€100 million investment in research into global issues around health, food, energy and sustainability

Eindhoven University of Technology, Wageningen University & Research, Utrecht University and University Medical Center Utrecht are intensifying cooperation and forming a new knowledge alliance. Over the next eight years, they plan to invest €100 million in joint research and education projects to solve global issues. The institutions are combining their complementary expertise to find solutions to issues involving health, food, energy and sustainability. The official launch of the new knowledge alliance will take place today, with Minister of Education Ingrid van Engelshoven in attendance.

Preventive Health and Circular Society
The motto of the cooperation is ‘Challenging future generations’. The challenges facing future generations are substantial, but so are the opportunities to meet them: these four institutions complement each other perfectly. The focus of the cooperation will be on the societal challenges involving health, energy, food and sustainability. One of the themes of the cooperation is Preventive Health. By means of artificial intelligence and basic research (e.g. with organoids), better early detection methods will be developed and it will become possible to prescribe medication that is adapted to each individual patient. This, combined with a healthier lifestyle, will allow people to live longer, healthier lives and reduce the burden on the health care system. Together, TU/e, WUR, UU and UMC Utrecht have the required data, technology, knowledge and facilities.

A second theme of the cooperation is Circular Society. The transition to a sustainable society is one of the European Commission’s top priorities. Its aim is to achieve a 50% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030. The partners have been cooperating in the field of solar fuels and the modelling of climate change for some time now. Within this new initiative, new methods will be developed to reduce the impact on the environment and limit the harmful effects of climate change and pollution on health.

Interdisciplinary cooperation
In keeping with the motto of the knowledge alliance, young, prominent researchers have been asked to take the initiative. To this end, the representatives of the four ‘Young Academies’ of the institutions have joined forces. They advocate thinking outside the box and encourage the institutions to take risks. This has already led to ‘unusual collaborations’: unexpected cooperation far beyond the boundaries of the fields of study, based on the curiosity of the researchers and that can lead to equally unexpected results.

Wide range of options for students and new teaching methods
The institutions will make it possible to conduct research or take courses at a partner institution without financial or administrative barriers. Employees will be able to use each other’s labs and research equipment, and there will be more double appointments. For students, taking courses at a partner institution will be convenient and easy. From May 2021, students will be able to enrol through a newly developed platform. The knowledge alliance will also focus on new teaching methods, such as interdisciplinary project groups in which students from different institutions work on specific issues (the ‘challenge-based learning’ framework concept). As an example, they will advise the Ministry of Defence on a new concept for food supply lines to military personnel during missions and operations.

€100 million investment
The minimum budget that the four institutions have in mind for the next eight years is €100 million. Together, they are investing €50 million, and counting on doubling those resources by cooperating with external partners in the business sector and society and attracting external funds.

Building on experience
In the past, the four institutions already worked together in many areas of research. This led, among other things, to the successful joint Master’s programmes in regenerative medicine and medical imaging. In addition, a series of joint research projects are under way, including in the field of regenerative medicine (e.g. towards a gel for cardiac recovery), the Netherlands Center for One Health, the digital food printing initiative and energy storage in porous materials. This new knowledge alliance builds on these successes.

About the partners
The four knowledge organisations connect knowledge that creates impact in the field of life sciences, artificial intelligence for health, education and health. TU/e excels in the realm of high tech, artificial intelligence and cooperation with industry. WUR is a world leader in life sciences, agri-food, nature and sustainability. Utrecht University is a broad university with a stellar reputation for interdisciplinary research in areas including sustainability and educational innovation, including the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, which is the only one of its kind in the Netherlands. UMC Utrecht is a leading academic medical centre where high-calibre, basic and translational clinical research is both conducted and applied.

Robert-Jan Smits, President of the Executive Board, Eindhoven University of Technology
‘As academic institutions, we have a joint responsibility to find solutions to the major societal challenges facing the Netherlands and Europe – now more than ever. This is a terrific, quality-driven alliance and highly complementary, which means that we have outstanding odds of contributing solutions and making a real impact. My expectations are very high.’

Arthur Mol, Rector Magnificus Wageningen University and Vice-President of the Executive Board of Wageningen University & Research
‘Wageningen is a global player when it comes to knowledge in healthy food and the living environment. There is still so much to be gained from research involving cooperation between our scientists and colleagues from other disciplines and universities. That is what we are doing in this knowledge alliance. We are bringing together young researchers from four leading institutions and making it easier for students to take courses outside their university. This is how you achieve groundbreaking research results and more educational flexibility.’

Henk Kummeling, Rector Magnificus, Utrecht University
‘The amount of talent and complementary expertise that we collectively possess is unique, and that within a 50-kilometre radius in the heart of the Netherlands. We want to connect this more effectively to create an amazing ecosystem for innovative education with even more opportunities for students and for groundbreaking research on important social themes. That is what society wants from us, and that is what we want to offer, with administrative commitment and room for young talent.’

Arno Hoes, Dean and Vice-Chair of the Executive Board, UMC Utrecht
‘Together, we have something special. This combination of knowledge, expertise and disciplines has never been brought together before. We can make a difference to people’s lives. Using our interdisciplinary approach, we are both willing and able to solve major social problems.’

Ingrid van Engelshoven, Minister of Education
‘It is great that these four institutions are going to work so closely together. Unexpected cooperation across disciplines and institutions is bound to produce unexpected results. It is wonderful to see that universities are truly making the shift from competition to cooperation.’