article> Rector condemns indifference and doom-mongering surrounding the climate crisis

Sels focuses on sustainability during opening academic year

Sels announced that the educational master will be reviewed, spoke out against doom-mongering, and took the time to remember Sanda Dia and Caroline Pauwels.

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The Voice is the student newspaper run by internationals at KU Leuven. Between 2018 and 2022, The Voice published articles on the Veto website under the The Voice section, combined with translations of Dutch Veto articles. After 2022, the section was renamed to Veto English. Since then, the section has been operated by Veto English staff only.

A culture of sustainability is the main ambition for the academic year starting in full energy crisis. The rector condemned indifference around global warming, but also warned against discouragement and a polarised debate. In his characteristic style, Sels emphasised nuance and facts, with the slides featuring not only images but also graphs.

The many solar panels, company bikes, renovations of buildings and courses on sustainability show the university’s current level of engagement. The policy plan presented in June outlined even higher ambitions. For example, the university aims to reduce CO2 emissions from its buildings across all campuses by 30% by 2027 compared to 2017, or 50% lower than in 2006. Sels also called for a round of applause for the technical services that have made the current achievements possible.

Still, the rector indicated that we will not get there at the current pace. He is counting on innovation to achieve these goals effectively. The rector, however, relies more on education than on research. Sels opens the door to a sustainability course in all degrees, but says he will not mandate anything.

The crematorium next to the KULAK

New buildings will be heated fossil-free, the rector promises. However, making the current patrimony sustainable is still a work in progress. To clarify his point about innovation, the rector adds an anecdote about campus KULAK. There, the buildings will be connected to the heat grid of a nearby crematorium with large amounts of residual heat. ‘Alumni can pay their Alma Mater a final tribute’, he says with a quip.

Three big advancements Sels still wants to see are the rapprochement between technological potential and human and social sciences, an encouragement of lifelong learning, and the rapprochement of research and policy. Concerning the latter, he adds that consensus should be sought, but differences of opinion are inherent to science.

‘The education of the future will become a search for the balance between the familiar and the innovative’

BIRTHE VAN DEN BERGH, REPRESENTATIVE AP

Sels advocates that public debate should always be based on facts. To this end, he refers to nuclear energy. ‘The place of nuclear energy in the energy mix can be debated, but that nuclear energy is more climate-friendly than some other forms of energy is beyond dispute’.

Reimagining the educational master

Sels also paid attention to the joint bachelor European Studies starting this year, a programme brought to life by the UNA Europa project. Here, the focus on sustainability translates into a new joint bachelor’s degree in sustainability that is being worked on.

In light of the teacher shortage, the rector calls for the strengthening of primary and secondary education through the creation of a School of Education. Moreover, the educational master programmes need to be tinkered with to make them more tailored to transfer students. ‘We will do that without compromising on quality’, he adds firmly. Last year, there was some commotion about the educational masters since the dropout rate was high.

Assistants and PhD students denounce insecurity

Birte van den Bergh had the honour of representing the voice of the Academic Staff (AP) with her speech. A not-so-easy task. Indeed, she herself admits that it is not always easy to get everyone within the AP on the same page. ‘We need to embrace this diversity of opinions and to emphasize that we are all in this together’, she strongly asserts.

In her speech, van den Bergh focuses on the challenges the future will bring to the university. The first major point she makes is the discrepancy between the growing multiculturalism of the staff on the one hand, and the lack of internationals in policy at the university on the other hand. In a next point, she explores what the AP believes the education of the future should look like. ‘It will become a search for the balance between the familiar and the innovative’, van den Bergh says.

‘The next year is crucial to regain the trust of staff at KU Leuven’

Toon Boon, representative ATP

The key point of her speech, however, is the high insecurity among staff. For instance, she points out that many colleagues work for years on end under temporary contracts. She also takes issue with the unbalanced power relations and high publication pressure. She concludes by pointing out the effects on mental health. ‘Mental health must remain a point of interest in the future’, she adds.

Administrative and Technical Staff wants action, not words

Toon Boon, representative of the Administrative and Technical Staff (ATP), fervently questioned whether the ATP are finally considered fully-fledged employees of the university. ‘There is an increasing recognition of our competences, but our representatives are still not fully-fledged members of board meetings’, he argues. Boon explains that staff needs action, not words. The distinction between the two is reportedly more often a problem at KU Leuven.

Dealing with inappropriate behaviour is also still a problem area, according to Boon. ‘The next year is crucial to regain the trust of the staff at KU Leuven’, Boon said. The rector himself remained remarkably quiet about inappropriate behaviour, even though that topic provoked an open letter last year.

Students ask for lesson recordings

Toon Robberecht, this year’s chairman of the Student Council, insists in his speech on the maximum use of lesson recordings if possible. He calls for recordings to be used as an inclusive medium. When he repeats it a second time to confirm its importance to Stura, it is met with chuckles from the togati.

‘Having a student job alongside full-time study is becoming a must for many students’

Toon Robberecht, chairman of the Student Council

The precarious financial situation of many students also receives attention. ‘Having a student job alongside full-time study is becoming a must for many students’, says Robberecht, ‘so we should be mindful of diversity in financial capacity.’ Other aspects of diversity are also raised: ‘Our community is far from being a mirror of society.’

Finally, Robberecht argues for fully-fledged teaching and research on the other campuses. He hints that the same high-quality services are not currently offered there and he warns that they should not be considered as the satellite towns of Leuven. Sels previously mentioned that enrolment numbers on the campuses have increased this year.

The world of yesterday

In his welcome speech, Sels used Stefan Zweig’s book The World of Yesterday to argue for ‘unity in polyphony’. At the same time, the book constitutes a warning against indifference. The rector asks to believe in science, but to stay away from doom-mongering and polarisation.

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