'No white smoke from The Hague yet'

April 26, 2023

The government has not yet committed to more money for Brainport’s talent growth plans.

TU/e's Executive Board President Robert-Jan Smits. Photo: Vincent van den Hoogen
TU/e's Executive Board President Robert-Jan Smits. Photo: Vincent van den Hoogen

Our Executive Board President, Robert-Jan Smits, regrets that the government has not (yet) committed any money to realizing the talent ambitions of Brainport, including TU/e. However, Smits remains hopeful that the government will indeed provide money in June “so that TU/e, Fontys and Summa can continue to provide the Brainport region with much-needed technically trained talent in the future.”

No money, but recognition that the Brainport region and the cabinet have a shared responsibility to facilitate the enormous growth of this region. In a nutshell, this was the outcome of the Brainport board meeting held in The Hague in mid-March.

In this recurring consultation between board members of the Brainport region, the municipality of Eindhoven, the province, four Brainport ministers and a state secretary, the hope for TU/e, Fontys, Summa and Brainport was to receive a commitment for money. This money is badly needed to educate more students who would soon be able to fill the huge number of vacancies in the Brainport region.

Numerous reports

Smits finds it disappointing that Minister of Education, Culture and Science Robbert Dijkgraaf has not yet committed any money to the growth of our university, “especially considering the five billion available to him. The amount we asked for was not even particularly gigantic.”

Minister Dijkgraaf is currently developing a future study on all higher education. Smits: “This will only lead to decisions going into 2024. The minister says he does not want to get ahead of this by committing money to Brainport’s talent agenda now.”

“It wasn’t for nothing that Brainport was specifically named in the Rutte IV coalition agreement. It was intended precisely to avoid having to enter the regular process of studies and discussion groups because the need is so high here.”

“Furthermore,” Smits adds, “it is not clear to me what the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science hopes to get out of the future study? The Rathenau Institute and the Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis have each produced numerous reports showing the shortages. Those figures will not change by conducting another study.”

Perspective

In mid-June, there may be an extra Brainport board meeting in The Hague. Smits hopes that the government officials will then pledge the necessary money. He bases this on extensive Hague experience and contact with mayor of Eindhoven Jeroen Dijsselbloem, alderman Stijn Steenbakkers and provincial executive deputy Martijn van Gruijthuijsen. “They sit at the table on behalf of our region,” Smits says, “and are supported by Paul van Nunen, the director of Brainport Development, who also has lengthy experience in The Hague.”

Scale jump and growth: what’s it all about?

The Brainport region, with its high-tech manufacturing industry, is fast becoming the biggest driver of the Dutch economy. In the coming years, more than 70,000 additional jobs are expected at large companies such as VDL, DAF, ASML, NXP, ProDrive and the many suppliers that are also growing in turn. TU/e, alongside Fontys University of Applied Sciences and Summa College, plays a major role in filling these vacancies.

Brainport = Mainport

For this reason, the government explicitly named the Brainport region as the Mainport of the Netherlands in the coalition agreement. This means that The Hague is working intensively with the region to support plans and ambitions and to allow them to grow and prosper. This happens, for example, in the recurring Brainport board meetings, such as the one held in mid-March.

In the past, The Hague already provided nearly 1.6 billion euros to improve infrastructure in the Brainport region. This included better rail connections, an improved station, bicycle highways and new public transport lanes, but also more housing and better facilities.

Money for talent

The next hurdle to be jumped to enable the growth of the Brainport region is the ‘Brainport talent proposition’. Within this, educational institutions, companies, the municipality and Brainport Development outline what is needed to provide the region with enough talent to fill the explosive growth in the number of jobs.

TU/e has indicated its willingness to grow to a doubling of its master’s graduation rate and has requested 280 million euros from the government to do so. The intention is to hire more staff to educate and supervise students and to expand the campus with buildings for education and research.

Europe versus The Hague

“From Europe, the interest and recognition for the Brainport region is huge,” says Smits. “But The Hague still lags behind a bit. We are fast becoming the engine of the Dutch economy. Enormous opportunities for the future and for the earning capacity of the Netherlands can be found here. In addition, the Brainport agenda fits in seamlessly with the European agenda expressed in the Chips Act,” says Smits.

Business community plugging the gaps

Smits is grateful that the business community is meanwhile investing in innovation, education and research in our region, thereby fulfilling its commitment. “For example, ASML is going to build a cleanroom on our campus. This will be a cleanroom with state-of-the-art research facilities that our researchers and students can also use and in which they can collaborate with ASML’s top talent. This will give TU/e a boost in attracting students and researchers.”

Students in the MetaForum Market hall. Photo: Bart van Overbeeke
Students in the MetaForum Market hall. Photo: Bart van Overbeeke

In the meantime: organic growth

“When it comes to growth, we are not simply sitting still while waiting on The Hague,” Smits says. The plan is to grow to about 15,000 students by 2027. “This topic was recently on the agenda of the Strategy Days (on April 17 and 18, ed.), where we talked with deans and directors about the fulfilment of our organic growth.”

One thing is certain: for the time being, with no money promised by The Hague to hire more people, establish new buildings and modernize labs, everything must be done within existing budgets. "And this is going to be quite a challenge.”

What are other universities doing?

The Netherlands now has some 340,000 students and some 40,000 more are needed heading towards 2030. In light of Minister Dijkgraaf’s future study, Smits has inquired of his fellow presidents of Dutch universities on their future plans.

“Most say that they want to shrink rather than grow because the big cities are exploding. They are already too full,” says Smits.

He emphasizes it again: “In the city of Eindhoven and the surrounding metropolitan region, we have room and opportunities to grow. It is still possible here so that we can continue to provide the Brainport region with much-needed technically trained talent in the near future.”

Brigit Span
(Corporate Storyteller)

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