As a student I attended an open day to study technical computer science at Delft University of Technology. I went alone, but I had a nice ride with my dad who was working in the same building. He was a policy officer at the university and he knew many people there. Turns out, because when I spoke to a teacher shortly thereafter, he immediately asked me if I was related to Hans Smits.
Once I started studying at Delft, the transition from high school was quite significant. But it does help that I walked into lecture halls as a kid and that my father had a good understanding of academia and often gave me helpful advice on how to do things.
It wasn’t until later that I realized how more difficult it was for some of my classmates who were the first in their families to come to college and have to figure out everything for themselves. They only discovered halfway through their studies that you can become a doctor even if you are not a doctor. Who did not already know all kinds of masters and therefore knocked on the door more easily. Who had to explain at home every weekend why they weren’t just starting out. In many ways it was easy. (Although it was less fun as a student to hear that many famous teachers are seen as suckers of their oath because they spent all of their time teaching rather than researching and that way they would never become professors.)
In the fight against inequality of opportunity, many stocks are now being directed to primary schools. It’s true, because we know that children of parents with low education are often underestimated and that they are more likely to receive very low school advice compared to what they can do (my personal hypothesis is that many highly educated parents overestimate their children a little but that’s an aside).
If you were the first in your family to go to college, you clearly don’t have the same opportunities as those who have been among the professors for years. Of course, it’s not all rainbows and rhinos if you have relatives who have studied, but on average, first-generation students have more difficulty finding their way in academia, without accessing all kinds of networks and with less financial support from home. Because of that, talent is lost.
Carel Stolker, the recent director of Leiden University, wants to do something about it. Next Monday he will leave the university as a dean and leave the university as a farewell gift Funds distance. The Leiden Empowerment Fund (perhaps not entirely coincidentally abbreviated as LEF) will support first-generation students and scholars.
When he says goodbye, Stolker asks to contribute to this fund in lieu of gifts for himself and therefore of all people who have to find their own way in the academic world. At the time of writing this, the counter is € 73,515. That the fund might just grow big and give a lot of talent a boost.