Our new Secretary General
37 year old Belgian Kevin Guillaume is the new Secretary General of Circle U. In this first interview, he shares his ambitions for Circle U. and reveals that his deep interest in music goes further than just playing drums and guitar.
Secretary General Kevin Guillaume.
Your Twitter profile reads “higher education and research specialist at day. musician at night. tired in between, sometimes.” Please, introduce yourself to the Circle U. alliance. Who are you?
So, I am Kevin, 37 years old, born – and still living – in Brussels and recently happy father for the first time! I graduated in political sciences (international relations) from UC Louvain and in political economics from KU Leuven. Since my very first job I have been involved in the higher education and research sector. And indeed, I have also been active for more than 20 years in the indie music sector, as musician but also label manager. But luckily for me, I don’t need much sleep!
What experience(s) from earlier career/jobs are particularly relevant for this new position?
I started my career at the Ministry for higher education and research of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation (French-speaking Community of Belgium) where I was mainly in charge of the follow-up and implementation of European and international intergovernmental cooperation processes – mainly the Bologna Process. In this position, I had the chance to acquire a transversal vision of the European policy developments and initiatives and their potential impacts at European, national and institutional levels. Since our department was quite small, I was able to work on several topics: higher education governance and funding, internationalisation, mobility, recognition of qualifications, quality assurance, etc. I also made a broad network of contacts all over Europe and beyond, and not only within ministries but also in HEIs, in European and international organisations.
Then I moved to the Academy for research and higher education, which is the umbrella organisation representing all HEIs in the French-speaking Belgium –quite similar to HRK in Germany or CPU in France. As director for international relations, my main role is to support the HEIs in developing their internationalisation, to facilitate new partnerships, to develop capacity-building tools, to defend their interests towards the policy makers and other partners at national, European and international level. In this position, I work with a broad diversity of institutions, with sometimes different or even opposite interests. I have to try to fill the gap between initiatives taken by governments or policy-makers and the reality of our universities.
So, in my future position of Secretary General of Circle U., I want to bring my experience, my knowledge and my understanding of the European and international dynamics. In the last six years I have been in daily contact with students, academics, researchers, administrative staff, rectors and presidents. And I think I understand the reality, the dynamics and the diversity of our universities. Last but not least, in my previous positions, I have managed a very, enthusiastic and engaged team, and I was able to develop various managerial skills, linked to HR, budget, strategic development, etc.
What are your ambitions as Secretary General?
My ambition is quite simple: to contribute in making Circle U. a reality, a success, a source of inspiration, a driver for new opportunities for our communities, for our partners, for other HEIs and for our society.
I strongly believe we are all engaged in a long marathon. We have of course some concrete steps in front of us. But we have to develop and promote a longer vision and perspective on this unique and essential project. As the Europe Commission used to say the European Universities initiative is a game-changer for the European Higher Education Area. In 1987 when the European Commission launched this Erasmus programme, following the intuition of Sofia Corradi (or “Mamma Erasmus”), nobody would have expected the impact in the longer term of this mobility programme. Today with the European Universities initiative, I am convinced that we are at the edge of a new “revolution” for the higher education sector in Europe and beyond.
What will be the first tasks you embark on?
My first task may seem simple but is essential: I will listen to all those who are engaged, committed and working on a daily basis for Circle U.
I am the newbie (to Circle U.)! I need to understand as soon as possible where we are in the project development, what are the expectations, the priorities, the interests, the challenges.
So that I can fully play my role of coordination and supervision, in close cooperation with the president, the management board members, the MEL and treasurer and the students. Of course we already have strategic discussions on the table with the European Commission, in particular the proposal for the further rollout of the European Universities and linked to that the potential extension to new partners.
Next to these strategic aspects, many operational developments are underway and I am thinking for example about the Academic Chair Programme. And therefore it will be crucial to support the work package coordinators, to facilitate the realisation of our planned actions, to make sure we fulfil our commitments, to engage our communities in those activities, etc.
So, yes my first months will be – I am sure – quite intense!
Establishing an alliance across seven countries and six languages is a big task. What do you consider to be Circle U.’s biggest challenges and opportunities?
I think that Circle U. – and the European Universities initiative in general – might be seen by professors, researchers, staff, students as another initiative that is led by the university’s leadership without any real connexion with what is happening or needed at “grass-root” level. But what makes Circle U. unique is that it plans to put the “destiny” of the alliance in the hands of the professor, researcher, administrative staff members, students, etc. I strongly believe that the members of our universities’ community that want to play an active role, will have all the possibility to do so. In this perspective, ownership taken by all actors within our seven partner universities is crucial!
Of course, we are seven universities, with different backgrounds, traditions, history. The resources can vary greatly, the context in which the seven universities are evolving is also very different. But the seven partners share a very strong vision that goes beyond our differences. From my perspective, Circle U. has the ambition to empower students, researchers, professors and staff members to have an impact on our society, to respond to today and tomorrow’s challenges. That by offering innovative and inclusive learning and teaching environments, by creating new opportunities for scientific collaborations, by pushing a new dynamic of university cooperation.
What is your most important message to Circle U.’s students and to researchers and employees at the seven universities?
I don’t mean to sound fake or simplistic but… Circle U.; it’s you –students, researchers, professors, administrative staff members, technical staff members!
Of course I am sure you have lot of other projects, priorities, etc. Of course after more than a year of pandemic, you deserve a real break. Of course you may have comments, questions or doubts about Circle U. But once again, Circle U. is a participative dynamic in which you can contribute at every step. So, even if you don’t want to get involved, just keep an eye open for the opportunities offered by the alliance!
What makes you get up in the morning (except coffee); what inspires you?
Well, I don’t drink coffee, so it won’t be coffee… And today it’s mostly a 6-month-old baby!
More seriously what makes me get up in the morning is the fact I can be part of a project that will positively impact individuals. In all the projects I have been involved in my personal and professional life, I was always attentive to the meaning of what I was undertaking, not only for myself, not only for those around me but also for the “whole” society, in terms of inclusiveness, solidarity, sustainability. Do not get me wrong; I am not pretending that I am always intending to change the world but I am convinced that every little action can have a big impact.
Please tell us a little bit about “dear deer records”?
dear.deer.records is an indie music label I founded with a friend around 2017. As I said before, I have been playing music –mainly drums and guitar– since I was 14. I have played and released music with various bands and artists in Belgium. But before being a musician, I was a music fan and I can’t stop digging for new music. That is why I decided with my friend to help bands and artists we like by releasing their albums, by helping them touring, etc. Since 2017 we have released something like 12 different bands and artists in all types of format: vinyl, CD, cassettes, digital. You can easily find the label on the net. But watch out… There is another Dear Deer Records which is based in Kiev but it’s an electronic music label, while my label is mainly about indie rock and indie pop.
It seems music plays a big part of your life. What other hobbies or interests do you have?
Well, music is a big part of my life indeed and it takes a lot of time. But I read quite a lot too. I really enjoy contemporary novelists such as Edgar Hilsenrath, Richard Yates, Toni Morrison or Mario Vargas Llosa, etc. Travelling has always be very present in my life as when I was 10 months, my family moved to Thailand for 3 years. And after graduation, I worked in Chile and Brazil for almost a year. Therefore, I am very looking forward to meeting the Circle U. partners in person in Aarhus, Belgrade, Berlin, London, Paris and Oslo! Last but not least, I am trying to do some sport but… I should do more!
A quote that you like?
To think and to be fully alive are the same (Hannah Arendt, 1981)
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