Ghent University awards honorary title to professor Dame Sarah Springman

(23-02-2023) On Friday 24 March 2023, Ghent University will award an institutional honorary title to professor Dame Sarah Springman and to Mr Frans Timmermans. In addition, Ghent University awards five honorary doctorates for scientific merit.

Professor Dame Sarah Springman

Principal of St Hilda’s College, University of Oxford
Former Rector of ETH Zürich
Elite athlete and sports leader
(United Kingdom/Switzerland)
Promotor: Professor Rik Van de Walle, Rector

Professor Dame Sarah Springman has led St Hilda's College, one of the colleges that make up the University of Oxford, since last year. She previously was a professor of geotechnical engineering at ETH Zurich. From January 2015 to January 2022, she was rector of this Swiss university, which is considered one of the best universities in continental Europe and. Like Ghent University, ETH Zurich is a member of CESAER, the network of leading universities in science and technology.

Professor Sarah Springman's talents were not only noticed in her own university: she was or is a member of the (then) SWTR, the Swiss Wissenschafts- und Technologierat, among others; of ISSMGE, the International Society for Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering (for which she organised the quadrennial international conference in 2010); of the British Royal Academy of Engineering and of the Women's Engineering Society.

Her rapid and high flight in the engineering sciences have made her a role model for girls and women in STEM - a role she herself recognises the importance of and is keen to actively take up.

Moreover, Professor Springman made a career not only as an engineer and university administrator. Parallel to her academic career, she turned out to be a successful elite athlete: as a triathlete, she represented her country to the highest international level and became European champion three times. Even after switching to rowing - a sport she continues to practise to this day - she continued to win international medals. Just as she was in demand for several board positions in academia, she was also solicited by several sports associations. Among others, she led the British Triathlon Federation and was vice-president of the International Triathlon Union.

Mr Frans Timmermans

Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal, European Commission
Promotor: Professor Rik Van de Walle, Rector

Frans Timmermans has been European Commissioner and First Vice-President of the European Commission since 2014. Since 2019, as European Commissioner, he has been responsible for the European 'Green Deal'.
Faced with a climate problem that not only poses an enormous challenge to the world and which seems almost insoluble for many of us in all its complexity, Frans Timmermans succeeds in giving direction, inspiring confidence and inciting action, using a coherent story based on scientific knowledge and feasible solutions in both the shorter and longer term.

As a socially engaged university that values sustainability, we feel it is appropriate to express, through an institutional honorary doctorate, our recognition of the crucial role Frans Timmermans is playing in this way, and our support for the cause he stands for, a cause which will remain highly relevant and urgent in the years and decades to come.

The institutional honorary doctorate to Mr Frans Timmermans was already awarded in 2022 but could not be awarded then due to circumstances.

Faculty honorary doctorates

Ghent University also awards honorary doctorates for scientific merit on Dies Natalis. Five faculties could nominate an honorary doctor this year:

  • Faculty Arts and Philosophy: professor M.T. Hany Babu (Department of English, Delhi University, India).
    Promotor: Professor Anne Breitbarth
    Professor Hany is a linguist from India who, in addition to his academic research in syntax and semantics, works on issues of language ideology, language policy and language politics. His focus is on equal opportunities and fair access to education for the speakers of marginalised languages.
  • Faculty of Law and Criminology: professor P. Jeffrey Brantingham (Department of Anthropology, University of California, Los Angeles, United States).
    Promotor: Professor Christophe Vandeviver
    Professor Brantingham's research focuses on understanding human behaviour in complex environments using material and digital traces left by behaviour. The common thread in his research is the search for fundamental models of patterns of crime and criminal behaviour, and the use of simulation and mathematical methods to create counterfactuals against which observed crime and behaviour patterns can be evaluated.
  • Faculty of Veterinary Medicine: professor Jaap Wagenaar (Departement Biomolecular Health Sciences, Infectious Diseases and Immunology, Clinical Infectiology, Utrecht, The Netherlands).
    Promotor: Professor Jeroen Dewulf
    As a researcher, professor Wagenaar is a pioneer within the field of antibiotic resistance and campylobacter research where he has had a very significant impact on reducing antibiotic use. He is considered a key researcher in the One Health story.
  • Faculty of Bioscience Engineering: professor Bernd Nidetzky (The Austrian Centre of Industrial Biotechnology (ACIB) – Institute of Biotechnology and Biochemical Engineering, Graz University of Technology, Austria).
    Promotor: Professor Tom Desmet
    Professor Nidetzky is a true "bioengineer" who develops new processes for biomass valorisation; new processes that have since been implemented and commercialised by industry.
  • Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences: professor Pieter Cullis (Departement of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of British Colombia, Vancouver, Canada).
    Promotor: professor Katrien Remaut
    Professor Cullis is a physicist and biochemist known for his contributions in the field of lipid nanoparticles (LNP). Lipid nanoparticles have proved essential as delivery systems for current mRNA vaccines, which saw a major breakthrough worldwide in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. Professor Cullis is best known for developing ionisable cationic lipids, which provide binding of the anionic mRNA.


Academic session with presentation of honorary doctorates on Friday 24 March 2023 at 15:30 in the Aula, Voldersstraat 9, 9000 Ghent.
The academic procession will leave from the Ufo-building (Sint-Pietersnieuwstraat 33) to the Aula at 15:00.
The end of the session is scheduled around 17:00.

The ceremony can also be followed via livestream on the Ghent University website, in Dutch and English.


In the run-up to the presentation of the honorary doctorates, some of the prospective honorary doctorates will give a lecture.