by Olaf Ernst, Visiting Scholar,  NHTV Breda University of Applied Sciences (Visiting Department of Recreation and Tourism Management, VIU)

Often our students in class and individual meetings refer to university on the one hand and ‘the real world’ on the other hand. A bit peculiar, it sounds like VIU is an entity in itself, completely excluded from the rest of all living species. In the department of Recreation and Tourism where I have my visiting scholarship –luckily- this idea is questioned many times by faculty staff. There are so many contacts with the industry, via student projects, co-ops, public lectures, consultancy and so on you could hardly see our department separated from society.

Maybe it was like that until a few decades ago, but especially in human sciences like leisure and tourism there has always been interaction between university staff and professionals. Besides that: why would studying at a university not be ‘real’? We try to provide a learning experience that connects theory with practice, including many examples in class and applying knowledge during a course. And sometimes even in this big, big world outside the four walls of our institute.

And as a university we have to do this: we need to constantly touch base with our professionals in the field. First of all because this works like a reality check, but also because it helps us re-defining our programs regularly. This is actually the situation my department is in at this very moment: having a critical look at our courses and its contents and looking for ways to align even better with what is happening ‘out there’.

In order to achieve this, we need the industry as a benchmark for the topics we teach to our future managers in leisure and tourism. At the same time we will add insights from the academic world, also bringing something new to the sector. In my opinion, this constant interplay between practice and education is one of the most valuable aspects of a study. In this way you prevent university staff members from sitting in their ‘ivory tower’, only having a look now and then what is happening ‘down below’. The location of VIU on a hill outside the city is in that context already detached enough…

To me this process of program redesign is really familiar: my institute back home in The Netherlands has just finished reformulating their profile –as we call it. What is different from VIU is that the four most prominent universities who offer a Leisure program have made this document together. To say it in another way: we cooperate on a national level to share our thoughts about the sector, the trends for the future and the skills and knowledge required.

In Canada every university seems to ‘re-invent the wheel’ themselves, without a discussion on the level of the country or even province. There are probably good reasons for this –being one of them that your country is 260 times bigger in size than my tiny nation… Probably you also have a different history in the way universities were set up and function.

But would it not be powerful to formulate a national profile together with all important players of both educational and professional level, in order to convince important stakeholders why leisure and tourism is worth teaching? As this is –at least in my home environment- still something we need to fight for every day. A more extensive cooperation between educational institutes that offer these wonderful programs could contribute to this significantly.