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Universities launch diversity research centre to provide ‘more nuanced’ views

18:33 17/12/2019

An academic collaboration on diversity, urbanism and citizenship has been set up in Mechelen by Antwerp University and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB). The partnership aims to combine practical knowledge from the field with research, and so have a more nuanced effect on public policy.

“Our social model is under pressure, polarisation is increasing,” explained Caroline Pauwels, rector of VUB. “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 co-operation. Offering nuance is exactly what universities should do.”

The Diversity, Urbanism and Citizenship Knowledge Platform brings together the Brussels Centre for Urban Studies and the Antwerp Urban Studies Institute. Together they include 40 research groups whose work can potentially be made accessible through the platform.

Among the initial activities will be a project bringing together the experiences of buddy networks for the integration of newcomers to a community. Another project will gather experience on diversity and draw up guidelines for professional groups such as the police and nursing staff. A third topic will be online radicalisation and deradicalisation.

Trapped in academia

“As metropolitan universities, VUB and Antwerp already carried out a great deal of research into diversity, urbanism and citizenship, but this too often remains trapped within the various research disciplines, or is insufficiently translated into daily practice,” explained Herman Van Goethem, rector of Antwerp University. “This knowledge platform is necessary to bring academia and practitioners even closer together, to enter into dialogue and to learn from each other.”

Mechelen was chosen because of its location, roughly half way between Brussels and Antwerp, and because of its interest in social issues. “Mechelen is an ideal location because of its function as a testing ground for urban renewal,” said acting mayor Alexander Vandersmissen. “The city will also be a partner in the project, and is making space available in a wing of the town hall to house this very valuable initiative.”

The platform also has a champion in politics: former Mechelen mayor Bart Somers, now the Flemish minister responsible for civic integration. In this capacity, he has contributed a start-up grant of €235,000 to the project.

Photo ©Herwig Vergult/BELGA

From Flanders Today