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Working with state-of-the-art companies is daily business for Avans University of Applied Sciences students. The college rents a space on Brainport Industries Campus (BIC) where students of two minors – a six-month program complementary to their chosen degree program – take classes. Whoever steps into the space feels the energy of it. The two head teachers, Doede Okkema and Martèn Driesser, talk incessantly. Around them are homemade drones and other student-crafted devices. A mini-factory has even been built in the classroom for students to run simulation software. The end product of the Avans factory? Old-fashioned go-karts.

Why this is important

Developments in automation and robotization are rapid. Education must be well connected to business so that young people develop the right skills.

Lesson from practice

One of Avans’ minors is called Factory of the Future—the name hits the nail on the head—and is about optimizing factories. The other minor is entirely focused on Data Science. “We work closely with resident BIC companies. They hold several projects and workshops to teach the students. As teachers, we are mainly mentors and support students with guidance when needed,” says Doede Okkema, professor of technical business administration at Avans University of Applied Sciences.

The fact that companies provide most of the teaching is quite unique. “Lecturers in higher education have often worked in business themselves, or they still do. But it is extra instructive for students when companies provide the workshops and projects with their own systems and real-world issues,” said Martèn Driesser, a mechanical engineering lecturer at Avans University of Applied Sciences. The minors focus on new and rapidly developing technologies, so according to the lecturers, the teaching material has to be well aligned with practice. “Otherwise, both students and companies have nothing to gain,” Okkema says.

Easy encounters

A location such as BIC allows students and companies to meet easily, according to the professors. Okkema: “In the minor Factory of the Future, students work in small, multidisciplinary teams on an assignment at one of the companies on campus. Their task is to find an answer to a help request from the company. Each group works on a different request. For example, one company wants to digitize to be able to say goodbye to paper administration, while another company is already steps ahead and is looking at using drones or robots.”

The minor brings together students from different programs – mechanical engineering, technical business administration, mechatronics, computer science, and electrical engineering. “By having these students work together on an assignment, they develop new ideas. They look at the bigger picture and come up with solutions they wouldn’t have thought of on their own,” he continued. Each week, the students meet with the company to discuss progress.

Talent spotting

There are several advantages to this form of education for students, but it can also be interesting for companies. Okkema: “Companies often think cooperation with education consists of an internship and a student’s graduation project. However, there are many more possibilities, such as other long-term or short-term projects or workshops. This is a great way to get to know students and make contacts with possible future employees.” In addition, the products students develop during the minor really benefit the companies. Driesser: “One group developed an app to see how long tools are still usable. This prevents tools from breaking down unexpectedly and shutting down part of the factory. This ended up being implemented at KMWE, the company involved.”

In the Data Science minor, students also develop practical products for companies. “Many companies have different machines that generate data, but they often don’t use it. By making the data transparent in a dashboard, companies can make better, data-driven decisions. A next step is to use machine learning to make predictions or automate decisions,” Okkema explains.

Personal development

Driesser is pleased that the minor brings students and companies together.”Many students at the beginning of their studies have the idea of working at big players like ASML. During the minor, some students find out that a smaller company – with more personal contact and participation – suits them better. It’s incredibly important that students can also have this kind of experience during their education.”


This story is the result of a collaboration between BIC and our editorial team. Innovation Origins is an independent journalism platform that carefully chooses its partners and only cooperates with companies and institutions that share our mission: spreading the story of innovation. This way we can offer our readers valuable stories that are created according to journalistic guidelines. Want to know more about how Innovation Origins works with other companies? Click here