Sorry! De informatie die je zoekt, is enkel beschikbaar in het Engels.
This programme is saved in My Study Choice.
Something went wrong with processing the request.
Something went wrong with processing the request.

Vision on the Faculty: Pieter van Beukering

24 August 2023
Pieter van Beukering will be the new vice-dean and education portfolio holder of the Faculty of Science. He talks about his view of the faculty and the remarkable start of his academic career.

Pieter van Beukering took his first steps in academia as an intern at the Institute for Environmental Issues (IVM). He would eventually rise to director there. In the meantime, the former economics student became professor of Environmental Economics, and is now preparing for the position of vice-dean and portfolio holder for education at the Faculty of Science.

Alternative conscription
Anyone reading this would think that there was a sophisticated plan ready that led step by step to a career in academia. But Van Beukering had no plan when he first knocked on the IVM's door. "I came to VU in 1993 when I was looking for a place for alternative military service. I had conscientious objections to military service and so I had to find a place where I could contribute to social good in a non-profit organisation."

It was no coincidence that Van Beukering chose the IVM: "I have always consciously chosen a sustainability-related field. In my student days, I travelled a lot and saw how the environment and nature were deteriorating worldwide. At that time, too, there was deforestation and pollution. I lived in India for six months where I wrote a thesis on Bangalore's growing waste mountain, and during a long expedition in South Sulawesi (Indonesia) saw how mangrove forests were rapidly being replaced by shrimp farms."

Kid in a sweet shop
At the IVM, he was immediately in the right place. And the love was mutual. "There were already some older employees walking around, who had less appetite for travelling. I, on the other hand, loved being on the road. 'Just send me to Asia or America, and I'll find out for you'. Sustainability is a subject in which I can put my heart and soul, and which also has great social relevance. That is why the IVM was the ideal place for me. I was like a kid in a sweet shop there - there were so many great projects. And, well, one thing led to another and before you know it, 30 years have passed."

Dies Natalis
Without thinking about it, the IVM was the starting point of Van Beukering's academic career: "Gradually, I ended up more and more in management and found that I was doing well. Eventually I became director and in that role I also started to get to know the VU and the faculty. So in 2017, I was asked if I wanted to provide the Dies Natalis on our strategy on sustainability as a university. Nowadays we have high ambitions with sustainability, but five years ago there was really no plan. So there was a lot of work to do."

"Together with some concerned colleagues, I designed a sustainability strategy and presented it during the Dies Natalis. Then I noticed how you can also have an impact at a higher organisational level and that gave me a lot of energy."

Operating on a broad scale
Designing a university sustainability strategy offered Van Beukering an insight into the broader palette of VU: "That was actually the first time I really operated at university level . I found that I also found that a challenging role. Yes, that is perhaps also one of the reasons why I went for this new position. You work at a broader scale level."

Sustainability obviously also plays a role in his new position. But Van Beukering is well aware that there will be many different tasks on his plate as portfolio holder for education and vice-dean. "The Beta Faculty has enormously fast-growing programmes for which our lecture halls are not at all equipped. And we are also still searching for the optimal balance between digital and live teaching. These are all very pressing issues that you have to deal with as an education portfolio holder. In that sense, it is also a matter of keeping the tent afloat, making sure you get that funding right and making sure you look after lecturers and students and their wishes."

Student welfare
Student welfare is an important issue for Van Beukering. As programme director at the Environment and Resource Management master's, he has experienced what that means, and how to provide guidance from within the programme. "We cannot take away all stress, but we can look at what has proven to help. For example, we have learned that clear deadlines in theses create overview and give peace of mind to students and teachers."

"You might think that tight deadlines lead to more stress, but the opposite is true. With clear rules, both students and teachers know exactly where they stand. Earlier, we were lenient in postponing deadlines under the guise of academic freedom, but it became one big chaos as a result. Thanks to a clear graduation plan, the success rate at Environment and Resource Management has increased dramatically."

Keeping the place running will require plenty of time and attention from Van Beukering. But he also has his own highlights. Sustainability is of course one of them. Fortunately, this is now also a priority for VU. "The Executive Board has stated that every student leaving VU must have done something with sustainability. That is not yet the case. I find it exciting to think about how we can motivate programmes and lecturers to fulfil this ambition."

Another issue he is committed to is less prominent at VU: 'employability'. "Employability scores consistently low on the National Student Survey. At Environment and Resource Management, we asked at the beginning of the year: what ambition do you have, why did you choose this programme, and where do you want to be in a year's time? Then we did all kinds of exercises that let students get to know themselves better, but also very pragmatic assignments, such as how to set up your Linkedin page. That can be done at any course, regardless of the content."

"Employability means that students enter the job market well prepared and motivated. You can assume that if you amass enough knowledge, you will be ready for the job market, but of course it doesn't work like that. You also need to master essential soft skills, be able to reflect critically on social issues, and know how to sell yourself. And, most importantly, you need to discover what you yourself want: what makes your heart beat faster. If you know that, then you are already halfway there."