” with VSNU president Karl Dittrich and VH president Thom de Graaf, information on the “Living Labs” project and on TU Delft MOOCs. This was followed by a discussion on cooperation between Dutch HE institutes and our embassies and consulates worldwide.

It is interesting that similarities between higher education and economics are growing, even in the words we use: competition, war on talent, globalisation, and higher education as an export product now are normal expressions for our sector.

Although I do not see HE as an economic product primarily, it is evident that it does have an economic impact. A report of the Dutch Central Planning Agency showed that incoming student mobility is good for our economy. Cities and regions try to house as many HE institutions as they can, because they know that this attracts talent and stimulates economic growth. Campuses create spin offs, attract companies and create jobs, shows a recent report of Buck Consultants International, commissioned by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and published in December 2014.

Universities have become global players. They have increasing numbers of international students and staff and growing international networks. At TU Delft, for example, a third of our master students are from abroad and 70% of our PhD candidates. We currently have 340.000 MOOC students, of whom the majority is international. We have numerous international research networks and a number of research institutes in China, Vietnam and Brazil, where our researchers work together with top experts from those countries.

Dutch research and education have a good reputation, which results in high scores in the international rankings. Nevertheless, only a small proportion of international students choose the Netherlands as their study destination. Students still prefer Anglo-Saxon universities. As for the rankings: a number of Asian universities have jumped to very good positions in the last few years. This means that the number of players fighting for a position in this very small space at the top is growing.

This makes it even more important that we make absolutely clear what our strong points are. Why students should choose the Netherlands, why researchers worldwide should want to work with ours. The universities that survive at the small place at the top are those which continuously improve their quality, and at the same time work on their global profile and visibility. Just like Dutch companies, we rely on our embassies and consulates. We need them to communicate what we do, help us scout for talent and strengthen our networks.

As for ourselves, we better keep running.



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Gamification in education – Teacher of the Year 2015

EU logo Today Alexandru Iosup was elected Dutch Teacher of the Year by ISO, the Dutch Platform of Student Councils. I am really proud of Alexandru for winning this award, and even more for his inspiring and excellent teaching and research in the field of gamification.

One thing I like about Alexandru is his theory of what works best in teaching: stimulating students’ enthusiasm (so they will keep learning throughout their lives) and delivering personalised education (because every individual is different), by using gaming concepts.

So how does this work in practice? In his classes Alexandru uses techniques from computer games to motivate students and to address different levels and learning styles. For example, throughout the course, students can earn points for many sorts of achievements. This gets students “hooked” to the course from the start and keeps them motivated to finish the course successfully. Alexandru also looked at types of gamers – performers, explorers, team workers and winners, to name a few – and uses this typology in education as well. Some students, for example, like to work in groups and get points that way, some prefer to create their own game through an open assignment and others might get motivated by comparing their achievements with those of other students.

Alexandru and his team invested a lot of time to organise their courses this way. Their background in developing games and researching the principles of gamification convinced them that it would work, but of course there were no guaranties. Their investment paid off: the pass rate for the Computer Organisation module rose from 60-65% to more than 80%.

I am convinced Alexandru will inspire teachers at TU Delft and other institutions to follow and use gamification and other state-of-the –art educational techniques to challenge students to rise to their potential.

For more information see:

Highlights 2014 (page 40):

Press release:



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Education in the digital era

In April 1989 I visited West Berlin and I briefly crossed the border to East Berlin. Food was different there, smelled different. Eastern and Western Europe were divided; the Soviet Union still existed. Tomorrow, on January 1, 2015, Lithuania will join the Eurozone. It will become the 19th country to introduce the Euro. In 25 years, Europe has changed beyond recognition. Not so long ago, all three Baltic countries being members of the Eurozone would have been unimaginable.

EU logoBut the European Union still faces problems. The political situation in Ukraine affects the European Union and instability on Europe’s southern borders results in thousands of refugees trying to enter the European Union. We have all seen the distressfull images of desperate people in the Adriatic Sea and at the Spanish borders. Additionally, Europe’s economy remains fragile. Economic recovery is slow. The youth unemployment rate is over 20% and much higher in some member states.

What does all of this have to do with education? One of the strong points about education policies in the EU and its member states has always been the focus it places on education as an equaliser; in other words a way to address inequality. Another strong point was the Erasmus programme: set up in 1987, almost 3 million students have since benefited from this programme. That means 3 million young people crossing borders and, perhaps, becoming true European citizens. Higher education standardisation has also been a success i.e. the bachelor-master structure, the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS ), and the mutual recognition of diplomas. And the Framework Programmes have had a positive effect on research opportunities at European universities.

