Professor Karen Maex elected as Chair of LERU


Professor Karen Maex, Rector Magnificus of the University of Amsterdam, has been elected Chair of the League of European Research Universities (LERU). Her appointment was confirmed at the organisation's spring Assembly, hosted virtually by Sorbonne University on 21-22 May. She takes over the reins from Professor Jean Chambaz, outgoing President of Sorbonne University.

“I’m delighted to be taking on this role at this challenging time for Europe’s universities,” Professor Maex said. “As we emerge from the pandemic and further re-open our campuses, we are committed to doing all we can to help set Europe on the road to recovery.”

In addition to a long and distinguished career as a lecturer and a researcher in the nanosciences, Professor Maex was Vice-Rector at KU Leuven from 2005 to 2013, overseeing the university's Science and Technology Group. She moved to Amsterdam in 2014, becoming Dean of the university's Faculty of Science, before becoming Rector Magnificus in 2016. She has been a member of LERU's Board of Directors since 2018.

Looking forward, Professor Maex emphasised the contribution of the LERU universities to addressing grand challenges such as climate change, sustainability and poverty. “Finding solutions for wicked problems in society can only be based on high-quality research, education and innovation,” she said. “In a changing landscape, LERU will maintain a strong position that helps universities live up to this mission, based on their track record in academic excellence.”

Among LERU’s priorities for the years ahead are the European Knowledge Area, the data revolution, the green and digital transformation of universities, and global interdisciplinary collaboration on grand societal challenges, including related security issues.

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The departure of Professor Chambaz also leaves a vacancy on the Board of Directors, which will be filled by Professor Bernhard Eitel, Rector of Heidelberg University. He will serve alongside Professor Maex and Professor Yves Flückiger, Rector of the University of Geneva.

Professor Chambaz retires this year as President of Sorbonne University, which was created in 2018 with the merger of Pierre and Marie Curie University (of which he was President) and Paris-Sorbonne University (Paris IV). "Being elected Chair of LERU just three months after Sorbonne University was created was a fantastic vote of confidence that the project would work and develop in a good way," he said in an interview to mark the end of his term as LERU Chair.

His three-year term included elections to the European Parliament, the appointment of a new European Commission, Brexit, and final negotiations for the Horizon Europe research and innovation programme. And, of course, it saw the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic.

"The pandemic has changed a lot of things, but it hasn't changed the problems we face," he said. "In fact, the crisis only confirms our priorities, which are that we need more research to address grand challenges, and to find innovative, disruptive solutions for the sustainability of the planet."

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With Covid-19 still having a dramatic effect on European society, the LERU Assembly discussed a (soon to be published) statement (authored by Dr Didier Wernli, Senior Researcher and Lecturer at the Global Studies Institute of the University of Geneva) on the role research-intensive universities can play in creating societies that are resilient and sustainable in the face of this and future challenges. This covers their contributions through advancing knowledge, through education, and in shaping public policy.

Distinguished guests invited to the Assembly included Pascal Lamy, former European Commissioner and former Director-General of the World Trade Organization, who shared his reflections on research and innovation policy in the European Union. From the European Commission, Sophia Eriksson Waterschoot, Director at DG EAC, and Anna Panagopoulou, Director at DG R&I, presented the Higher Education Transformation Agenda, and Dr Román Arjuna-Garcia, Chief Economist at DG Grow, outlined plans for a sustainable recovery across the EU.

Professor Jane Ohlmeyer of Trinity College Dublin shared insights from an EU-funded research project on interdisciplinary research with the arts, humanities and social sciences. Shiva Dustdar and Arnold Verbeek of the European Investment Bank presented the institution’s activities on research, innovation and education.

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