Foto: Jacqueline de Haas

Mirjam van Praag on DURF, the Office for University Relations

Marjolein de Jong18 January 2021

VU Amsterdam has created a brand new office this year: DURF. President Mirjam van Praag affirms that she has grand ambitions for this new office, responsible for university relations and fundraising. ‘VU Amsterdam has been too modest for too long.’

What was the need for an Office for University Relations at this time?

„The VU is a community, but in recent years we’ve focused mainly on staff and students. That’s a shame, because alumni and the VU have a lot to offer one another. In the first instance, we’ve established DURF to expand the community. We want to strengthen our ties with our alumni." 

DURF will also take on the responsibility for fundraising. Why?

„Fundraising is becoming increasingly important in a world in which regular public funding is being reduced. VU Amsterdam is the only Dutch university that doesn’t actively raise funds. If you want to make a difference, contributions from private individuals and companies are indispensable. These additional funds often give you just that extra space for academic freedom and innovation."

How is VU Amsterdam distinctive from other universities?

„VU Amsterdam has a unique mission: to contribute to a better world. We’ve got all elements to achieve that on the basis of our research. We have nine faculties situated around a single square, all based in a unique location in the Zuidas area. Joining forces to make an impact on society. The lines of communication are short, offering opportunities for even more multidisciplinary research. And that kind of research is vital in order to address the challenges facing our society. DURF aims at establishing the partnerships to achieve this."

Several teams focusing on relationships with society, including the VU association team, the alumni team and a new fundraising team, will be part of DURF from now on. How does VU Fonds fit within this picture?

„The university and VU association have joined forces in restoring VU Fonds to its former glory. Traditionally all philanthropic support for VU was organised through the VU association. Isn’t everyone familiar with their green collection boxes? Since the 1970s, there has been little active fundraising effort, but the association still manages a historic trust fund, from which they allocate more than one million euros of subsidies each year for projects supporting our students and scientists. DURF and the new fundraising team will seek support from our alumni and partners so that we can work together to create even more opportunities."

„With these new funds, we want to enable groundbreaking research and create new opportunities for talented students. We will also be launching an entrepreneurs’ fund, aimed at working with enterprising alumni to encourage entrepreneurship among students and scientists."

What else can the university offer alumni?

„We are living longer and retiring later, but we also want to keep learning. So universities can play a valuable role here. We can offer our alumni lifelong learning, training and fairs. We also want to engage our alumni, since they are experts in the professional field. It would be fantastic if more alumni would take advantage of what we offer. Before the pandemic, I used to see empty seats at some events. I found it such a waste. From now on, I’ll be shouting from the rooftops about the wonderful events and courses that we offer. At VU Amsterdam, we’ve been too modest for too long."