New VUB rector wants ‘smart, urban university’


Communications specialist Caroline Pauwels will succeed Paul De Knop at the helm of the Free University of Brussels

Second female chief

Communication scientist Caroline Pauwels has been elected as the new rector of the Free University of Brussels (VUB). She replaces Paul De Knop, and becomes the second woman to lead VUB after emeritus professor Els Witte, who was rector from 1994 to 2000.

Pauwels, 51, has been managing VUB’s media research centre iMinds-SMIT since 2000, before which she served on various boards of directors. Until 2015, she was the government commissioner at Flanders’ public broadcasting network, VRT, where she bridged the gap between politics and the broadcaster.

Though she knows her way around the media, Pauwels has always said she prefers to remain in the shadows. “It’s important that the university is being represented,” she said. “Of course, I will intervene in certain debates, but it’s not necessary for me to stand in the spotlight all the time.”

In particular, Pauwels (pictured above with De Knop) wants to position the university as an urban, multicultural university. “I see the university as a collective project in service of society. VUB connects. Our campuses are just a starting point, our goal lies beyond. We must be a smart, urban university in the capital of Flanders and Europe.”

She also wants to get rid of the excessive pressure to publish. “Academic researchers are being reduced to publications,” she told De Morgen. “Yes, research is important, but we also have to prioritise education and public service.”

Photo: Els De Nil

Free University of Brussels (VUB)

The VUB was established as a spin-off of the French-speaking Université Libre de Bruxelles in the 1960s. It’s an internationally oriented and liberal institution, and the only Dutch-speaking university in the capital.
Work - The VUB is the largest Dutch-speaking employer of the Brussels-Capital Region.
St V - Every year, students honour university founder Pierre Theodore Verhaegen in a festive, booze-filled “St V” march through the city.
Campus - The VUB is the only Dutch-speaking university with a small, American-style green campus.

Master’s programmes offered


million euros in research budget in 2010

12 000

students in 2011-2012 academic year