Opening of the Academic Year at Leiden University: ‘Take care of each other’

09/08/2021 | by Leiden University | Event Well-Being

After a turbulent Covid year, Leiden University is making the well-being of students and staff a top priority. Well-being questions also took centre stage at the Opening of the Academic Year in Pieterskerk in Leiden on 6 September.

The photo shows a large video screen on which a woman's face can be seen. In front of it, facing the screen, are spectators sitting in comfortable armchairs.
Jennifer Cumming: 'The life expectancy of people in certain areas of Birmingham is ten years lower than in other areas.' Image source: Leiden University

Once again, the number of guests was modest due to Covid restrictions, but dozens of students, researchers and other staff joined the digital audience on the video wall. More importantly, face-to-face lectures can be held again this year, with a maximum of 75 students per lecture hall permitted for now.

Well-being important topic at the Leiden University

‘The topic of well-being is something that we – the Executive Board and deans – deal with almost daily,’ said Annetje Ottow, President of the Executive Board, in her speech. Each in their own way, students and staff experienced a difficult time during the lockdown. The students suffered from the lack of contact, and the staff, particularly those involved in teaching, saw their workload increase to an unprecedented level. ‘Your resilience, perseverance and sense of responsibility is enormous. You deserve a big thank you!’ Ottow called on the government to create ‘more breathing space’ and thus more financial leeway for university teaching. ‘But first and foremost, we have to take care of everyone’s well-being and look after one another. That will be an important theme in our new strategic plan too.’

The threat of climate change

Ottow had another urgent message. ‘The Covid pandemic is not the only disaster to hit humanity,’ she said. According to the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, we are on the brink of irreversible climate change caused by human behaviour, unless we do all we can to turn the tide. Ottow: ‘With our broad knowledge from different disciplines, we in Leiden can study societal challenges and propose solutions. This multidisciplinary approach and the links between our disciplines is the strength of Leiden University, and this is something we should continue to cherish.’

Since the beginning of 2020 Leiden University has been a member of EUniWell, an international partnership of seven universities from seven European countries that share best practices in the area of well-being. ‘This means well-being in all its dimensions,’ Rector Magnificus Hester Bijl emphasised before the speeches of professors Jennifer Cumming and Andrea Evers. ‘From individual quality of life to social cohesion. And from the health of the local environment to that of the whole planet.’

Well-being in an urbanising world

The keynote speech was given by Jennifer Cumming, Professor of Sport and Exercise Psychology and Director of the Research Centre for Urban Wellbeing at the University of Birmingham. ‘More than half of the world’s population is now living in urban areas,’ Cumming said via a live connection from Birmingham. ‘For the people currently living in cities, this urban growth brings opportunities but also many challenges to well-being.’ Cumming and her colleagues conduct research into well-being in the urban environment in the broadest sense of the word. ‘While devising our research priorities, we spent time building relationships with national governments organisations, community engagement initiatives, well-being think tanks, public health leaders, and local politicians.’ 

Cumming emphasised the importance of the widest possible definition of well-being. ‘Community well-being is also linked to access to housing, transport, arts and culture, nature, infrastructure and so on.’ This is also apparent if you look at life expectancy: people in certain areas of Birmingham live ten years longer than in other areas of Birmingham. She also called for more consideration of subjective factors. ‘If you also look at emotional experiences of happiness, contentment, anxiety and loneliness, you find out if people feel as though they what they do counts. That feeling plays an essential role in our well-being – or lack of it.’ 

Read the full review here:



Don’t want to miss out on future EUniWell events?

Subscribe to our newsletter for regular highlights and save the dates to upcoming events delivered straight to your inbox: