Robert Harmsen, professor of political science at the University, has been nominated for a five year period as the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, Education and Social Sciences. He succeeds Prof. Georg Mein, who headed the Faculty for over ten years.
Prof. Harmsen, whose research interests lie in human rights, European governance, and public policy, previously led the Department of Social Sciences of the Faculty. He was the Director of the Master in European Governance and currently holds the UNESCO Chair in Human Rights.
We asked the new dean three questions.
What is your vision for the Faculty?
The Faculty has developed very strong internationally recognised and nationally relevant teaching and research activities across all of its major areas – humanities, education, and social sciences – on which we will continue to build over the coming years.
I particularly wish, over the course of my mandate, to increase the international visibility of our research and our position in various international networks. Profiting from our established excellence in several fields and the high degree of international connectedness in Luxembourg, I believe that we can assume a stronger role on the international research landscape.
As a faculty, we also play a distinctive role in national society – training professionals in areas such as education and social work, publishing national research reports, providing policy advice, researching and teaching on national history, culture and language. This is a vital societal role that we will continue to develop with our national partners.
Indeed, it is necessary in this respect to understand the unique place occupied by the humanities and social sciences in dealing with the major challenges of our time. Think, for example, about the digital transformation. We must be able to reflect critically on the social purposes of technology so as not be driven only by the technological advances (and their commercial effects) themselves. Similarly, our increasingly diverse, multicultural societies require the cultivation of the empathetic understanding of others that lies at the heart of many of our disciplines.
What will be your priorities in the coming years?
Education will continue to play a central role in our Faculty. As a major priority area, we will be launching four new degree programmes over the next two years – the “Bachelor en formation pédagogique” this year and three Master’s programmes in Education planned for 2024, as well as undertaking a major expansion of the existing “Bachelor en sciences de l’éducation”. With this, our Faculty is privileged to play a crucial part in meeting the growing demand for teaching professionals in the country.
Within a wider spectrum of activities, the Faculty will further develop its substantial contributions to the main national research priorities. Major initiatives are currently being developed in the areas of sustainability and the social determinants of health. The Centre for the Ethics of Digitalisation, developed by my predecessor Prof. Georg Mein, will take shape over the coming years and, I am certain, assume its place as a leading international research centre as well as an important actor in policy debates.
You are originally from Canada and you came to Luxembourg from Northern Ireland. How does living here feel after 15 years?
I have lived in Luxembourg city since my appointment to the University in 2008. I now feel very well rooted here, and have particularly enjoyed the opportunity, through the UNESCO Chair, to have an active involvement with a wide range of civil society organisations. This allowed me to organise and participate in a number of events dealing with very topical issues, including an ongoing project on community building in Luxembourg.