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Life-long bond

23 December 2020
Van der Veen and Kouwenhoven
Van der Veen and Kouwenhoven

Is the UG just an academic institution that hands out degrees, or is it more than that? It’s much more, says Director of Alumni Relations Remco Kouwenhoven and Faculty of Law policy officer José van der Veen: ‘The UG is a community.’ Alumni are becoming increasingly important in the teaching, research and careers advice being given to students.

Thinking about the number of alumni that have graduated from the UG in the past four centuries is mind-boggling. Admittedly, this magazine (the magazine for all graduates, PhD students and other UG affiliates) probably won’t fall onto the doormat of alumni from the first three centuries of the UG’s existence – but that still leaves around 95,000 delivery addresses. In addition, some 8,000 international alumni are sent the digital English version, Worldwide Newsletter. And this is only part of the total alumni database, which stores some 150,000 addresses all around the world.

Why is it worth hanging onto all these contacts? ‘Because alumni are important ambassadors for the UG’, says Remco Kouwenhoven, Director of Alumni Relations at the UG. ‘We can communicate like mad as a university – but the accounts of our former students have a far greater impact and reach. That is why it’s good keep alumni up-to-date about all of the latest developments at the UG. In turn, the University learns a lot from seeing where its alumni end up, where their career paths lead them and how they rate the effect of their degree programmes on their achievements.’

Conversely, Kouwenhoven thinks that the UG is also important to the alumni. ‘We are part of their prestige. People are proud to say that they studied here, because generally speaking, the UG gets good press. For alumni, the UG is an important source of information about what is going on in the world, a way of satisfying their curiosity. Through Broerstraat 5, for example, which is always enthusiastically received. And the UG provides all kinds of courses for its graduates. This is how we ensure that the relationship with our alumni works both ways.’

Take the CoachCafé, where alumni who have graduated within the past five years are invited to meet a coach to discuss shaping their careers. According to José van der Veen, chair of the alumni committee at the Faculty of Law, this initiative is a logical consequence of the theme of employability, which has been a priority within the UG’s degree programmes since 2015. ‘The bond with alumni is automatically a large part of any discussion about employability. As a policy officer for the professional field in the Faculty of Law, I talk to alumni about giving guest lectures and offering placements. I ask whether they would be willing to mentor students or come and talk about their work during meetings and events. Most of them are very enthusiastic, they like being asked. In this respect, alumni are keen to stay involved with the UG and their former faculties.’

In addition to this, every degree programme taught at the Faculty of Law has an advisory board. ‘The advisory boards mainly comprise alumni and lecturers’, explains Van der Veen. ‘They meet once a year to discuss the content of the programmes and the alumni tell us how the programmes are helping them in practice, and whether there is anything that they wish had been included in the programme now that they are working. You can learn so much from your alumni.’

The same happens at the Alumni Talks events, where an alumnus is invited to come and talk about their career. ‘We try to find students who we think would benefit from the alumnus’ experience’, says Kouwenhoven. The coronavirus pandemic has had an upside in this respect: ‘The Alumni Talks were organized online this year, like almost every other event. So for the first time, we chose to feature alumni who had chosen international careers. We had someone who lives and works in London, for example. It’s great to see that new things are also coming out of this pandemic.’

Another development that has sharpened up alumni policy is the fact that universities are now being judged on their social relevance. Kouwenhoven: ‘It’s not just about the number of degree certificates anymore. It is important to show where your graduates end up, and that you are making positive, good use of taxpayers’ money. It is becoming increasingly important to see the academic community as more than just the people who work and study at the UG. We try to make our alumni part of our community and show them that their input is appreciated through events, technology, a magazine such as Broerstraat 5.’

There is, for example, a group of diverse UG alumni who not only donate money but also invest time in the research into the Dead Sea Scrolls, thereby playing an active part in this project. Or the ‘Gooische Groningers’: a sizeable, active group of alumni in Het Gooi area, who adopted the research into ageing diseases being carried out by Ellen Nollen by raising money for her project.

Call it academic karma. Or, as Van der Veen puts it: ‘If you treat your students well, they’ll come back to you. Alumni sometimes come to me to offer a placement or a graduation assignment for a thesis. Sometimes they call a lecturer because they’re interested in giving a guest lecture, or they contact a researcher with a specific research question. Some alumni offer to become mentors because they had trouble finding a suitable placement themselves, or didn’t know what they wanted to do after their degree programme.’

Kouwenhoven (Economics, 1993) and Van der Veen (Criminal Law, 1993) are both UG alumni. How did their contact with alumni help them when they were students? Kouwenhoven was in touch with alumni as a member of Vindicat, but not through his degree programme in Economics. ‘I don’t remember this ever being offered as part of the programme. Not like it is today, anyway’, says Van der Veen. ‘Contact with alumni was limited to social events. I always ask myself: what is the thing that drives me the most in my work with students and alumni? The answer is knowing that when I was a student, I would have liked to see a Career Services Department that could have helped me in my career by putting me in touch with alumni.’

Text: Bert Platzer
Photo: Reyer Boxem
Source: Broerstraat 5

Last modified:16 December 2020 11.00 a.m.
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