Nienke Meijer - Foto © Rien Meulman
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The idea is as logical as it is ingenious: divide all the knowledge you have in your home into parts that meet the specific needs of the regional business community, turn it into manageable public lectures and then offer them online free of charge. In this way, Fontys Hogescholen wants to make a strong and structural contribution to the need for ‘lifelong learning’ in Brainport Eindhoven.

Nienke Meijer, chair of the board at Fontys, simply sees it as her duty to do with this for the local community. “Whatever is made thanks to public money – and that’s just about everything we do – has to go back to the public.” The plan goes further than putting lectures online: Meijer directly combines the internal opportunities with the agreements made in recent deals such as TEC for Society (Technology, Entrepreneurship, and Creativity), Lifelong Learning and – most recently – the Brainport Talent & Skills Agreement.

The latter, signed by more than 220 regional hotshots from education, business and government, is intended to give a boost to the realisation of Meijer’s ambition. “Especially because it has been signed by the people themselves instead of the organisations they work for, it provides an individual commitment with which we can continue. This really allows us to make the leap from talking to doing.”

And that is desperately needed, Meijer knows. In a region where current knowledge is more important than ever (and than anywhere else), the need for good education is obviously high. But that does not mean that the connection between the employed or the jobseekers and the local educational institutions has been made directly. “We spent quite a long time searching for the ideal interpretation of that match”, says Meijer. “But with the Brainport Talent & Skills Agreement, we seem to have found it now. If only because of those 220 signatories – there are, incidentally, more every week – who can use this directly in their performance interviews with their employees.”

In addition, Meijer expects companies to make agreements with their customers and suppliers that fit in with this: “Anyone who wants to be awarded a contract must show how implementation contributes to the principles of lifelong learning. Compare it to the criteria that already apply to sustainability: those who do not work sustainably can forget about doing business, especially if the government is your client. In the same way, every application for subsidies for innovations should be assessed on the extent to which this innovation also contributes to the development of employees.”

Nienke Meijer keeps talking about system interventions, to indicate that a change is really needed. She tells the story in all places where she has responsibilities or where she gets a stage. In the Social Economic Council, for example, or at Deloitte, where Meijer is a member of the Supervisory Board. And certainly also in her role as board member for Brainport. And on top of that, there is always the link with her own educational organisation. “All our directors are now in the process of integrating TEC for Society into their curriculums. And although this is really not just about technology, this will certainly help improve the technical skills of our students. To go even further, two new master’s programmes will be set up, specifically aimed at deepening and updating technology knowledge for people already active in this industry. “This is one of the reasons why we are going to double the number of technical graduates.”

The gateway to this is the “Public Academy”, a site that is now being set up with free online lectures on five main themes (Health, High Tech Systems & Materials, Learning Society, Smart Society and Creative Economy) that will persuade regional employees to ask their bosses to deepen their knowledge – which of course can be done at Fontys. “For example, with one of those new master’s programmes. The Brainport Talent & Skills Agreement brings everything together, which is why I am so pleased with it. This is typical of Brainport, but also exactly what our region needs at the moment.”

Photo (c) Rien Meulman