Toespraak Alexander Rinnooy Kan, voorzitter SER, t.g.v .opening nieuwbouw voor de Duisenberg School of Finance en het Tinbergen Institute, 23 mei 2011, 16:30-17:15 uur, Symphony Gebouw, Amsterdam Zuidas.
Alleen het gesproken woord telt.
Ladies and gentlemen, Playing in the Champions League requires joined forces
Standing here today brings me back to 1987. To March 19th to be precise. On that date, Van Kemenade, Drenth and myself signed the cooperative agreement that marked the start of Tinbergen Institute. Three signatures representing three universities with the ambition to establish a new era in research in the Netherlands. An era in which we would become internationally prominent in research in economics and finance. Van Kemenade, Drenth and I, being rector magnifici, respectively from the University of Amsterdam, VU University and the Erasmus University, were thrilled with the cooperation then.
20 years later, in 2007, the three universities combined forces again – this time together with Tinbergen Institute and Tilburg University. This strong alliance brought to life: Duisenberg school of finance. Together with the Dutch government, the City of Amsterdam and the support of leading financial companies and institutions, Duisenberg school of finance was established with the ambition to offer and support innovative research and top quality academic education in core areas of finance.
Today, we are here to open the Duisenberg-Tinbergen household. And what a household that will be. A household of institutes named after memorable individuals. Wim Duisenberg; a successful economist and the ‘father of the Euro’. Jan Tinbergen; considered to be the founder of econometrics and the first winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics.
I am a firm believer in the Netherlands as a knowledge economy. I am a firm believer of innovation and education. And in order to excel in those areas, we need to play in the Champions League of education.
Our focus should not be on the national battle between the Dutch universities and research institutes or, if you will, between Ajax, PSV or FC Twente. Our focus should be on joining forces in order to face the international competition and to become part of the Champions League. Recently the SER stressed the importance in its Advisory Report regarding the Strategic Agenda for Higher Education, Research, and Science Policy.
The national playing field is an interesting one with good players. Our schools and universities have their own strengths but also their own weaknesses. Competing with each other within the Netherlands only will not strengthen our educational and research system. We have to go beyond the national ‘eredivisie’, our Premier League. Institutions in higher education should inspire and strengthen each other. We have to be part of the same club and select the best players in order to have a strong team at the international level.
Let us first take a deeper look at our national setting. In its recent advice, the SER pleads for more differentiation within higher education in the Netherlands. More differentiation will lead to better use and development of our talent. In order to respond to the job market and to the needs of companies, there have to be more opportunities to excel in higher education. Institutions should specialize and have to compete internationally on quality and reputation.
In saying this, I realise that a large group of students in our country might not have the knowledge, skills or the ambition to stand out. Not everybody is able to become a top-sporter and play in the Champions League. The majority of the Dutch students is good. Our current universities are equipped to serve that large group of good students. Their structures are based upon the idea that everybody should be able to get a decent education. Compared to the worldwide level of education, the Dutch schools perform well and the population is relatively highly educated. But what we miss, is a growing group of top students and facilities to provide those highly talented students with the best education as possible.
There is indeed a small group that has great potential. And that group should be challenged and should get the opportunity to elevate. We need to get the right students in the right place. As many talented students as possible must get access to excellent education to be able to grow and develop. The system as we know it now does not sufficiently meet this need for the most promising individuals. In general, it focuses especially on the mass, it offers not enough extra challenges for high potentials. In my opinion, more distinction in higher education can provide for the latter group. Duisenberg school of finance and Tinbergen Institute are examples of institutes that were established in order to complement the current universities and to offer top education at Masters and PhD level. Just like initiatives such as the University Colleges that offer honours programmes at bachelor level.
In addition to, or better, hand-in-hand with education, goes research. In order to be a true knowledge economy, research is of major importance. How do societies evolve? By innovating. How does innovation occur? By researching, by experimenting, by developing, by diving into new areas, but also by accident. Again, the majority of people is engaged in business as usual and has no itch to step outside the usual. But those people who want to go beyond the existing and who want to discover novelties, need to be supported and stimulated. A research atmosphere is a major condition to achieving this. An atmosphere where stepping outside existing models is encouraged. An atmosphere in which researchers from all over the globe come together to share thoughts and cultivate great ideas and initiatives.