But for European economies to become really competitive, more needs to be done. Education policies in Europe have focused on addressing inequalities and on promoting mutual understanding. Important as this is, it is not enough. A competitive European economy also needs strong players who can compete with the world’s best. Competitiveness means helping those not so fortunate, but also giving room to excellence. Because excellence drives innovation.

On 11 and 12 December a European High level Conference on “Education in the Digital Era” took place in Brussels. At the conference, Education Ministers were asked what their dream was for Europe five years from now. My dream would be a Europe with a sound economy, based on sustainable principles. A politically stable and economically strong Europe. Without youth unemployment. That means investing in education now, in life-long learning, closing the skills gap, and in excellence and innovation. And not to forget inclusivity, quality and competitiveness.

Estonia has introduced e-residency. This gives people access to Estonia’s digital services and an opportunity to use digital signatures in a secure electronic environment. Innovation and excellence can take place everywhere. In the Baltic States for example. Happy New Year!


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Vandaag was ik uitgenodigd als spreker op een onderwijssymposium van D66. Aan het eind van mijn presentatie kreeg ik twee vragen, die me vandaag hebben beziggehouden: waarom zou je top willen zijn en hoe word je dat als universiteit?

Waarom top? Een goede vraag. Wij Nederlanders hebben een ingewikkelde relatie met excellentie. Lange tijd was het not done om excellent te willen zijn, met de bekende zesjescultuur als gevolg. Daarin is de afgelopen jaren zeker iets veranderd: excellentieprogramma’s voor leerlingen en studenten, aandacht voor hoogbegaafden, CITO-toetsen, sneller studeren, eisen als BSA en harde knip zijn maar een paar voorbeelden. Aan de instelling waaraan ik ben verbonden, zie ik een cultuuromslag onder studenten, waarin goed presenteren geaccepteerd is en je ervoor kunt uitkomen dat je graag hoge cijfers haalt.

Maar universiteiten? Mogen die top willen zijn? Of is allemaal ongeveer even goed in de subtop beter? Dat laatste is momenteel de realiteit: alle Nederlandse universiteiten presenteren goed, bijna alle zitten in de top 200. Geen enkele echter bevindt zich in de absolute top. In de onlangs uitgekomen Times Higher Education ranking, bijvoorbeeld, is Leiden op plaats 64 de hoogste Nederlandse universiteit.

De vragensteller had zich ook tot het publiek kunnen richten: wat wil Nederland eigenlijk van zijn universiteiten? Als ik Nederland was, zou ik ambitieus zijn en instellingen vragen om niet tevreden te zijn met een zes of zeven. Maar hoe wordt een universiteit een 9 of een 10? Dat kost geld, gaf ik vanmiddag aan. Top 20 universiteiten zijn rijker dan Nederlandse universiteiten. Nu al is de concurrentie uit Duitsland en Zwitserland enorm. Topacademici krijgen daar meer geld, zodat ze zich betere faciliteiten kunnen veroorloven en meer promovendi om hen te helpen met hun onderzoek en onderwijs.

Maar “meer geld” is een wat simpel antwoord. Allereerst hoeft niet al dat geld van de overheid te komen. Dat kan ook het bedrijfsleven zijn bijvoorbeeld, als universiteiten hen iets kunnen bieden dat hen ook helpt. En universiteiten zouden private activiteiten kunnen ontwikkelen. Daarnaast zijn er andere factoren dan geld die een rol spelen. Relatieve autonomie is een belangrijke factor, geeft onderzoek naar succesvolle universiteiten aan. Het feit dat een instelling zelf inhoud kan geven aan zijn kwaliteitskoers: onderwijsdirecteuren, afdelingshoofden, decanen, bestuurders, studenten en vooral docenten. Want goede docenten en onderzoekers zijn natuurlijk essentieel voor een instelling met de ambitie om top te worden.

Met autonomie wordt overigens niet bedoeld dat geen enkele eis meer mag worden gesteld aan een universiteit of andere onderwijsinstelling, maar dat het aantal eisen wordt beperkt en gericht op de hoofdlijn: goed onderwijs en goed onderzoek, het beste uit jezelf halen. Hetzelfde als we van onze studenten en leerlingen vragen.

Nuon Solar Team wint zonnerace in Zuid-Afrika

Nuon Solar Team wint zonnerace in Zuid-Afrika
CC-BY Nuon

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