Jo Ritzen

Jozef Marie Mathias Ritzen

Ritzen in 1996
Minister of Education, Culture, and Sciences
In office
22 August 1994  3 August 1998
Prime Minister Wim Kok
Preceded by Office created
Succeeded by Loek Hermans
Minister of Education and Sciences
In office
7 November 1989  22 August 1994
Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers
Preceded by Gerrit Braks
Succeeded by Office abolished
Personal details
Born (1945-10-03) 3 October 1945
Heerlen, Netherlands
Nationality Dutch
Political party Labour Party (PvdA)

Jozef Marie Mathias "Jo" Ritzen (born 3 October 1945 in Heerlen) is a Dutch economist and social-democratic politician.


Ritzen started in 1963 at Bernardinus College in Heerlen. In 1970 he obtained an engineer's degree in physics from the Technische Hogeschool Delft. He received his PhD degree in 1976 from the Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam with the thesis "Education, economic growth, and income inequality metrics". The thesis received the Winkler Prins Prize as the best economics dissertation in the period 1975-1978.


Before entering politics, Ritzen worked in a variety of jobs: as a project consultant in former East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), as a lecturer in the economics of education at the University of California, Berkeley, at the Katholieke Universiteit Nijmegen (now Radboud University), and as a full professor in the economics of education at the Erasmus Universiteit from 1981-1982. In 1988-1989 he was a visiting distinguished professor at the Robert M. LaFollette Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US. He has written or co-authored eleven books. Many articles written or co-authored by him are published in the fields of education, economics, public finance and development economics.

In 1989 he became Minister of Education and Sciences in the third Lubbers Cabinet (Christian Democrats-Social Democrats, Lubbers-Kok). In the same cabinet he was Minister of Welfare, Health, and Culture (including Sports) for three months in 1994. That same year, with the installation of the cabinet Kok 1 (Liberals, Social Liberals and Social Democrats), he became Minister of Education, Culture, and Sciences until 1998.

As a minister he introduced the OV-studentenkaart in 1990, a card giving free public transportation to students, and later the Prestatiebeurs, a new form of student financing where student grants would only be available for those who completed their studies. The LSVb (one of the major student unions) resisted both initiatives.

Ritzen contributed greatly to the reformation of the governance of Higher Education. Institutes of higher education would be governed by a governing board selected from the leading people of the major directions of life (business, justice, culture), excluding politicians. This board appoints the managing board of the university which has full authority and responsibility. This reform is sometimes recognized as the basis for the success of Dutch universities in international rankings in the early decades of the 20th century.

During his period in office, many parts of the Dutch education system were reformed: secondary education, through a law which made transitions from different streams easier (“basisvorming”), the second stage of secondary education with more emphasis on self-learning of students and vocational education (a law abbreviated as “WEB”).

Also, the science system was substantially modified amongst others by including public private programs, between industry and public research institutes.

Ritzen was the longest-serving Minister of Education in the EU and one of longest serving in the world.

In 1988, after his term as a Minister he became an adviser to the President of the World bank, Jim Wolfenson and later a vice presidents of the World bank, serving in the Research Department (together with Chief Economists Joe Stiglitz and Nick Stern as) and as vice president for Human Development.

He left the World Bank to become president of Maastricht University in February 2003 until February 2011. During that period, Maastricht University grew to become one of the leading international teaching and research universities, with almost half of its students coming from abroad and problem-based learning as the primary educational method. In 2013, the university was ranked number 6 worldwide in the Times Higher Education Ranking of young (“under 50”) universities (established after 1963).

During his career he has made significant contributions to agencies such as UNESCO and OECD, especially in the field of education and social cohesion. He also served on the Supervisory Board of Educational Testing Service (Princeton) from 2002-2014 and to several Dutch firms from 1981-1989 (before becoming a Minister).

He is now honorary professor of Maastricht University, senior advisor to the International Institute of Labor Studies IZA in Bonn, member of the International Advisory Board of RANEPA (Moskou) and KAU (Jeddah), adviser to several ministers of education, Chair and Founder of Empower European Universities and Initiator of the Vibrant Europe Forum, whse goal is to contribute to the European Parliamentary Elections in the areas of innovation, higher education, research, labour market, greening and income equality policy.

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