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Tjalling Halbertsma

‘The University of Groningen is ambitious’

Professor Tjalling Halbertsma is International Director of the Centre for East Asian Studies of Groningen (CEASG). CEASG is an inter-faculty institute that initiates and supports teaching and research on contemporary China, Japan, Korea and Mongolia. CEASG also supports alliances with universities in East Asia. In addition, CEASG offers a Master’s degree programme in East Asian Studies and organizes facilities, conferences and lectures on modern East Asia.

How does a diplomat based in Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) become a professor at the University of Groningen?

Tjalling Halbertsma, photo credit: Reyer Boxem
Tjalling Halbertsma, photo credit: Reyer Boxem

As the first Dutch diplomat in Mongolia, I had a highly versatile post that I was pretty much free to give form to as I saw fit. There were many large companies at the time that wanted to do business in and with Mongolia. In 2012 we received a visit from a delegation of the University of Groningen, led by the President of the Board of the University, Professor Sibrand Poppema. It was an exceptional visit, the first visit by a Dutch university that led to a concrete partnership with Mongolia.

It turned out that the University of Groningen was also looking for a partner to help them develop an East Asian Studies programme. The University wished to focus very specifically on present-day Asia, in contrast to the work of institutions such as Leiden University. One of the University’s wishes was to bring together existing but scattered initiatives under a single institute.

In addition to my work as a diplomat, I have always been active as an academic, and I had a number of publications to my name in addition to my PhD thesis. I was therefore delighted to be asked to help develop Asia-related activities in Groningen.’

New initiatives

‘When I started, the Faculty of Arts was in the midst of a reorganization. However, this only strengthened the feeling that it was time to develop something new. Asia is a continent of rapid changes, with many opportunities for a university such as the University of Groningen. I am glad to be able to contribute to the University’s making active use of these opportunities. In this context, CEASG is building on existing initiatives, but it is also given ample freedom to develop new initiatives. The University of Groningen is ambitious, and it takes East Asia seriously. These two factors combine to make anything possible.

A beautiful example of this freedom is our recent creation of a new university in China. Not everyone may be aware of this yet, but with its new location in Yantai, the University of Groningen will soon be the only university in continental Europe to have its own campus in China. This attests to how innovative the University of Groningen is and how far-reaching its vision.’

A high score in the rankings

‘It goes without saying that I googled the University of Groningen before coming here. I was struck by the University’s performance in the rankings of ‘good’ employers. Groningen graduates are in demand with large employers, and the University itself is in demand as an employer among academics. Personally, the rankings were not the decisive factor in my decision, but they did make my choice easier. What many people do not know, however, is that for most Asian parents, the ranking lists determine which university they choose for their child. In many Asian countries, where you study plays a key role in the further development of your career.’

Room for personal development

‘What strikes me time and again is how much room I have as a University of Groningen academic to follow my own interests. This is incredibly enriching, both for me on a personal level and for the University as a whole. It’s an enrichment that may be difficult to express in financial terms, but it certainly offers great advantages in terms of opportunities. The University provides room for development in a myriad of ways, through research, but also by following courses or training programmes. This promotes growth and deeper knowledge and understanding.’

Venturing beyond borders

‘The University of Groningen is also attractive to students. The Asian students who come to Groningen are an exceptional group. They are ambitious, open to venturing beyond the borders of their country, and incredibly driven, as are the Dutch students who go to Asia. For some, the Asian adventure turns out to be so compelling that they remain in Asia and find work there.

For anyone who is interested in Asia and wants to be part of a new initiative, the University of Groningen is an excellent university to work or study at. Our most important challenge is showing the world what we do. Our success in this endeavour is apparent from the great number of high-quality international responses to our vacancy for a Chair in Chinese Language and Culture. The University of Groningen has clearly made an excellent name for itself on the international labour market.

This is a unique time to be interested in Asia – and we have a lot to offer anyone interested in Asia.’

Last modified:18 December 2015 4.12 p.m.
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