How One University is Globalizing

Pauline van der Meer Mohr, one of the most powerful women in the NetherlandsAs part of our interview series with the female heroes of the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) we spoke to the President of the Erasmus University Rotterdam Executive Board, and one of the most powerful women in the Netherlands, Pauline van der Meer Mohr.

In her role as President, she devises and implements the strategic planning and policies of the university through the board. During her first four-year term, which ended at the end of 2013, Van der Meer Mohr created international partnerships with other universities and a more culturally open academic environment for students and staff. As her first term proved successful, the EUR Supervisory Board recently invited her back for her second term that started in January 2014. 

Alongside her executive position at EUR, Van der Meer Mohr is a non-executive board member at Royal DSM N.V., the Netherlands-based life sciences and material sciences company, and ASML Holding N.V., a lithography systems company.

Van der Meer Mohr came to higher education administration after founding a human resources company, the Amstelbridge group. Prior to her entrepreneurial stint, she held increasingly executive positions in the legal, oil and gas and banking industries.

In 2008, Van der Meer Mohr earned a professional master’s degree in Dispute Resolution from the University of Amsterdam. Before entering the professional world, she studied European law at the European University Institute in Florence and English law at Cambridge University. Van der Meer Mohr holds a master’s degree in law from the Erasmus University Rotterdam.

Van der Meer Mohr talked with The Next Women about her role at Erasmus University Rotterdam.

TNW: As chairwoman, you champion research collaboration. What are the benefits and drawbacks of having academic and industrial partners collaborate on research?

PvdMM: In the old days, one single researcher could write his or her own proposal and submit it for funding. That doesn’t work anymore in the EU. You have to be more creative and link up with other partners, both scientific and industry partners.

The reason is that you’re supposed to think about the grand challenges that have been identified by the European Union, and the funding is tied to those grand challenges. They’re almost always interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary in their nature, so you have to link up with different researchers from different fields and within industry. The result of the kind of research that is sponsored is likely to be more on the innovation end of the spectrum of the research pipeline, and less toward the other end of the spectrum, which is more the fundamental research.

We need to make sure that there is enough funding available for fundamental, curiosity-driven research.

TNW: How has your leadership helped Erasmus University compete with other universities for research talent?

PvdMM: I need to be very modest because I’m not sure whether my leadership has moved the needle on that one. It’s typically the researchers themselves that play that role. If anything, because I have an HR background, I have brought a talent mindset to the university that wasn’t there before.

Though, people have an appreciation now of the value of talent and the need to compete for the best talent. That means both students and faculty.

TNW: What have been the highlights of your term as chairwoman in bringing change to the university?

PvdMM: If anything, it would be the opportunity to bring a more international perspective to the university. With my background in international business, I have learned to think on a global scale.

I saw that the university was on the brink of becoming a truly international university, but it was hesitating to take that final step. All the official documentation, all these official speeches, and the big annual events were all in Dutch. There was nothing in English, whereas some 20 to 25 percent of our students and staff are now international. They were basically excluded from anything that went on here at the university.

We made some changes here so that the university is now bilingual, and most of the curriculum is in both Dutch and English and, in some cases, English only.

Gradually, we’re making the change towards becoming a truly international university that is inclusive to all their staff and faculty.

TNW: Would you say that RSM is male-dominated? If so, how has this affected your role?

PvdMM: It is still relatively male-dominated.

In my tenure, I have appointed the first female dean of the Erasmus School of Law who is the first ever female dean at the university, so I’m very proud of that. We’ve filled out the pipeline of academics and researchers of both genders, but, certainly, the female gender has significantly improved over these last four years. But it’s not fast enough, so I’m not complacent about this at all.

I would agree with [Dianne Bevelander, Associate Dean of EUR’s MBA programs] that we still have a long way to go, especially in two of our schools: The Rotterdam School of Management, where she is a part of the management, and our school of economics. They are both lagging behind when it comes to gender diversity.

But our other schools are catching up quite nicely.

The second part of Ms. van der Meer Mohr's interview will be published next week.

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