Coen van Ruiten visits Silicon Valley: “We can’t complain here in the Netherlands”

News 23 May 2017
Silicon Valley HAS University of Applied Sciences

"What I really learned from all of this, is that we honestly can’t complain about how things work in the Netherlands."

A vast stretch of grassy planes everywhere you look. A couple of trees here and there. A clear blue sky. The mountaintops of the Sierra Nevada in the distance. A silent road with a yellow line in the middle cutting right through the Central Valley. This is more or less what Coen van Ruiten saw when he was driving to Davis University in his rental car. He felt just like Thelma & Louise: it is here, in this vast open area of the prairie, that all the possibilities to develop as a human being are determined. An overwhelming feeling of happiness - and of potential.

Silicon Valley HAS University of Applied Sciences

A shortage of qualified plant breeders

Coen was on his way to Davis University for a meeting with Allen van Deynze from the Seed and Biotech Center. This is coincidentally the place that provides the Plant Breeding Academy for academic research. “There is a global shortage of qualified plant breeders,” says Coen. “HAS University of Applied Sciences offers not only the fulltime study programmes of Horticulture and Arable Farming and Applied Biology for professionals, but also a number of undergraduate plant breeding and plant-physiology programmes. There is currently nothing between these programmes and the plant breeding programmes offered by Wageningen UR in the Netherlands and UC Davis in America. I had an introductory meeting with Allen about developing an applied master’s programme that would be able to bridge this gap.”

Sponsoring students

The Plant Breeding Academy is doing well in America and Europe, but is too expensive for students from Asia and Africa. UC Davis is trying to find suitable sponsorships for these students and thus play its part in helping society. Coen also sees opportunities for HAS University of Applied Sciences. For example, by cooperating with knowledge partners, and through ‘social enterprising’.


“The ends of the spectrum are much further apart In America than they are in the Netherlands. It’s all about being the best; everyone wants to be the ‘best and the brightest’ in the world of the high-tech. And if you’re not, you sometimes literally end up in the gutter. The fact that Davis is also putting effort in helping the students and entrepreneurs that aren’t the so-called brightest, is a valuable lesson I took back to the Netherlands. The extremes are not so far apart in the Netherlands, but even here, people sometimes don’t make it. We need to keep thinking about how we can continuously involve everyone in our community.”

Mission to Silicon Valley

Coen combined his appointment with Allen van Deynze with a mission of 40 delegates to Silicon Valley from Dutch vocational training colleges, universities of applied sciences, academic research institutes, the ministries of Education, Culture and Science and Economic Affairs, and from the Beta Technique Platform. The group were coming to see how the agrifood and high-tech sectors in North America work, and what we in the Netherlands can learn from their US counterparts. Silicon Valley is a commonly used term for the southern side of San Francisco Bay, where numerous technology companies and high-end universities such as Berkeley and Stanford are based.

Silicon Valley HAS University of Applied Sciences

Learning from each another

But the goal of the journey that was even more important: the opportunity to exchange experiences and to learn from each another. The mission was a learning development project, financed by the Dutch Ministry of Economic affairs. The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science and the Ministry of Economic Affairs were keen to use this mission to stimulate cooperation between the public and the private sectors, and to share knowledge. The participating institutions are focussed on Logistics, Life Sciences, IT, Food & Agriculture, Energy, the Creative Industry, Health & Care, Agriculture, Construction, Chemistry, Societal challenges and Water. All the participants are involved in either the Centres of Expertise (Universities of Applied Sciences) or the Centres for Innovative Craftsmanship (vocational training colleges). The mission included visits to companies such as Intel, Adobe, Rocket Space, Google and Udemy.

We can’t complain

“What I really learned from all of this, is that we honestly can’t complain about how things work in the Netherlands,” explains Coen. “We have a good balance between the free-market and government involvement. The government is mainly a good partner. The government plays a much smaller role in North America and you mainly need to rely on yourself. We can offer exceptional quality in our country: we have lots of knowledge, work well together, reflect and we’re critical. We excel in both agrifood and in water technology. There’s a great opportunity for HAS to further secure its role as a Centre of Expertise. Where North America can inspire us, is in the huge entrepreneurial mentality and drive, and the professional ecosystem of seed/start-ups, accelerators to multinationals (unicorns). The desire to be entrepreneurial is everywhere. This is something we really want to awaken in our students, and to help them further develop their talents.”