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Collaboration is key    Apr 16, 2019

Collaboration is key
Apr 16, 2019


Prof. dr. Elly VAN DE VELDE



Over 9500 km, a sea, and the biggest desert in the world separate UHasselt and Stellenbosch University from each other. Yet despite the odds, the Belgian and South African researchers found one another through a shared passion: the law. Today we talk with Stellenbosch students Inari Basson and Hendri Herbst as well as UHasselt scientists Niels Appermont and Elly Van de Velde joining hands.


“In the long history of humankind, those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed” – Charles Darwin.

The story begins in 2017 when prof. dr. Niels Appermont was still a Ph.D. student himself, working under the supervision of prof. dr. Elly Van de Velde. “During the final phase of my Ph.D. I came up with the idea to finish my thesis abroad”, Niels explains. “A logical follow-up question would be: where? Luckily I already knew to which country I wanted to go as a few months earlier I met an expert in my field on a conference, professor Marius de Waal from Stellenbosch University. A few e-mails later, I was on my way to South Africa.”

“During Niels’ stay at Stellenbosch, I came across a Global Minds call from the VLIR-UOS, a funding opportunity to launch collaborations with developing countries”, Elly tells us. “In the list was South Africa, so I informed Niels to see if the researchers from Stellenbosch would be interested. And again serendipity proved to be our ally. Niels had just met dr. Izelle du Plessis, a researcher who obtained a Ph.D. studying the taxation of trusts - the same field as Niels was doing his Ph.D. in. She was interested but we only had a weekend to write a proposal together.”


It was a daunting challenge to write an application in such a short amount of time, but together they succeeded and were granted the funding to start up a collaboration. “The strength of our application was that we were going to work together on both the level of research ánd education, as there is much to learn from each other”, Elly explains. “Her stay at our university turned out to be really successful. She gave lectures and tutorials for our master’s students, we organized a PhD-seminar and discussed further research collaborations. A few months later, she contacted us because there was a call at their university to promote international mobility. So we ended up giving lectures and talking about our research at Stellenbosch University.”

It was during these lectures that, unknowingly to all at the time, a new collaboration was taking shape. Two students were paying very close attention to the talks of Elly and Niels. A few months later in September of 2018, it would turn out that these two were destined to become the first joint Ph.D. students of Stellenbosch and Hasselt University.


“At the end of the summer, Izelle told us that there were two students, Inari Basson and Hendri Herbst, who were interested to do a joint Ph.D. with us”, Niels elaborates. “So we were very excited to meet them of course. Thanks to VLIR-UOS they were able to come to Belgium for a predoctoral visit to write a joint BILA Ph.D. application with UHasselt.”

“That’s indeed how we got here. I first saw professor Appermont and Van de Velde when they were giving an interesting lecture at our university. At the time I was doing a masters in the field of law. As a kid, I didn’t really know what I wanted to become growing up, but during my bachelor, I discovered the Law and fell in love with it. Actually, the law found me rather than the other way around”, Inari laughs.  “When I heard there was an opportunity to start a Ph.D. together with the UHasselt I immediately knew I did not want to let that opportunity slide by.”

“Indeed, working together with a European university is an amazing opportunity”, Hendri elaborates. “In my case, the law found me as well. Initially, I thought that I was going to study in the field of information technology as I was always coding during high school. I first started studying socio-informatics, a combination of business and information system management, but after completion, I decided to start a Bachelor of Laws (LLB). As a disabled person with a visual impairment and a guiding dog at my side, I face quite some discrimination and challenges on a daily basis. This is one of the main reasons that pushed me to the legal field. Yet I always stayed interested in business resulting in my favorite courses and master specialization being commercial law.” 


“My Ph.D. subject will focus on how climate change affects children’s right and how we can use tax nudging to remove negative effects. I will first look at the rights of children, like the right to life survival and development, and how the government protects these. Then I will investigate how climate change affects these in those jurisdictions that are most affected by it on the long and short-term, like countries that face more natural disasters or drought and poverty. Finally, I will study how tax nudging, taxes induced to change people’s behavior can be used to positively impact climate change”, Inari explains.


“My research will evaluate the South African taxation regime towards trusts and compare that to other jurisdictions like Belgium and the UK”, Hendri tells us. “By doing this I can see if there are areas for possible improvements or reforms that can benefit our country to solve issues we are facing, like the outflow of capital and tax avoidance. For both of our topics, there is a lot of expertise present at the UHasselt, giving us the opportunity to learn a lot. It’s also an enriching experience and helps you broaden your view and perspective on the law. For example, South Africa is a mixed-legal system with some English and Roman/Dutch influences while Belgium is more civil law orientated. As a result, certain situations and concepts don’t exist in some countries, yet we all have to face them due to increasing globalization. I am really looking forward to what the future might hold. On top of that, everyone is super friendly here in Belgium.” 

“That’s also the case in South Africa though. After a year I went back and even the guy who made my coffee every morning still remembered me and said hi”, Niels laughs. “That being said, these type of collaborations also benefit us. Despite what many might think there is still room for improvement in Belgium when it comes to our legal system”, Elly adds. “Together we can search for solutions that can help our society. In addition to this, it also puts UHasselt on the map and allows us to create an international network of like-minded individuals. Never underestimate the power of collaboration.”