Paul De Knop has left us. He died from cancer on Thursday 4 August 2022. With his passing, VUB mourns the loss of a big personality. The former rector’s motto was ‘Optimism is a moral duty’. Anyone who knew him knows that his whole life was lived according to this statement by philosopher Kant, a philosophy that was also adopted by Karl Popper. It gave him the drive and inspiration to achieve remarkable things, both personally and professionally. The Vrije Universiteit Brussel will always be grateful to him for this.
Paul De Knop will be remembered as rector of VUB for introducing modern management techniques to the running of the university. During his reign, VUB established its first General Strategic Plan, which signalled an important reorganisation of the structure and finances of the faculties. Partly through this plan, VUB could continue to count on financing within the ‘closed envelope’ system that the Flemish government adopted for higher education.
Though born in Antwerp, De Knop was committed to VUB and Brussels. After secondary school he enrolled at the faculty of Physical Education and Kinesiotherapy at VUB, where he graduated with a degree in physical education in 1976. He went on to become dean of ‘his’ faculty in 2004. He also received his doctorate and licentiate diploma in leisure studies here, before attaining a master’s in the sociology of sport and sports management from the University of Leicester in the UK.
A sportsman at heart, he had unbridled energy, which resulted in a series of academic and public functions – too many to name. A few highlights: from 2002 to 2006 he was president of the Community Education Council, and from 2007 to 2008 he led the GO! education network of the Flemish Community. He had a decisive influence on the establishment of Flanders’ Strategic Plan for Sport, spent four years as deputy cabinet chief for Flemish sports minister Bert Anciaux (2004-2008) and was twice president of the Fund for Scientific Research (2009-2010/2015-2016). In 2013 he became president of the Flemish Interuniversity Council (VLIR, 2013-2015).
Another honour he can claim is the Top Sport and Study programme, which he initiated in 1988. Since then it’s been adopted by all the region’s universities and included in Flanders’ high-level sports policy.
Right to the end of his rectorship, De Knop applied himself to top-level athletic performance by helping to plant the VUB flag on Mount Everest in 2016. He was part of a Himalaya expedition to the top of the 5,540m Kala Patthar, a section of the world’s highest mountain. He was also involved when VUB took part in the 1,000km cycle rides for cancer charity Kom Op Tegen Kanker.
As a supporter of modern management techniques and a believer in public-private cooperation, he was there at the creation of two fitness centres and a rugby and athletics centre on the VUB campuses in Jette and Etterbeek. And he helped to realise U-Residence, with a total investment of €13 million. His active support of the establishment of DoublePass by two PhD students in his faculty is also representative of his entrepreneurial instinct. This spin-off measures the quality of youth training in football clubs and carries out assignments for the Premier League and Bundesliga.
The high point of his efforts for more public-private partnerships was without doubt the issue of VUB bonds in October 2015, making VUB the first European university to launch on the stock market. The proceeds of this operation – around €61 million – meant work could begin on building 600 student flats, various auditoriums, a swimming pool and the Culture Tower with bar Pilar, which replaces the KultuurKaffee. The new infrastructure XY gives a completely fresh look to the Etterbeek campus along Triomflaan.
The renovation brought Paul De Knop the nickname Paul the Builder. But he also created new structures at an organisational level. He was the driving force behind a new organic status for VUB, a new internal allocation model and a new fundraising unit. He initiated a vice-rectorate of Innovation and Valorisation.
As rector, he was a great advocate for closer ties with VUB’s sister university, ULB. Under his leadership, the Brussels University Alliance (BUA) was formed, with the aim of joining forces where possible in the fields of education, research, infrastructure and logistics. It is typical of his inspiring vigour and vision that results were achieved so quickly. So, in December 2017, Usquare.brussels was proposed, a joint project between VUB and ULB that allowed the barracks on Generaal Jacqueslaan and Kroonlaan to be turned into an international university village, with research units and student housing.
Another remarkable Brussels University Alliance project in the pipeline is the planned construction of a Learning & Innovation Center on the border between the ULB and VUB campuses in Etterbeek, which will close the gap between the universities and for which the foundation stone was laid in April 2022.
Until his death, Paul De Knop continued to work hard for VUB, remaining closely involved with Usquare.brussels and the Learning & Innovation Center and he also was the chairman of the Green Energy Park in Zellik, VUB’s innovation campus where sustainability on a scientific and entrepreneurial level comes together and for which the foundation stone will be laid on 21 September 2022.
Paul De Knop also raised funds for immunotherapy at UZ Brussel. He was a patient at UZ Brussel and was deeply impressed by what Dr. Bart Neyns and his colleagues achieved in the field of immunotherapy.
For his outstanding achievements and to thank him for his years of dedication and passion, Paul De Knop was appointed Honorary Rector of VUB in June 2022. The Vrije Universiteit Brussel will always be grateful to him for all his efforts, his time and his personality.
If you would like to share beautiful memories, anecdotes and thoughts of Paul De Knop and would like to leave a word of comfort for his family and acquaintances, you can do so in the book of condolence in the Braem building on the Etterbeek campus and online via this webpage.
Support to the Paul De Knop Fund
If you wish to continue Paul’s commitment, you can support VUB’s and UZ Brussel’s research into immunotherapy by making a donation to the VUB-UZB Paul De Knop Fund: account number BE 51 001367793562 with the reference GIFT FO2 Paul De Knop.