Environmental lawyer elected rector of Hasselt University


Professor Bernard Vanheusden, the youngest of three candidates, will lead Limburg’s university from October

‘More research and networks’

Hasselt University has a new rector. After a close-fought competition, Bernard Vanheusden, presently vice-dean of the university’s law faculty, was elected by a margin of 36 votes on Monday.

The 43-year-old specialist in environmental law will take up the post on 1 October. He succeeds Luc De Schepper, rector of Hasselt University for the past 16 years, who did not stand for re-election.

In the first round of the competition, Vanheusden won 86 votes against 83 for Piet Pauwels, dean of the economics department, and 43 for Ivo Lambrichts, vice-dead for medicine and life sciences. After Lambrichts dropped out, Vanheusden was able to pull ahead in the second round, capturing 126 votes against 90 for Pauwels.

Vanheusden comes from Bilzen, next door to Hasselt, and studied first philosophy and then law at KU Leuven. He joined Hasselt’s faculty of business economics in 2001, earning a doctorate in 2007 with research on the development of former industrial land. He became a professor in the law faculty in 2018, and continues to practice as a lawyer.

Hasselt University must again become the educational innovator it once was

- Bernard Vanheusden

Vanheusden told VRT that he wants the institution to win back some of its former glory. “Hasselt University must again become the educational innovator it once was,” he said. “I am aiming for top quality research and to build more European networks.”

He also wants to revisit a decision that saw the government approve just four out of 12 new degree programmes that the university wanted to set up in the future. “The 12 programmes requested were not chosen randomly, but rather represented the essential needs of the region,” he wrote in his manifesto. “We will continue to bring proposals on this subject to the negotiating table, with the requisite patience and discussion.”

Finally, Vanheusden wants to see the university’s Diepenbeek campus become more attractive, with more green space and a broader offer of cafes and sports facilities to draw in the public.

This has already happened with the law faculty, which is housed in a former prison in Hasselt’s city centre. “There you see that people come in and have a look around,” he told VRT. “That way you are part of the community.”

Photo courtesy UHasselt