Opening of academic year begins and ends with fireworks

September 6, 2023

Samsom and Blom plead for acceleration and embracement of energy transition. Wennink and Smits express concern about industrial competitiveness.

Rector Silvia Lenaerts opens the academic year at Eindhoven University of Technology. Photo: Bart van Overbeeke

With a push of the red button, Rector Silvia Lenaerts ignited the fireworks that symbolized the opening of the academic year at Eindhoven University of Technology. It was a fitting final of a ceremony with the theme the future earning power of the Netherlands and Europe.

There were also fireworks at the start of the ceremony, when politician Diederik Samsom immediately set the room on edge with a reference to an interview in the Telegraaf by board chairman Robert-Jan Smits. Samsom: "According to the college president, the energy transition is going too fast. He predicted that I would disagree with him and I do."

Robert-Jan Smits responded, "If Samsom had read the interview with more care, he would have seen that I do not advocate slowing down. However, I do say that the infrastructure for the transition needs to be in place first. And this is currently not the case. There is a serious congestion of the electricity net with the risk of companies leaving the country. Furthermore, there is an enormous shortage of skilled labour and of materials. Just look at the de-industrialisation that Germany is facing with the enourmous risks for notably the car industry. I want our politicians to be honest about the consequences of a rapid energy transition. I want the transition as fast as responsibly possible, but not if I have to drive a Chinese car."

Technicological and social Transition

According to Samsom, we can no longer afford the luxury of slowing down and we don't have to. "We can accelerate the transition, thanks to this university," he said. The politician came up with an appeal: "Reach out to your partners in the social sciences. The combination of technological revolution and social revolution can solve this issue. The issue of rapid change that must take place in a society that does not want to change so quickly."


Marieke Blom, economist at ING Group, told the room that technology can do a lot, but technology alone will not get us there. "Technology needs government subsidies so that we can get innovations going. These subsidies must be broad, generous, and easy to use, even if they are economically inefficient. We cannot leave it to the markets."

According to her, the Netherlands can and should embrace the energy transition. "Help me spread confidence in society. To you, as the engineers of the future, I want to say: my confidence in this transition also means that I trust you to develop these energy-efficient technologies. So please get to work on that as soon as possible!"

From left to right: Peter Wennink, Marieke Blom and Diederik Samsom. Photo: Bart van Overbeeke

Fragmented politics

ASML CEO Peter Wennink looked at the issue from a different perspective. He sees fragmented politics. "Compared to our competitors, we are at a disadvantage. We risk falling behind because there is no clear vision, no long-term focus. And that doesn't just apply to government. Business and academia are also responsible for a fair society, they have to take responsibility."

Rector Silvia Lenaerts cited key academic values in her speech, including autonomy, caring, collegiality and inclusiveness. "Let's do it!", were the words with which she officially launched the new academic year.

Missed the opening academic year? Watch the ceremony in its entirety here. Photocredit pictures below: Bart van Overbeeke.

Media contact

Frans Raaijmakers
(Science Information Officer)

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