Erasmus University – Rotterdam, Netherlands

Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) has an IDEA Center (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access Center). The office was initially established by the Executive Board (Diversity and Inclusion Office) with the aim to create positive societal impact by trying to understand contemporary, complex societal challenges and to contribute to their solution through education and research. These tasks are done in close collaboration with internal stakeholders and external partners both locally, nationally and globally. Currently, this project supports mainly low-income students, first generation students, students/staff with a refugee or migrant backgrounds, LGBTQ students/staff, students/staff of colour, prospective students and female academic/students. These equity groups were proposed/identified by the university’s internal policies and based on relevant academic and policy research.

The activities that this office has carried out (in the last two years) with regard to equal access/inclusion/diversity are:
• support and counselling for students and university staff;
• lectures, workshops, seminars for students, faculty and non-teaching staff;
• training courses for peer educators;
• Public promotion (e.g. production of media content such as podcasts),
• Fundraising events,
• Other: Launching a soft land project for new students;
• Other: Launching an outreach program for students in primary and secondary school;
• Other: Hiring an Human resources expert focused on the implementation of inclusive HR policies and inclusive training;
• Other: Hiring an inclusive education specialist, an expert on inclusive communications, a policy adviser on EU and IDEA topics, a project lead for student engagement (also related to introductory week, bachelor open days etc) and two researchers for a more inclusive research.
The activity with the greatest impact was the Beyond 25/25 programme: Towards Inclusive Academia (support and counselling for university staff, namely female professors). This programme is open for all assistant and associate professors at EUR who recognize themselves as part of a structurally underrepresented group (gender, nationality, migration/ethnic minority background) and are aspiring to make a promotion to associate or full professors within 1-3 years. The goal was to have 25% of female professors by 2025. However, in 2022 we achieved this goal and established a new goal of having 35% of female professors by 2025. With this programme, participants have access to workshops, mentoring, portfolio preparations, confidential advice by an independent committee and financial support.
The last innovative practise/tool you introduced when it comes to ensuring inclusion, diversity and equal access was the hiring of a person to design a new practice on soft landing for newcomers. Soft-Landing project is set to identify and remove formal and informal barriers that diverse student groups can face when they start with their first bachelor study year. The project aims to gather, share, and develop best onboarding practices across the different university levels – from central services to faculty and student association activities – to give diverse student groups equal opportunities for personal and professional development from their first day at EUR. At university level, we implemented on the ground floor of each education building All Gender Toilets. These toilets are mostly designed for gender non confirming people, carers and families accompanied by children with different genders than their guardians.
In addition to activities to support inclusion, EUR implements measures/activities to counter exclusionary and discriminatory practices through binding policy (legislation), recommendations/guidelines, a strategy/action plan, through the implementation of a central point for unwanted behaviour (for the whole institution) and through regular internal assessments. These assessments happen by IDEA center’s own initiative or by request of a particular colleague or department/unit. Within these assessments, IDEA Center analyzes, evaluates and issues recommendations on practices/trainings and measures at university level.

“Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) has been implementing inclusive measures in the last couple of years, initially with the main focus being on gender equality. This has grown into a strategic programme, where the Executive board decided to establish a Diversity & Inclusion Office. In 2023, the office became the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access Center, which is currently a structural unit, within the General Management Directorate. The factors crucial for the institutional leadership in deciding to establish a service for wider access/inclusion/diversity for students/staff were to attract and retain talented students and staff (representing the diverse perspectives in society); the need to actively eliminate implicit and explicit barriers that prevent the full participation of all members of the academic community and the need to develop policies, procedures and practices that promote an inclusive culture. This is a successful office for multiple reasons. IDEA Center is composed of around 20 diverse content experts, has a mandated budget in order to be able to operate and test its policies and activities. It has dedicated resources and satellite team members (example: one inclusive human resources specialist, working both at IDEA Center but also at the HR department; another colleague, communications specialist, who divides his time between IDEA Center and the marketing and communication department of the University – this person makes sure the organization uses inclusive communication, language, visual and events). The IDEA Center has a multidisciplinary and integral approach, thus not taking isolated measures. Apart from this, the IDEA Center works closely with the Executive Board of the University and has an easily recognizable and findable location on campus. IDEA Center develops, implements and integrates policy within existing organization processes and departments, makes sure the latest knowledge and data driven developments are integrated within the organization and provides expertise and advises units, employees and students and the Executive Board. Finally, due to the various experts in the team, and in different subjects, this center recently compiled their knowledge and published a book on how to create more inclusive organizations (“From words to deeds – A Guide to an Inclusive Organization” (English translation soon). “
The office is not governed by national policy (laws, strategies, action plans, national programmes). However, there are national (National Action plan Diversity in higher education and research: and European initiatives (Gender Equality plan) that support the work that IDEA Center is doing.
“The IDEA Center is composed by around 20 individuals. It is divided into specific areas where each has its own project leader. The areas are the following: inclusive communication, inclusive human resources, outreach, student engagement, soft landing, inclusive education, inclusive monitoring and research. Horizontally, there are two policy advisers and an event manager. On top of that, IDEA Center has a general manager who leads the IDEA Center team and translates the ambitions and objectives into concrete policies and projects, monitors the progress of the various projects and activities and communicates these to multiple stakeholders. IDEA Center has a Chief Diversity Officer that acts as an intermediate between the board of the university and the faculties and support services and is an ‘ambassador’ for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity & Access both inside and outside the university. IDEA Center is located at central level, being positioned within the general management directorate of the University. In addition, each school/faculty has its own Faculty Diversity Officer who collaborates with the central IDEA Center. Diversity, inclusion and equality topics are mentioned in this office and at the university’s strategies, policies and work plans. At EUR, IDEA Center has a multidisciplinary approach and most of the decisions and contributions to the project design are made in consultation with determined departments/units or students/student associations, according with the needs or goals intended to reach. However, the Chief Diversity Officer and IDEA Center Manager determine, in consultation with the Executive Board, the strategy on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity & Access. Various initiatives are developed, advocated or started by the Chief Diversity Officer, manager or designated project leads. Within the faculties, the Faculty Diversity Officer, next to the dean, has an important role in bringing change. The university is part of local, regional, national, European and global networks. The outcomes from these networks are mostly the access to different perspectives on specific topics. These groups provide access to a pool of various resources and knowledge sharing and open doors to various collaborations and partnerships. All these tools help the IDEA Center to create positive impact more easily in its community. “
The main challenges to establishing this service was to attain budget. By showcasing what IDEA Center can do, and (how it) brings to the community, it become clear the investments were worth it. This office is funded by the University’s budget. The IDEA Center’s budget is completely stable and its work is not dependent on unpaid volunteers (We do have student assistants but we pay them a salary). The main obstacles to ensuring the long-term sustainability of the office is a future new leadership. With every new leadership, new goals and strategies are implemented. Despite being unlikely, a future new executive board can see the IDEA Center work as not a priority area.
“EUR has a formal evaluation process of this office. The indicators used to measure success are mostly the results and goals achieved. IDEA Center, as holds true for other units/services/schools, is included in the 2-yearly meetings with the Executive Board, and the central units responsible for research, education, quality assurance and finance, about its content and financial health. For the 25/25 policy, where EUR tried to have by 2025, 25% of full professors being women, the success was measured by the number of female professors who applied for this programme – 100 female professors. By November 2022, EUR had reached the goal of having 25% female full professors (3 years before the deadline). For every project, we start with deciding what are the steps and end goal. We research this, including policy measures (also of other units), to see the results and to see what should be adapted. The evaluation data is collected through qualitative and quantitative approaches in (policy and scientific) research. Also, we have a meeting structure (team meetings, research meeting, bilateral meetings, project meetings) where the progress is monitored. We have several audiences, internally and outside the University. Research and meetings provide input for the meetings with the central units responsible for research, education, quality assurance and finance, where progress is discussed with the Executive Board. In 2023, we have crafted our first annual report. We also have quarterly newsletters, a website and a LinkedIn page where we share our news and successes. “

IDEA Center (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access Center)

Rotterdam, The Netherlands