"Universities should focus more on community building"
University of Louvain chairman Herman Daems has added community building as the fourth tenet to the university’s key pillars of education, research and service delivery. Daems believes community building could even be the most crucial tenet as it facilitates the exchange of information and experience between groups of people around different subjects. Groups form spontaneously and with little direction from above or outside.
Thirty years ago Flemish universities were insular and individualistic, but these days community building is encouraged. Daems differentiates three types of communities: deepening, broadening and extra muros outside the university walls.
The deepening type consists of groups of scientists and subject specialists whose exchange of insights extends their acquired knowledge to use in applications or to start something new. New breakthroughs often result in new communities. Groups are formed from different disciplines, universities and research centres.
Broadening communities link people at the university with those on the outside. Formally, in the shape of alumni associations or informally in the shape of business and university linkages. A perfect example is Leuven Inc., which links technology companies with the University of Louvain, giving birth to entrepreneurship.
Daems further established the existence of communities outside the university, with businesses, organizations and people from a wide range of knowledge, science and creative backgrounds establishing themselves in the areas around Louvain and Ghent because they would like to be in close proximity to university life. Daems finds it quite fascinating that the need for physical closeness and university agglomerates continues to increase despite the fast-growing virtual world of today.
Universities are probably the biggest human mobilisers in the world, with inter-university exchange programmes for students, researchers and professors serving as only one example in addition to international congresses, study and educational days. Bringing people together leads to relationship networks which could increase the effect on the creation and spreading of ideas and initiatives as well as stimulate growth and development.
The myriad of positive effects of communities further includes the acceleration of knowledge spread, the promotion of peer group quality and internationalization through exhanges and congresses, amongst others. The role of universities as growth engine of the modern economy could serve as the fifth tenet if one considers how these places of teaching provide the breeding ground for tomorrow’s businesses. This fact is quite obvious in Louvain and Ghent as both regions have experienced spectacular growth in the past few years because of their universities, and form the core of the Flemish economy, Daems concludes.