Research can also function as food for the educational system. New thoughts and insights and models can be shared and discussed directly in the classroom. Students can contribute with their critical questions, their unspoiled views, their out-of-the-box suggestions and their mistakes. Students willing to go beyond yesterday's textbook could be part of new thinking and innovation. In addition, research can foster interaction between academics and the industry. Both, in their own independent position, can share and create knowledge together and build an open innovative community.
Naturally, I like to dive into reports and numbers. The first report that I would like to mention is a study by the OECD from February 2010. Higher education in regional and city development in Amsterdam was investigated. One of the conclusions in the Peer Review Report was that The Netherlands faces many of the same challenges as other European countries: a shift in focus from traditional physical capital and production factors to less tangible capital, where factors like formal education, lifelong learning, and public-private linkages are key to success. One of the biggest challenges is to ensure a sufficient supply of highly-skilled labour with competencies that match the needs of industry. Duisenberg school of finance is mentioned in this OECD report as a positive example of cooperation between education and industry, enabling innovation and development of Amsterdam as knowledge center.
The report also states that the research universities must continue to aim for focus and to build centres of excellence in their research activities. Individually, they are not strong enough to be world leaders in all fields; collectively, they can hope to make a significant impact in selected areas.
A second report that I would like to share with you is the Evaluation Report of the International Peer Review Committee from last November. It states that Tinbergen Institute has reached the level of being a truly world class institution, attracting the very top students and researchers in economics and finance from around the world. The research masters and graduate programmes are of the very highest quality. The research programmes form a creative and coherent base for the development of the very best research in the three institutions. They provide an effective mechanism for bringing together the top researchers.
These outcomes strengthen my thoughts on the relevance of insititutions that combine strenghts of different parties.
What do we need in order to enable our talents to excel? Again, we need distinction. We need centres of excellence. To reach that, we first need to realise that excellence and selection are not dirty words. Our schooling system in the Netherlands is great: there is opportunity for everybody. And we don’t have to be afraid to create elite schools in striving for excellence. We simply need to get our best players on the field in order to be part of the international game. Selection at the gate will be an essential instrument to match the right student to the right programme.
In providing the best for our talented students, we need excellent teachers. We need to match that group of ambitious talent to the set of high quality professors who enjoy getting into a critical discussion in a small-scale setting. A lot of studies have decent programmes. But talented ambitious students want intense programmes that demand the most of them. Therefore, teachers have to step it up.
Will all of these ideas fit in our current system? We have seen examples of successful initiatives on top of the current system, so yes. Universities should be able to differentiate. However, they should have resources to set up these or other similar honours programmes. In their current set-up and in their current budgets, there is hardly any room for distinction and excellence.
Yes, this will be costly. But worth it. The big question is how are we going to provide for that?
The current coalition government is cutting back on education and on subsidies for research projects. What remains of the ambition to create a leading knowledge economy? The ambition to be in the top 5 of knowledge economies? It takes investments to realise that ambition. If the government is not the one to pick up on this, who should?
Going back to our Champions League idea, I identified the two main sources of Champions League clubs are ticket sales and sponsors deals. Let’s elaborate.
Students are willing to pay more for better education, especially if this increases their career opportunities. Since the type of education that we aim for should foresee in a better connection between industry and can better respond ot the job market and to the needs of companies, graduates definitely have better career opportunities. So in that sense, ticket sales could go up.
But to secure the accessibility of both higher and top education, fees should not go through the roof. Financial difficulties cannot become a threshold for talent. Maybe we can look at who will eventually benefit. The industry is the largest customer of talent. Perhaps they are interested in partnerships, just like sponsor deals in the Champions League? Involve the industry both in thinking about the set up and content of these centers of excellence, and they could be seduced to give financial support.
Companies could also finance research to contribute to the knowledge economy and to indirectly improve education. Of course it is important for institutes to keep an independent research agenda, so that has to be clear. Partnering with top level research and educational institutes will no doubt be good PR for a company. Being affiliated with excellence can strenghten their reputation.
In case of Duisenberg school of finance, the industry already took responsibility: together with universities, they established the school in order to create the talent they desire to have in their future corporate teams. One of the reasons that my old company ING joint DSF. And in the case of Tinbergen Institute, the universities combined forces. I am a fan of Tinbergen Institute and Duisenberg school of finance. They are an example of public-private cooperation. Both institutes are equipped to in the Champions League of education.
As we are standing here today we are in the heart of the financial valley at the Zuidas, let us strive for more of these initiatives.