Leuven, Belgium: A Lesson in Collaboration


Students study in the library of Katholieke Universiteit te Leuven in Leuven, Belgium, which has become knowledge base. (Visit Flanders)

Author: Vicky Koffa

Leuven, the capital of Flemish Brabant, is foremost a university town. KU Leuven, or Katholieke Universiteit te Leuven, is the oldest university in Belgium — it was founded in 1425 — and also one of the best schools in Europe. With faculties, departments, and schools clustered in humanities and social sciences; biomedical sciences; and science, engineering, and technology groups, it offers a range of study programmes and state-of-the-art research facilities.

KU Leuven’s Research & Development department, in collaboration with University Hospitals Leuven, has made technological advances ranging from the world’s first patient-specific lower jaw implant to the anti-HIV drug tenofovir disoproxil fumarate.

Professor Koenraad Debackere, general manager at KU Leuven, said research and education are inextricably linked. “KU Leuven is growing fast, both in quantity and quality,” he said in a post from the Leuven Convention Bureau. “But it has never forgotten the simple fact that it is a community of people. [It’s] a good spot for associations to meet and exchange knowledge.”

Notwithstanding Leuven’s reputation as a university town, the capital felt the need to take matters further. Leuven MindGate was founded in June 2016 by 29 leading knowledge institutions, companies, and government institutions from the region.

Johan Merlevede, managing director of Leuven MindGate, said he believes in the power of this collaboration as a way to help Leuven get a place on the international map as a high-tech, health, and creativity destination. “The Leuven region is an economically strong knowledge region with a very international character,” he said. “The city of Leuven counts 171 different nationalities. Many of them have been attracted by the university or one of the research centres. Others came here to work for one of the many young companies often active in high-tech or life sciences. One of the success factors is the good collaboration between industry, knowledge institutes, and local government. The links between these three pillars of the so called ‘triple helix’ have been historically very strong.”


Students and others enjoy one of the outdoor market areas in Leuven, Belgium. (Visit Flanders)

A Top Pick for Associations

Cases proving the success of MindGate include the numerous companies popping up as a result of the region’s collaboration efforts. Imec, for instance, is an R&D and innovation hub in nanoelectronics and digital technologies. It organised the Symposium on Ultra Clean Processing of Semiconductor Surfaces (UCPSS) held last September at the university, which has more than 50,000 students.

The region’s wealth of knowledge, as well as the city’s reputation as safe, as a place for startups, and as a promoter of sustainability, has attracted interest from other international associations.

The 40th Annual Conference of the International Society for Clinical Biostatistics (ISCB40) and the International Symposium on Intracranial Pressure and Neuromonitoring (ICP) will both be held in the city this year.

The European Region of the World Confederation for Physical Therapy (WCPT) will hold its 5th European Congress on Physiotherapy–Education in Leuven in 2020.

“Leuven is a vibrant and fascinating city, presenting a unique mix of university tradition and captivating culture,” Professor Geert Verheyden, who is affiliated with ER-WCPT 2020, said in a post from the Leuven Convention Bureau. “It offers all the necessary facilities and expertise for a successful event in the heart of Europe.”

This article was contributed by Boardroom and edited for use in Communique.

Become a Member

Get premium access to provocative executive-level education, face-to-face networking and business intelligence.