Wednesday 18 October 2023 โ€“ Students from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) and Universitรฉ Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) had the chance to meet the Portuguese president Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa. The president is on a state visit to Belgium and attended a lecture and debate on the future of the European Union after the 2024 elections on the ULB campus. The state visit lasts until 19 October.

Rebelo de Sousa is committed to the world of academia: before becoming president, he was a professor, jurist and journalist. A meeting was arranged with students from VUB and ULB at his request, giving them a rare opportunity to speak to a head of state and exchange knowledge and insights on contemporary societal challenges.

The event took place on the ULB Solbosch campus. The rectors of the two universities, Jan Danckaert (VUB) and Annemie Schaus (ULB), welcomed Rebelo de Sousa. The president then gave a lecture on the future of the EU after the 2024 elections, followed by an opportunity for the 100 selected students from VUB and ULB to ask questions.

Links with Portugal

VUB is a member of EUTOPIA, a network of 10 like-minded European universities who are building connected communities, where students, lecturers and researchers build knowledge on contemporary social challenges. One of the partners is NOVA University in Lisbon, with which it already has several collaborations under way.

Jan Danckaert tijdens bezoek president van Portugal Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa

โ€œWith NOVA Lisbon, we offer students a thematic network on Legal History,โ€ says Danckaert. โ€œLecturers and researchers are also encouraged to work together on specific projects: thatโ€™s shown by the 206 joint publications we have with Portuguese institutions. For example, we organised a summer school on Distributed and Replicated Environments with NOVA Lisbon and the University of Porto. We conclude many bilateral agreements to formalise and facilitate student exchanges between the two countries. These links are important because they make international experiences possible for a larger part of the university community. We believe that bringing together students, lecturers and researchers across borders helps to tackle the polarisation that we are faced with every day. At the same time, weโ€™re encouraging multilingualism, which is an important asset for the student and lecturer of the 21st century.โ€

โ€œThe state visit by President Rebelo de Sousa allows us to renew ULBโ€™s collaboration with the Instituto Camoes,โ€ says Schaus. โ€œThe collaboration began in 2012 and led to the creation of ULBโ€™s Portuguese Language Centre, which has since offered courses for ULB students as well as evening classes for the general public. The success and durability of the centre confirm its relevance to the development of educational programmes and the promotion of the Portuguese language in Brussels.โ€