Being so close to the borders of both Belgium and Germany gives Maastricht University a truly international character – and this is one of our best marketing tools. Maastricht is the most international university in the Netherlands and, without scientific proof, I dare say that our institute is the most international part of the university. Yet, just as we study other countries for any number of reasons, our fellows or students may also choose to study Dutch society, not least because the statistics on offer are second-to-none.
To make the most of the great data provided by the Dutch government, Statistics Netherlands and Maastricht University (UM) entered into a partnership. First, via two dedicated professors, Prof. Hans Schmeets (Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, FASOS) and Prof. Jan van den Brakel (School of Business and Economics, SBE), who both work at Statistics Netherlands and who both hold UM chairs. Second, via our annual visit to the Statistics Netherlands offices in Heerlen, which Hans and I have co-organised for the last eight years.
We left by bus to CBS in Heerlen, with 22 researchers, feeling a bit like school kids again, excited about the day to come and happy to leave our classroom for a change. With our first year PhD fellows, both full time IEGD and dual career GPAC², along with several PhD students from SBE, we were treated to a day of lectures on surveys, sampling, collection and use of big data, and various other data applications.
The value of the day is indisputable, not least because it counts towards the research methods classes for our part-time PhD fellows. Dr. Joe Abah, teaching the GPAC² students says: “In the programme I teach this week, on qualitative research design and data analysis, we do not cover surveys design and sampling approaches. Who better to ask to fill that gap than the people that do this work all day? So the visit to Statistics Netherlands now includes lectures on sampling, survey design and some interesting cases we work on in smaller groups, to engage our students in practice”.
Also for me, in designing the research methods programme for the first-year IEGD PhD fellows, the value of the day clear. Beyond sharing content, it creates awareness of the great resources available to our in-house students, who have the option to physically partner up; so with this day we are expanding the options to use data and create added value for both Statistics Netherlands and UM.
‘Maybe stories are just data with a soul…’
Proof that it works comes in the form of other partnerships. For example, the PhD work of Derek Copp in the GPAC² PhD programme. Derek, who graduated in 2016, designed his own survey and collected data in Canada for his PhD. At each stage – design, collection and analysis – Prof. Jan van den Brakel assisted and advised him on good practice, as part of his supervisory team. The match was made based on content knowledge, as Derek did not use the Dutch data.
Another example is Anny Yu, current second-year PhD fellow in the IEGD programme. Anny’s research looks at the social benefits of migration, and with support from Hans, she has been using the Statistics Netherlands longitudinal population register data, enriched by large-scale survey data. “A clear win-win collaboration”, Hans says. “Statistics Netherlands takes advantage of the theoretical knowledge of Anny, and we will jointly produce some CBS publications based on her research work. And Anny gets to use the data for her PhD research.”
After the sampling exercise, Mohamed El-Dahsan, senior associate at a consulting firm, kindly asked at the end of the assignment “Can we please just have another five or 10 hours to complete this exercise?” After which William Massolin, working for the Council of Europe in Tunisia, smiles and adds: “We did not know what to expect in advance, but so far the day really is interesting and fun”; sentiments echoed by sampling lecturers Kees van Berkel and José Gouweleeuw, who join the day each year. “As always, it was a pleasure to participate. We’ll see you again next year”.
And if it is up to us, then yes, of course! We highly value the lectures and interactive sessions with the staff, and learn a lot from their expertise and practical examples. We thank them all for their input, and hope Statistics Netherlands will invite us again next year!
Media credits: UNU / S.Brodin
NOTA BENEThe opinions expressed here are the author’s own; they do not necessarily reflect the views of UNU.