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Rector Magnificus Elmer Sterken: ‘Make the world sustainable…Yes, we can!’

Opening of the Academic Year
03 September 2012
Rector Magnificus Elmer Sterken presents the 2012 Alumnus of the Year Award to Matthijs Bierman, director of the Triodos Bank
Rector Magnificus Elmer Sterken presents the 2012 Alumnus of the Year Award to Matthijs Bierman, director of the Triodos Bank

‘When resolving problems and creating economic growth, scientists, politicians and entrepreneurs are extremely alert, but there’s one innovation that just doesn’t seem to be getting off the ground – sustainability.’ Groningen Rector Magnificus Elmer Sterken promoted research concentrating on the transition to a sustainable society during the opening of the academic year on 3 September.

Sterken, an economist through and through, posed the question in his speech of why the taxpayer should want to invest money in universities. The answer is to train people who can convert fundamental knowledge into technology that not only increases our opportunities but also reduces our ecological footprint. Sustainability, according to Sterken, is a complex and controversial concept, but society is entitled to require universities to prioritize the transition to a sustainable way of life.

Performance agreements

The coming year will be very important in this context. Last spring, performance agreements were drawn up and these will be approved by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science this autumn. For the University of Groningen, these agreements are anchored in the Healthy Ageing, Energy and Sustainable Society themes. The recently completed new premises for the European Research Institute for the Biology of Ageing (ERIBA) and the start of the Energy Academy are proof that the University means business.

It goes without saying that Rector Magnificus Sterken is also concerned about certain aspects, for example reduced enthusiasm on the part of politics and society to invest in education and research. The call for students with more experience than just a degree is growing louder, he says, but the willingness to fund the extra time needed for that is declining.


Optimism still has the upper hand with Sterken. He proudly relates the successes of the University in the past year: more students, more publications and citations, more research grants and the maintaining of a place in the top 25 of best employers in the ‘Best Places to Work in Academia’ ranking list of the journal The Scientist. As a sports fan, he also ranks the wonderful gold medal won by medical student Epke Zonderland at the Olympics in London this summer on the men’s horizontal bar to the highpoints of the past academic year.

The coming year is also full of promise. The programme for the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the University in 2014, under the motto For Infinity, is being prepared and there will be much innovation in the field of education, including the setting up of a University College following the Oxbridge model with intensive supervision.

The struggle to make the world sustainable will be the driving force behind all these projects, Elmer Sterken emphasized. At the end of his speech he enthusiastically quoted the American President Obama: make the world sustainable…Yes, we can!

See also:

rede rector magnificus prof. dr. Elmer Sterken (Dutch)

rede Matthijs Bierman, Alumnus van het Jaar (Dutch)

speech Monika Smid, Professor of English language / Rosalind Franklin Fellow (English)

Last modified:13 March 2020 01.48 a.m.
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