Paul De Knop was rector of VUB from 2008 to 2016, taking over from Benjamin Van Camp. During his tenure, he professionalised the university, expanded the campus and safeguarded its independence. “Optimism is a moral duty” was his motto. He continued working for VUB until his death on 4 August 2022.

Paul De Knop

This portrait is partly based on sources from CAVA, the central archives of the secular humanist movement in Flanders and Brussels and of VUB. You can find the material on their website.


Paul De Knop was elected as rector of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel on 9 May 2008, succeeding Benjamin Van Camp in the role. He was committed to protecting VUB’s independence. He succeeded in rehabilitating, reforming and professionalising the university at every level, with an ambitious General Strategic Plan for each of his two mandates.

During his eight years in the position, he realised several projects: a new organisational statute, a new fundraising unit, a new allocation model, a new vice-rectorate of Innovation and Valorisation and an ambitious programme of investment that led to the largest expansion of the campus since the 1970s. This expansion included new dorms, a new culture house and a new swimming pool.

As rector, Paul was a champion of greater internationalisation and a strong advocate for closer ties with sister university ULB. Under his leadership, the Brussels University Alliance (BUA) was created, with the aim of joining forces in education, research, infrastructure and logistics. One of the results was the joint project, which is transforming the abandoned gendarmerie barracks on General Jacqueslaan into an international university district. Another BUA project is the Learning & Innovation Centre which, thanks to its location on the border between the ULB and VUB campuses in Etterbeek, literally bridges the gap between the two universities. Both these projects are under development and will be completed in the next few years. Paul was also chair of Green Energy Park  (Dutch), the joint innovation campus of VUB and its university hospital UZ Brussel, which brings together sustainability on a scientific and entrepreneurial level. The foundation stone was laid on 21 September 2021.

In his role as rector, Paul was chair of the Research Foundation – Flanders from 2009-2010 and 2015-2016, and chair of the Flemish Interuniversity Council (2013-2015). In September 2016, he was succeeded as rector by Caroline Pauwels. After his second term, he oversaw the progress of the various construction works that began under his leadership. 

For his exceptional achievements during his rectorship and in recognition of his years of dedication and passion, Paul De Knop was made honorary rector of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel on 16 June 2022.

Studies and career

Paul De Knop studied physical education and leisure studies at VUB, where he obtained his PhD. In 2000, he became a professor at VUB, teaching sports sociology and sports policy. From 2004 to 2008, he was dean of the Faculty of Physical Education and Physiotherapy, and until 2008 he also taught at Tilburg University.

As well as numerous scientific publications, he held a variety of social positions, such as chair of the  Community Education Council (2002-2006) and chair of the GO! education network (2007-2008). He had a decisive influence on the creation of Flanders’ Strategic Plan for Sport and was deputy chief of cabinet to Flemish Sports minister Bert Anciaux from 2004 to 2008. 

Further achievements    

Paul De Knop was instrumental in establishing two fitness centres and a rugby and athletics centre on the VUB campuses in Jette and Etterbeek. He oversaw the creation of the VUB spin-off DoublePass (Dutch), which measures the quality of football clubs’ youth training programmes and has carried out assignments for the Premier League and Bundesliga.  

A separate achievement he can take credit for is the Top Sport and Study programme , which he initiated in 1988. The programme was adopted by other universities and colleges and included in Flanders’ policy for elite sports. 

Paul was an athlete himself. Towards the end of his time as rector, he planted the VUB flag on the summit of Mount Everest (Dutch), while in his free time he took part in triathlons, swimming and especially cycling. He would cycle in the company of politicians and administrators to accelerate the projects he wanted to realise. Work and leisure were never really far apart. In both areas, he “raised the bar a little higher each time”, as he said himself. And he was always on hand when VUB took part in the 1,000 km cycling event to raise funds for cancer charity Kom op tegen Kanker.  


Video - In memoriam Paul De Knop

Paul De Knop | 1954 - 2022