VUB Honorary Rector Paul De Knop passes away

VUB Honorary Rector Paul De Knop passes away

12 November 1954 – 4 August 2022

The Vrije Universiteit Brussel announces with great sadness the death of Honorary Rector Paul De Knop at the age of 67. Professor Paul De Knop was rector of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, to which the UZ Brussel is also affiliated, from 2008 to 2016. 

Karsten De Clerck, chairman of the Board of Governors: “We have lost not only an icon of VUB, who lifted the university tremendously on a managerial, financial and academic level. We are also losing a strong personality with a big, warm heart. VUB owes a lot to Paul. His quick thinking, his dynamism, his versatility. Always committed to VUB, even after his rectorate and during his illness. We will miss him greatly.” 

Jan Danckaert, rector ad-interim: “We are going to miss Paul greatly. His drive, his work ethic and optimism, his passion for VUB. He was committed until the very end. He laid the foundation for the future of VUB and its further growth. His passing saddens me and the VUB community immensely.”

The entire VUB community wishes the family much courage in these difficult times.


Paul De Knop was diagnosed with two malignant diseases shortly after his tenure as rector ended: leukaemia and metastatic melanoma. At the UZ Brussel, he was treated by Professor Rik Schots, and by Professor Bart Neyns and his research team, who specialise in immunotherapy, among other things. He founded the VUB-UZB Paul De Knop Fund for immunotherapy during his treatment, saying “I offered to help my consulting physician raise funds, not for myself, but for others.” 

Paul De Knop died from the effects of this illness. He leaves behind a wife, four children and six grandchildren. 

Rectorship Vrije Universiteit Brussel

On 9 May 2008, Paul De Knop was elected rector of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, succeeding Professor Benjamin Van Camp. Paul worked resolutely to protect VUB’s independence, reforming and professionalising the university at all levels, with an ambitious General Strategic Plan for each of his two mandates.

During his eight years as rector, he realised many projects, such as a new organisational statute, a new fundraising unit, a new allocation model, a new vice-rectorate of Innovation and Valorisation, and an ambitious investment programme that led to the largest expansion of the campus since the 1970s. Among other things, new student houses, the new Pilar culture house and a new swimming pool were built.

As rector, Paul De Knop was an advocate of a broader internationalisation of the university and of a rapprochement between the sister universities ULB and VUB. The Brussels University Alliance (BUA) was created under his rectorship, with the aim of combining forces in the areas of education, research, infrastructure and logistics. One of the results is the joint project, which will transform the abandoned gendarmerie barracks on Generaal Jacqueslaan into an international university district.

Another BUA project is the construction of the Learning & Innovation Center that, thanks to its location on the border between the campuses of ULB and VUB in Etterbeek, will literally bridge the gap between the two universities. These two building projects are in full swing and will be completed in the coming years. Paul De Knop was also chair of Green Energy Park vzw, the joint innovation campus of VUB and its university hospital UZ Brussel, where sustainability on a scientific and entrepreneurial level come together. The first stone will be laid here on 21 September.

In his position as rector, Paul De Knop was president of the Research Foundation – Flanders (FWO) from 2009 to 2010 and 2015 to 2016, and president of the Flemish Interuniversity Council (VLIR) from 2013 to 2015. In September 2016, he was succeeded as VUB rector by Professor Caroline Pauwels. He went on to oversee the progress of the many constructions the university had started under his impetus, as the holder of the contract for major infrastructure works. 

Honorary Rector

Because of his exceptional achievements during his rectorate and in recognition of his many years of dedication and passion, Paul De Knop received the title of Honorary Rector of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel on 16 June 2022.

Karsten De Clerck: “When Paul De Knop started as rector in 2008, many colleagues saw the future of the university as bleak. The expectation was that the university landscape would be thoroughly redrawn and that VUB would have to largely give up its independence. Paul De Knop resolutely opposed this from the outset. ‘Optimism is a moral duty’, he would say. He succeeded in making the VUB community proud of VUB again. Because of his ambitious building plans, the VUB community lovingly called him Paul the Builder. Paul was also an inspired bridge builder, with a cast-iron network. His commitment made a genuine difference. The VUB community can only be grateful for the mountains he moved – and climbed! – during and after his double mandate. Always with an eye on the future, for a better future for VUB, its staff and its ever-growing community.”

Education and academic career

Paul De Knop studied Physical Education and Leisure Studies at VUB and received his doctorate in Physical Education. In 2000 he became full professor at VUB, where he taught Sports Sociology and Sports Policy. From 2004 until September 2008 he was dean of the faculty of Physical Education and Physiotherapy. Until 2008 he was also a professor at Tilburg University.

In addition to numerous scientific publications, he held various social positions, such as chair of the Council of Community Education (2002-2006) and chair of the GO! education network of the Flemish Community (2007-2008). He also had a decisive influence on the realisation of Flanders’ Strategic Plan for Sport and was deputy chief of cabinet of Flemish Minister of Sport Bert Anciaux from 2004 to 2008.

Further achievements 

Paul De Knop initiated two fitness centres and a rugby and athletics centre on the VUB campuses in Jette and Etterbeek. He supervised the creation of the VUB spin-off DoublePass, which measures the quality of soccer clubs’ youth training and carries out assignments for the Premier League and the Bundesliga. 

A further achievement of his was the Top Sport and Study programme, which he initiated in 1988. The programme was adopted by all other universities and colleges and incorporated into Flanders’ top-level sports policy.

Paul was a sportsman himself through and through. Towards the end of his rectorate he delivered his own top-level performance by helping to plant the VUB flag on the summit of Mount Everest. In his spare time, he practised triathlon, swimming and cycling. He sometimes cycled in the company of politicians and administrators in order to realise his projects more quickly. Work and leisure were never really far apart; in both areas he “always raised the bar a little higher”, as he said himself. He was also always there when VUB participated in the 1,000 kilometres fundraising event for cancer charity Kom Op Tegen Kanker. 

Book of condolence

Those who would like to share memories, anecdotes and mementoes of Paul De Knop or to leave a word of comfort for his family and friends can do so in the book of condolence in the Braem Building on the Etterbeek campus and online.

Paul De Knop Fund

The VUB-UZB Paul De Knop Fund is intended to promote multidisciplinary scientific research at the faculties of Medicine and Pharmacy (under the supervision of Prof Dr Bart Neyns) and Science and Bio-engineering (under the supervision of Prof Dr Jo Van Ginderachter) of VUB, and at UZ Brussel. The money raised will be used to cover the needs of researchers, research groups or departments in the field of fundamental, clinical and translational research on immunotherapy.

Anyone wishing to support this immunotherapy research can do so by making a donation to the VUB-UZB Paul De Knop Fund: account number BE 51 001367793562 quoting GIFT FO2 Paul De Knop.

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Sicco Wittermans
Sicco Wittermans Spokesperson Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Sicco Wittermans
Sicco Wittermans Spokesperson Vrije Universiteit Brussel
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