At the end of January 2022, the Univer.City team and Science Outreach Office of the VUB welcomed some colleagues of the Corvinus University Budapest for a two-day visit. After 3 years of fruitful – but largely digital – cooperation in the framework of the Erasmus + CIRCLET project, it was high time to see each other in person.  Goal: exchange about the ins and the outs of urban partnerships, and promote research and education that can be truly socially engaged.

An exploration of the VUB as an Engaged University

The architecture and murals of the iconic Braem building served as a perfect introduction to the liberal, humanist values of the VUB. During the visit, they continuously challenged us to look at ourselves and the surrounding society with an open, humane and critical eye. The colleagues of WeKonekt & EUTOPIA gave us an stimulating insight into how the VUB aims to position itself as an engaged city university, both within Brussels and on a European level. Next stop: the Active Learning Studio. With its draggable tables, writable walls and calming hanging plants, this was the perfect spot to exchange about how to create learning environments that encourage students, professors and partners to work together in a creative and participatory way. Big thanks to the team behind the studio for the warm welcome. In between, Vice Rector for Education & Student Affairs Jan Danckaert welcomed our visitors and gave an insight into what it means to set up partnerships in a rich, but often also challenging, Brussels metropolitan context.

In the afternoon, we sensed the wind of changeon the USquare site: the former military barracks are currently in full renovation to become a vibrant city quarter and university campus. We dreamed together about the future Open Lab, where local residents, students and researchers will be able to meet each other to work together towards the sustainable and just city of tomorrow. Warm thanks to the USquare team for the stimulating tour of the Fablab, the local cinema and the detailed explanation of the site’s construction plans.

Dreaming of the future Open.Lab at the Usquare site

Visiting Brussels partners

Rendezvous the next day at Art Basics for Children (ABC). A warm place in the North quarter where experiential, explorative ways of teaching and learning are shared in light-filled rooms full of wooden furniture made in their own of their own carpentry. Highly recommended for everyone who wants to rediscover the curious child in themselves. Here, we looked for a shared language of community engagement, starting from our different contexts in Brussels and Budapest. How can students be supported to become driving forces in a CERL project? How can working with local communities be anchored in the whole discipline, and not just in individual courses? We discussed whether an Erasmus + or Horizon 2020 project would offer opportunities to explore these questions.

Next, we withstood the drizzly weather and walked towards the sports premises of BBA – Brussels Boxing Academy, in the heart of Molenbeek. Many thanks to coach Tom Flachet for his inspirational explanation on how BBA uses combat sports to offer youngsters a warm cocoon, a listening ear and opportunities. (Those wondering how they’re doing that can find answers in their recent publication “Radicalisation“!). Thanks also to Hebe Schaillée, VUB lecturer attached to the Martial Arts Living Lab. Together with her students, she helped BBA to build the first and only publicly accessible boxing ring in Brussels – a ray of hope for many in the neighbourhood to get through the long lockdowns. 

Finally, we headed for the canal for a visit to Belmundo: a social-ecological restaurant where people can gain valuable work experience and afterwards enter the regular job market with more skills and self-confidence. We visited their urban vegetable garden where fruit and vegetables are grown to supply 10 restaurants in Brussels. The food tasted more than delicious after these busy two days!

The VUB and Corvinus crew together in the court of the ABC-house