Goodbye to a strategic mind

Many alumni will know Jan Bergsma. He started as a lecturer in 'Tourism planning' at NHTV and ended up as a strategic advisor at BUas.

Thursday 11 March marked the retirement of Jan Bergsma. He started in front of a classroom, as lecturer in 'Tourism planning' and he ended up as a strategic advisor to the Executive Board. Our President of the Executive Board got to talk to him and he was overjoyed with his treasure chest full of experiences.

An interview by Jorrit Snijder, President of the Executive Board of BUas

On the eve of a next strategic period I talk to Jan Bergsma. For years Jan has been academy director and strategic advisor to the Executive Board and on 11 March he officially retired. He is not completely letting go of BUas and I for one am glad about that, because Jan has a wealth of experience.

Every move you make impacts the future; strategic thinking suits me and it is also the thing I feel most comfortable with

Jan Bergsma, keen chess player and strategic advisor at BUas

A 12,000-day journey

In 1987 he commenced teaching at the Nationale Hogeschool voor Toerisme en Verkeer, which later became BUas, and which was soon abbreviated to NHTV, as I was told in my first 120 days. Some quick math shows that Jan has been with our organisation for about 12,000 days, which makes me realise once again that I have only just started. Still, I believe that my first trip around BUas has given me a clear image of the organisation and the challenges facing us. I am curious to learn Jan's perspective on this.

When you play chess, you have to plan ahead

I know that Jan is a keen chess player, so that is where I start.

'When you play chess, you have to plan ahead', Jan says, 'every move you make impacts the future.  Strategic thinking suits me and it is also the thing I feel most comfortable with.’

We see this in his significant contribution to two important BUas strategic cornerstones; internationalisation and academisation (‘academisering’ in Dutch). The first one is in his blood, the second one started to rub after a while, Jan tells me in all honesty.


'I have always felt a connection with students from abroad. I was teaching in English 35 years ago already, at the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, the pioneer for when it comes to international education. When I started at NHTV, I pushed internationalisation as a strategic priority. This was met with reluctance from time to time, which I do understand. It was a completely different approach, but I was convinced of the additional value of a cross-cultural community. As head of internationalisation, I spend half of my working week arranging housing for our first foreign students. I went through the newspapers and rode around town looking for accommodation. It was so important to me that they would feel at home. And it still is!’


'The turn we once made towards being an academic university of applied sciences (‘academische hogeschool’) was bumpy. I think you should focus on what you do well and our strength still is our close collaboration with the industry. Do not get me wrong, I do think the development of our academic education is very good. In doing so we offer the full range in the Tourism and Leisure field, but the numbers are marginal. This requires additional strategic focus. As do the master’s programmes. Ensure that these are a substantial part of your portfolio. This will sharpen your cutting edge. This is our best opportunity. That is why I am thinking about a Graduate School. These are exactly the things the international rankings take into consideration.'

A next move

These are interesting ideas, so I ask Jan: If you were the architect of the new strategic plan, what would be your next move towards becoming the leading institute we desire to be?

'We absolutely have the innovative capacity to achieve this goal', says Jan convincingly. 'Look at the learning communities, our international network, the connection to the industry and our contribution to solutions for societal issues. Included in this is obviously the incredible commitment of the people working at BUas. They enjoy doing it and much is possible here. There are plenty of initiatives. I am pleased by that, but we do have to make choices to stay on course. We need more focus. That would be, next to what I have mentioned previously, my next move. I would focus additional resources on innovation in those areas where our domains meet, that is our strength. We distinguish between Tourism and Leisure, but this is artificial. In practice everything touches everything and we should programme for that.'

Above all an educator

Above all Jan is an educator, therefore I take him back to where it all started for him. In front of a classroom, as lecturer in 'Tourism planning'. Where do you see differences between students then and students now?

'When I used to give an assignment to students, it could just happen that they came back to me saying that they could not find any information in the library. Now students are much more able to find information and assess its value. Digitisation creates a lot of opportunities. Lecturers do not just provide information, students have to actively go out and look for it. This massively increases their learning abilities. The role of the lecturer is different, it more aimed towards the student's personal development, this makes the interaction much more valuable. This is exactly what BUas does so well, providing students with personal attention, I hear this so often at home as well as abroad. And even during the current lockdown we still achieve this. This makes me quite proud!'

The road towards a new strategy

I was already pleased that Jan did not cut all his ties with BUas, I asked him to remain the point of contact for UN World Tourism Organization, but after this conversation I am even happier about this. It is wonderful that I can continue to use his treasure chest on the road to a new strategic period. And I’m sure there are plenty of alumni with a wealth of experience who are willing to think with us about the future and I am very happy to draw upon this enthusiasm!