Prof. F.J.C. Willekens received a Royal Decoration on 4 March 2011 from Mayor Rehwinkel of the municipality of Groningen. The ceremony took place in the Martinikerk during a farewell symposium in honour of his retirement. Willekens has been professor of Population Studies in the Department of Demographics of the Faculty of Spatial Sciences of the University of Groningen since 1991.
Frans Willekens (Belgium, 1946) founded the Population Research Centre (PRC) immediately after his arrival in Groningen, and also became its director. The aim of the PRC was – and is – to conduct demographic research in the Netherlands and Europe as well as in developing countries. Willekens has played an important role in the development of the field of demographics, not only in Groningen and the Netherlands, but also in Europe and elsewhere in the world. The importance of his contribution lies not only in his international demographic research, but also in particular in his training of students and PhD researchers from all over the world in the field of demographics.
Willekens was also the driving force behind the international MSc in Population Studies. This is the only Master’s programme in the Netherlands where students can graduate in demographics/population studies. Students of both the Master’s programme and the PhD programme come from over 30 countries all over the world. The PRC has an excellent status globally in the field of demographics. In the research visitations of 2000 and 2007, the demographic research programme was assessed as very good to excellent. As a result the PRC ranks among the top of Dutch university research programmes.
At the end of the 1990s, Willekens was one of those who took the initiative to set up an International Diploma Course on Reproductive Health Management. This is a cooperation between the PRC Groningen and the Population Centre Dharwad and Karnatak University in Dharwad, Karnataka, India. The aim of the programme is to train local Indian students in a subfield of demographics – reproductive health. Students are given the chance to gain knowledge about the field of reproductive health, learn the principles of academic research and then apply what they have learned to projects in the field of reproductive health management (mother and child care, contraceptives, sexuality). The programme is unique in India. Graduates of the programme work on health-related projects and for government organizations.
Willekens was one of the driving forces behind the founding of the European Doctoral School in Demography (EDSD), also at the end of the 1990s, in which universities and research institutes from the Netherlands, Germany, France, Sweden, Austria and Spain participate. The aim of the PhD programme is to train young PhD students in the theories and skills of analytical demographics in particular, with the aim of strengthening and stimulating the capacity build-up in demographics in Europe. The programme is unique in Europe. Willekens still plays an extremely active role in the EDSD. Recently, Willekens has become involved in a comparable European initiative – the setting up and defining of the European Population Partnership, which concentrates on the exchange of population data among European research institutes.
In 1998 Willekens was made a member of the KNAW, and since September 2003 he has been director of the Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute (NIDI) in The Hague. Under his leadership the NIDI has been transformed from a research institute and foundation into a highly qualified academic KNAW institute.
Prof. F.J.C. Willekens has been made an Officer in the Order of Orange-Nassau.
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