5.1 Valuable (and Values-based) Partnerships

Our society is facing far-reaching issues. How can we ensure that we are working in a smart, social way to create a society that will be inclusive and sustainable for generations to come? How can we ensure that more people will be able to work in the right places? How can we ensure the well-being of our inhabitants without exceeding the limits of our planet? Under the motto of ‘Understanding Society’, Tilburg University aims to be at the forefront of finding answers to these complex societal changes. Breakthroughs in scientific knowledge and societal interventions occur as we search for new solutions, in co-creation with a variety of collaborative partners and from a variety of disciplines.

The multidisciplinary research themes on which the University will direct special effort in the coming years include the sustainability transition, inequality, and issues relating to well-being and health, with prosperity in the broadest sense serving as a thematic guide. Broad prosperity concerns what makes life valuable—not only the quality of life in the here and now, but also the extent to which the current quality of life comes at the expense of that of later generations or of people elsewhere in the world (Statistics Netherlands). Within the University, and in cooperation with external partners, academic collaborative centers have been established for the development of knowledge that will contribute to solutions for the aforementioned societal issues. These academic collaborative centers are characterized by multi-year, multidisciplinary, and collaboration in co-creation with companies, governments, and other knowledge institutions, based on a common ambition.

Academic Collaborative Centers/Innovation Hubs (working title)

In 2021, work began to develop four Academic Collaborative Centers/Innovation Hubs (working title), stimulated in part by the Impulse Fund (see Section 5.2 Organization of impact in 2021). Discussions concerning these hubs were held in the fall with a variety of external partners—from the business community and the government—about possible partnerships. These Academic Collaborative Centers/Innovation Hubs serve as the foundation for the future form in which our researchers and students will cooperate on solutions to major societal issues, in co-creation with strategic partners. In terms of governance (both internal and with all partners, funding, and operations), preparations have been made to reach decision-making by the EB and Schools in 2022.

The Academic Collaborative Center for Broad Prosperity was launched online on October 1, 2021. After the opening by Rector Magnificus Wim van de Donk, Alderman Rik Grashoff, and the chair of the Broad Prosperity steering group, Pieter van Geel, the relevant subjects were discussed at three tables. Guests from academia and practice were brought together at each table. For example, there was a table on Climate and Energy Transition and another on the dynamics between the national government and the region in the field of broad prosperity. At the table on the Inclusive Labor Market, Professor of Labor Market Studies Irmgard Borghout gave a short pitch, and the director of VNO-NCW Brabant Zeeland, Ellen Kroese joined a policy advisor for the municipality of Waalwijk, Ranjith Clemminck, to discuss urgent challenges relating to the labor market. The session provided interested parties with an initial glimpse into the themes that would be central to the workshops.

The Academic Collaborative Center on the Labor Market aims to develop a collaborative infrastructure by 2030, in which starting a job and moving between jobs is guaranteed for everyone, thereby providing new security within the labor market. The core partners of the Academic Collaborative Center are CNV, CSU, ING, NS, Philips, Rabobank, Randstad, Tilburg University and the UWV (Employee Insurance Agency).

For the Academic Collaborative Centers on Climate and Energy Transition and on Digital Mental Health Innovation, the discussions with external partners will be held in 2022. In anticipation, the relevant organizations have been mapped out, as well as the contacts that are already in process with those organizations.

Digital Sciences for Society/Creating Value from Data

In 2021, the role and function of Digital Sciences became increasingly clear in relation to the other themes mentioned. The theme is an enabler for the other Impact themes, in addition to its major importance to the entire University. It has therefore become an integral part of the development of the Digital Sciences for Society program.

Digital technology is a major driver of innovation within society. The importance of Digital Sciences to the solution of societal issues is increasing. It is precisely at the intersection of technology and social issues that Tilburg University can develop a credible, distinctive proposition. In recent months, therefore, the University has worked together with many stakeholders to develop an ambitious plan: Digital Sciences for Society. One of the activities in this plan was a series of six sessions with representatives from all Schools. In October, a roundtable session was organized with external experts to assess and enhance these ambitions. Conversations were also organized with the strategic partners of Tilburg University.

The objectives were as follows:

  • Tilburg University will use Digital Sciences to make responsible contributions to addressing societal challenges.

  • Tilburg University will increase its internal research budget for Digital Sciences and the stated application themes.

  • More students and lecturers will have improved basic knowledge about Digital Sciences (courses and University-wide elective minors).

  • Tilburg University will increase public-private collaboration between its researchers and external partners.

  • More students, lecturers, and researchers will be involved within the domain of Digital Sciences for Society.

Tilburg University AI Special Interest Group

As described earlier, a wide variety of scientists are involved in AI at Tilburg University. The Tilburg University AI Special Interest Group (TAISIG) was established to chart and visualize what we do and what we are good at. The objective of TAISIG is to bundle, coordinate, and reinforce the AI activities taking place within the University and to emerge as a recognizable key player in the regional and national AI domain. The TAISIG further aims to facilitate and expedite the development of new research proposals and grant applications. The TAISIG is subdivided into three clusters:

  • AI algorithms and methods

  • AI applications and concepts

  • Ethical, Legal and Societal Aspects of AI (ELSA)

In doing so, it covers the full chain of developing AI methods, applying AI methods in practice, and investigating conditions in AI applications (e.g., ethics and legislation). In doing so, the TAISIG will make an important contribution to the development of the new strategy.


