“Our social model is under pressure, polarisation is increasing,” says VUB rector Caroline Pauwels. “And the more polarisation, the more simplistic the solutions that are put forward and the more difficult it becomes to add nuance to the debate. That is precisely why we have taken this step of cooperation. Bringing nuance is exactly what universities should do and what they were founded for. Only by identifying the methods and approaches that work, based on the evidence, and by translating them into policy and administrative practice, can the necessary steps forward be taken.”
To this end, VUB and UAntwerpen join forces via their existing large research consortia specialised in urban problems: the Brussels Centre for Urban Studies* and the Antwerp Urban Studies Institute**. Together, these include 40 research groups whose work can potentially be made accessible via the platform. UAntwerpen rector Herman Van Goethem explains: “As metropolitan universities, VUB and UAntwerpen already carry out a great deal of research into diversity, urbanism and citizenship, but this still too often remains trapped within the various research disciplines or is insufficiently translated into daily practice. The knowledge platform is necessary to bring academia and the field together even more, to enter into dialogue and to learn from each other.”
The knowledge platform comes at a time when diversity, urbanism and citizenship have the highest social and political priority. Bart Somers, Flanders’ minister for internal administration, administrative affairs, civic integration and equal opportunities, is supporting the initiative with a start-up subsidy of €235,000. “The joining of forces of the two metropolitan Flemish universities is of crucial importance in order to deepen and increase knowledge of diversity, urbanism and citizenship,” Somers says. “Mechelen also has a tradition of research into social themes. The new knowledge centre is a perfect addition to the existing centre on the Holocaust and human rights, which is housed in the Dossin Museum.”
It is no coincidence that Mechelen was chosen as the location for the collaboration. It lies between the two urban metropolises of Antwerp and Brussels and, as a smaller central city, has been working dynamically on the above themes in recent years. Acting mayor Alexander Vandersmissen welcomes the arrival of the platform: “Mechelen is an ideal location because of its function as a testing ground for urban renewal. The city will also be a partner and will make a prestigious location in the side wing of the town hall available to this very valuable initiative.”
The platform’s first activities include bringing together knowledge about buddy networks for the integration of newcomers, guidelines and experiences of diversity for professional groups such as police and nursing staff, and online radicalisation and deradicalisation. Subsequently, education and training activities will also be set up, in collaboration with a wide range Aof partners.
Professor Pieter Ballon, director of imec-SMIT, VUB
Pieter.firstname.lastname@example.org - 0473 53 85 27
* Brussels Centre for Urban Studies (BCUS) brings together more than 20 VUB research groups working on a range of urban issues. Relevant research groups include the Cosmopolis Centre for Urban Research, the Centre for Studies on Media, Innovation and Technology (SMIT), Research Centre Gender, Diversity & Intersectionality (RHEA), Historical Research into Urban Transformation Processes (HOST), Interface Demography (ID) and Brussels Interdisciplinary Research Centre for Migration & Minorities (BIRMM).
** Antwerp Urban Studies Institute is a laboratory for developing interdisciplinary research and education on cities, urban development and challenges that brings together urban researchers from all faculties and scientific fields at UAntwerp. Relevant research groups include the Centre for Research on Environmental and Social Change (CRESC), Centre for Migration and Intercultural Studies (CEMIS), Centre fo City History, Pieter Gillis Centre and Edubron.