Study at the RUG in Drachten gives this professor a boost. ‘We are extremely ambitious’

Drachten will welcome a full-fledged university education in September, provided everything goes according to plan. “This will give the northern economy a boost,” says scientific director Paris Avgeriou. “And this is just the beginning.”

On the wall of his austere office on the fifth floor of the Bernoulli building in Groningen hangs a beautiful photo of Lesbos, taken in 1912. “Some of the houses you see are still there,” says Paris Avgeriou. “Sometimes I look at it. That’s where I come from, that’s where my family still lives.”

He has been living and working in Groningen for eighteen years, after studying and working in Greece, Germany and Luxembourg. To make his mark as a scientist, he had to leave the Greek island. “Of course, I miss the weather and the good food of Greece. But nowhere does heaven exist on earth. I have been able to develop myself tremendously here at the University of Groningen. It’s a strange thing to say about yourself, but I’m a VIP in my field.”

Campus of the RUG in Drachten

Avgeriou is a professor of software engineering and head of the leading Software Engineering and Architecture (Search) research group. From September he will also be the scientific director of Autonomous Systems. This is the first complete university course in Drachten, where work is also underway to establish a technology campus.

Autonomous Systems students already have a master’s degree. They will work for the 23 high-tech companies that are affiliated with the Drachten Innovation Cluster (ICD) to find solutions to technological problems. They largely do this at the companies themselves, in practice. The program, a so-called engineering doctorate, lasts two years.

“It’s a very exciting time,” says Avgeriou. “We are starting something new and we are extremely ambitious. As far as I’m concerned, there will be more of these types of programs in the north of the Netherlands in the future. This is just the beginning.”

You are very enthusiastic. Mainly because of what?

“I think that as a university you should give something back to society. We are partly financed with public money. There may be something to counter that. What use is theoretical research? What good is it for you as a scientist to remain in your ivory tower?”

“I believe that science should have an effect on society and the growth of the economy. You have to apply knowledge. We have been working with northern companies in Drachten for years, but not in this way. This new course will really give a boost to the northern economy. It feels like we are starting a start-up, that we are going to pioneer. I feel the adrenaline.”

What will the students do?

“They start working on projects that are actually submitted by the companies. The people at the companies must feel comfortable with it and we want to use our scientific knowledge. Companies sometimes encounter technological problems that cannot be solved by the permanent employees, or you have to free them up completely.

“But that is expensive. Although companies contribute to this training program, it is also largely subsidized thanks to 2 million euros in European money from the JTF (Just Transition Fund, ed.).

Does this ensure that talented engineers are more likely to stay in Friesland, Groningen and Drenthe after their studies?

,,I’m convinced of that. I sometimes ask my master’s students where they are going after their studies. The vast majority want to leave because there is work in other parts of the country and not here. They think. But then I say: there is a lot of work here. Last week I visited technological companies in Heerenveen, Sneek and Bolsward and the level is extremely high. Even I was surprised by that. There are plenty of opportunities here for talented people.”

“This post-master’s program opens up even more opportunities. We have coordinated this well with the technical universities (TUs) in the Netherlands. We don’t want to compete, we don’t want to eat a piece of their pie. The great thing is that there are no TUs in the north. In that sense we are filling a gap.”

How many students will Autonomous Systems have?

“There will be twelve to fifteen. Some of these are young people who have just obtained their master’s degree, and some are employees of the affiliated companies. Suppose you completed your master’s degree about ten years ago and this course gives you the opportunity to specialize further. Isn’t that great?”

How many university staff members will be working?

“I am responsible for the content. In addition, there is a coordinator and two university lecturers are involved full-time. The four of us will soon form the core, but occasionally professors with specialist knowledge will also lend a helping hand.

“The program is the result of collaboration between two research institutes. These are the Bernoulli Institute for Mathematics, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence and the ENTEG (Engineering and Technology Institute Groningen, ed.), department for mechanical engineering.”

Is it completely certain that the training will start in September?

“Not yet 100 percent, but we are certainly on track. A lot of preliminary work has already been done, we have been working on this for about three years. The accreditation procedure is ongoing. This means that we must ensure that the quality of the training meets all requirements. We are also in discussions with companies about the projects and recruiting students. We still have to overcome a number of hurdles, but I dare say that everything will work out.”