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Rector Magnificus Karen Maex is leaving on 15 July. Having worked at the UvA for almost ten years, first as dean of the Faculty of Science and then as rector, Karen is returning to Leuven where her family still lives. How does she feel about her time in Amsterdam, what were the highs and the lows and what legacy will she leave behind at the UvA?

Female professors

'It takes a long time to become a professor but if you are to encourage and attract women to do so you have to scout, coach and offer them opportunities early on in their careers. You need to start by encouraging PhD students and postdocs to continue in academia. Here at the UvA, we’ve been doing this for a few years but it’s not easy. This is an important issue in appointments committees too, even if they are mixed. It’s a lengthy process in which we constantly have to encourage women to aim for higher academic positions.'

Internationalisation

'I’m a strong advocate of the international classroom, where students from all over the world, including the Netherlands, learn together and share their views of the world. It’s hugely valuable for our education and research. In recent years, the number of international students coming to Amsterdam has exploded. In 2018, I was the first one to point out, in my Dies speech, that the UvA must recognise and set limits on the growth of internationalisation due to the demands that it places on lecturers and concerns about the quality of education. I asked the minister for tools to control the influx. Unfortunately, so far, there has been no government policy to regulate this.'

Confidence in science

'Scientists are increasingly facing threats, intimidation and animosity after appearing in the media or making other public appearances. This is very worrying! As universities, we encourage our scientists to use their knowledge and insights for the benefit of society and to take part in the public debate based on their scientific expertise. But if this leads to intimidation and threats, it’s a direct attack on academic freedom. It has a major impact on the scientists who are subject to it and can make them reluctant to continue taking part in the debate. This is unacceptable. We fully support our colleagues in this and I urge them to report any such incidences - we will always provide support.'

Coronavirus pandemic

'What really concerned me was that the government hardly gave a thought to young people and, when it did, it came too late in the day. Clearly, this was an unbelievably difficult time for everyone but for students it was particularly tough and this wasn’t recognised until it was too late. It took a huge toll on their mental health, sitting on their own in their rooms, learning online, with no opportunities to go out or to develop themselves. We have put in place all kinds of initiatives to support students but I still wonder if it is enough.'

Leuven

'Before I came to Amsterdam, I was vice-rector at the University of Leuven. My family still lives there and, at the weekends, I commuted between Belgium and the Netherlands. But combining my duties as rector with my family who were so far away wasn’t easy. So it’s time for me to go back home and embark on new activities there. I’m not sure yet what these will be.'

University of Amsterdam 

'‘Never a dull moment'. I’ve had a fantastic time here, and I’m really proud of the UvA too, it’s a great university. The UvA’s activities are under scrutiny both internally and externally, which produces a good deal of dynamism, which is a good thing. I have enthusiastically embraced both my role as dean of the Faculty of Science and my role as rector. The breadth of the UvA is inspiring. I feel honoured to have been able to play my part in this and to have had the opportunity to work with so many exceptional, talented students and colleagues. I will miss you all.'