In the ENGAGE.EU European University, Tilburg University is working with six European universities of Social Sciences, Economics, and Humanities to build the university of the future. Together, we aim to arrive at an integrated approach in which education, research, and societal impact are developed in connection with each other. The ambition is to equip European citizens with the skills and competences they need to take on major societal challenges. To this end, the partnership decided to change the approach on which they teach, research, innovate, and establish contacts. The partners aim to become an incubator for building knowledge of future business needs and promoting economic capacity and societal development based on academic excellence and community collaboration.

As a work package leader, Tilburg University is responsible for the development of Work Package 4: Engaged in Society. In this work package, nine sub-goals are used to develop a structure and program aimed at further shaping societal impact within the Alliance. The year 2021 was characterized primarily by fact-finding and concept development. Within ENGAGE, there is broad diversity in visions on, knowledge of, and experience with societal impact. In 2021, several important elements were developed and coordinated for the purpose of advancing societal impact within the Alliance.

  • Survey of the Societal Outreach Alliance

  • Methodology for Societal Outreach;

  • Framework for the Innopreneurial Mindset

  • Outline of the pilot ENGAGE.EU labs

  • Outline of the Innopreneurship methodology and Innopreneurial Spaces

  • Innopreneurial Literacy Concept

Wherever possible, the development of Work Package 4 will be linked to existing initiatives and developments within Tilburg University. The development of the Academic Collaborative Centers/Innovation Hubs will run parallel to the development of the ENGAGE.EU labs. Other elements will be developed further in consultation with other units within Tilburg University. For example, the elements focusing on entrepreneurship (Innopreneurial Mindset and the Innopreneurship Methodology and Innopreneurial Spaces) are being set up in close cooperation with IQONIC, the entrepreneurship program of Tilburg University.

Tilburg University Junior is closely involved in setting up the Innopreneurial Literacy Concept subprogram, which is targeted specifically at children and adolescents in primary and secondary school. It should be noted that the part of the program around the development of the Professional Learning Program has encountered delays and will be resumed in 2022, in consultation with TIAS.

The most important objectives are to realize the following:

  • Engaged Learning. A joint ENGAGE.EU university campus with a common course catalog and a range of actual and virtual mobility opportunities embedded within our degree programs

  • Engaged Research and Innovation. Establishment of the ENGAGE.EU university think tank, with the involvement of Communities for Societal Change (CSC), which will identify the causes and consequences of societal change and provide analysis to support the actions of the Alliance

  • Engaged in Society. ENGAGE.EU Labs for students, lifelong learners, researchers, innovators, businesses, civic initiatives, and policymakers to work together to find knowledge-based solutions to societal problems. ENGAGE.EU dual learning programs help practitioners exercise influence.

Joint educational activities (e.g., online mobility for students, thematic minors, joint programs, and the establishment of an ENGAGE Summer School) were also under development in 2021. A concept was also developed for a Challenge Based Lab, where students, researchers, and community partners will collaborate. In addition to collaboration on education, the Alliance received European funding in 2021 to develop a joint research agenda.

The first ENGAGE conference was held in October 2021. Tilburg was heavily represented, with direct involvement by the President of the Executive Board, Wim van de Donk, and Mayor Theo Weterings, along with representatives of PON/Telos, Midpoint, two students serving on the Board of Learners, and six members of the Tilburg University staff. This delegation emphasizes the importance that Tilburg University attaches to the ENGAGE program.

Continuation of the PhD Valorization Program

In 2021, we were able to offer 12 PhD students the opportunity to participate in the PhD Valorization Program. This program is designed for PhD students who would like to explore and accelerate the societal impact of their research. In a six-month track, PhD students received a variety of facilities, including personal coaching and workshops. We offered track to allow them to create their own impact propositions, learn entrepreneurial skills, expand their networks, and learn how to communicate their research to organizations outside of academia. This program is offered by the THRIVE Institute, in collaboration with the Impact Team.


MindLabs is a partnership with participation from knowledge institutions (Tilburg University, Fontys University of Applied Sciences, Breda University of Applied Sciences, and ROC Tilburg), governments, and a growing group of business partners, social institutions, and startups. MindLabs partners work together to strengthen the development of technologies that interact with human behavior (i.e., human-centered AI). The partners aim to use the unique capabilities of these technologies to help solve societal challenges.

MindLabs is a member of the Brainport AI Hub and, within this context, it has established close collaboration with the Jheronimus Academy of Data Science (JADS), EASI, and Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e). One of the objectives is to establish projects in which individual participants can contribute their own expertise. Fellow institutes and Brainport perceive added value in the expertise of MindLabs in the field of human behavior and cognition, as well as, with regard to hybrid intelligence: the optimal collaboration between the human brain and artificial brains.

Despite the COVID-19 restrictions that were in place in 2021, and despite the fact that the MindLabs building was closed for most of the year, MindLabs has continued to develop to its full potential. Eighteen new partners were added to MindLabs, and seven new projects were developed. Tilburg University/MindLabs and the Elisabeth-TweeSteden Hospital (ETZ) are participating in the Hologram Guided Surgery project. Furthermore, the MasterMind project obtained the status necessary to become a member lab within the network of International Centers of AI (ICAI). In addition, MindLabs is participating in TAISIG through activities including the co-production of all TAISIG events.

MindLabs expects further expansion in 2022, including through collaboration with the province of North Brabant in the BrabantAI4Everyone initiative. The plans also include the opening of the new MindLabs building next to the iconic LocHal in the Spoorzone (railway zone) in late 2022.